Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Mohini Mukherjee and Kohla have designed posters that protest the act

Indian creatives united by "collective rage and shock" over citizenship laws

Artists and designers in India have joined protests against controversial new citizenship laws by sharing posters for use at demonstrations and creating infographics to counter misinformation.

Some of the country's best-known creatives are using a combination of craft skills and digital savvy to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed into law on 11 December 2019.

The act allows refugees from religious minorities to become Indian citizens but leaves out Muslims, leading to anger and often violent protests around the country.

Protesters, who believe the act discriminates against Muslims and could lead to millions of people becoming stateless, have had to negotiate curfews and internet shutdowns imposed by the government. Thousands of people have been arrested and dozens killed.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Designers including Illustrious Creates are protesting in India

"When lots of people feel oppressed, art comes into the centre of their lives in very powerful ways," said Orijit Sen, one of India's foremost graphic novelists, who has produced a stream of cartoons, memes and posters opposing the act.

"It's about being in solidarity with each other," he said.

The suspension of internet services in parts of the country has led to a revival of hand-made media such as graffiti, posters and printed pamphlets, according to Assam-based designer Abhishek Choudhury.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Shruti Thakkar is one of the designers who has created a poster to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act

"During times of internet shutdowns, digital posters wouldn't really work, because how would you share them?" said Choudhury, who is a member of Gauhati Art Project.

"So the traditional routes like zines and graffiti, which don't leave any digital trails, look very attractive," he said."We have a bunch of people who help get the artworks out there, share the printing costs and turn them into protest signs."

"In this period, a lot of people have found their voice to use art to express on this topic," said Bangalore-based graphic novelist and artist Appupen of Brainded India.

Appupen's work has been widely adopted by protesters both to create banners for marches and memes for social media.

"After this, maybe when we get to a better future, people can use art to say many more things," he continued.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Many posters, including this one by Vinayak J, are available on Creatives Against CAA

"During protests like this, you're accessing a rage that's been simmering for a long time, that suddenly boils over," said Mira Malhotra, a Mumbai-based designer and part of Kadak, an all-female collective of South Asian graphic storytellers.

"It is a non-violent, constructive expression of collective rage and shock" she added. "I find it ludicrous to mourn the death of democracy but celebrate its saving grace: great art."

Kadak has created Creatives Against CAA, an online repository of shareable and printable posters and informational material. Many designers have submitted their work and protestors have widely made use of these resources.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Maithili Madhusudan also created a poster that is available on the online portal

Among them is work from an Instagram page called @sodonechilling, which appropriates the popular MS Paint aesthetic format of "Good morning" messages that are popular among Indian users of WhatsApp.

The "Good morning" greeting, which is forwarded by Indians in such large numbers that it caused the app to freeze in 2018, is being used to disguise important information and circulate anti-fascist slogans in family WhatsApp groups.

"It was a way for us to push back against what has become a misinformation crisis," a spokesperson for @sodonechilling said anonymously over WhatsApp.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Priyanka Kumar's poster is also in the archive

"People tell us they've rejoined their family WhatsApp groups just to send them these forwards. Many have expressed that it's the first time they've been political in their family WhatsApp groups."

Over 30 artists have created and submitted art to @sodonechilling's page in this format.

"The point of the art more than anything is to remind people about the constitution and their rights," the spokesperson.

The CAA, which came into effect on January 10, relaxes the criteria for the followers of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian faiths – but not Muslims – from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to naturalise as Indian citizens and be listed as "genuine Indian citizens" on the National Register of Citizens.

Those whose names are excluded from the register are declared illegal immigrants and detained. In Assam, where it was first implemented, 1.9 million names were missing from the register.

Of these, only non-Muslims have a chance to naturalise as citizens under the CAA.

More images

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Poster by Akshay Jose
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Poster by Kohla
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Poster by Illustrious Creates
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Poster by Shirish Ghatge
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and posters in India
Poster by Mohini Mukherjee