Daljit Singh, a retired teacher, has come all the way from Assam's Tinsukia to Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh to express his solidarity with the women protesters.
Singh, whose grandfather settled in Assam almost seven decades ago, is extremely concerned about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR) and National Register for Citizens (NRC). After all, his wife's name was missing from the final NRC list after the exercise was conducted in Assam.
“The names of my son, my daughter and myself were on the NRC list, but not my wife. She couldn’t produce evidence about when her grandfather voted, because during anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, many important documents got destroyed. This has now reduced us to outsider status in Assam – the state where both my father and I were born, and have lived all our lives,” Singh lamented.
Singh isn't alone. Many from across the country, from Punjab farmers to youths and professionals from Kerala and Maharashtra have come to Shaheen Bagh to express their solidarity with the protesters.
Shaheen Bagh has become a symbol, a pan-India template which has been replicated in other parts of the country, even to the extent that some protest sites — like in Kanpur — have been rechristened ‘Shaheen Bagh’.
Whether it’s Park Circus in Kolkata or Iqbal Maidan in Bhopal — the template remains the same — a non-violent protest against CAA-NPR-NRC issue.
Many have even begun drawing similarities with Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo, which became a hub of revolution that unseated the then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The square became a symbolic home of the movement, with a prominent role in the country’s history of change and tumult. However, unlike Shaheen Bagh, the protest at Tahrir Square was violent and a large number of people lost their lives.
“Shaheen Bagh has turned somewhat similar to Tahrir Square – a symbol of protest movement. This protest is not only about Muslims, but also about citizens from other communities who are affected due to CAA and NRC,” Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Media Star World told Firstpost
Women on forefront
Shaheen Bagh came into prominence due to the presence of a large number of women protesters of various age groups. In fact, the movement is led by Muslim women, who are being supported by women from other communities as well.
But why have women taken the lead? The answer, Singh said, lies in his experience with the NRC.
“Traditionally, in India, it’s largely men who take care of documents. But in the case of NRC or CAA, women too have to prove their identity through legacy documents. Hence the fear among women,” remarked Singh.
The women protesters at Shaheen Bagh have invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have a discussion on CAA-NPR-NRC over ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ and they have written messages on postcards to the PM asking him to provide clarity on the issue.
“We’re domiciled citizens of this place. Many of us have been living for three generations,” social activist Shaheen Kausar told Firstpost. “But through this NRC and CAA, the attempt is to prove us illegal immigrants like it happened in Assam. After the NRC process, 19 lakh people weren't included on the list. We may die, but we’ll continue to stand firm. It’s the women who’re at the receiving end. Let some senior representative of the government come here and listen to the issues bothering us. The protest won’t end unless the government gives us in writing that no harm would be done to us after the CAA-NPR-NRC process,” she added.
Various shades of protest
Unlike regular protests at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan – the popular destinations in the National Capital – the protest movement at Shaheen Bagh on the highway that connects Delhi with Noida has different shades. Besides high-decibel sloganeering from 'Bharat mata ki jai to 'inquilab zindabad' and speeches, Shaheen Bagh has channelised the protest in multiple forms by people from various age groups and background.
While slogans like ‘azaadi’ and ‘reject CAA-NPR-NRC’ are visible on one side, on the other there are posters displaying the Sanskrit phrase ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ (The world is one family). Except National Flag, no other flag of any hue or any political party is visible. From Jasola-Shaheen Bagh Metro station to protest site, a series of festoons of Tiranga have been put up along the one-km stretch of road. People can be seen buying national flags, badges and bands bearing national symbol from vendors.
At one end of the protest site, children can be seen making sketches, painting small canvases and writing slogans for posters with a lot of enthusiasm, even at the end of the day. Students from Visva-Bharati and Jadavpur universities have prepared a 35-feet tall steel map at the centre of the site and on both sides of the map, slogans like ‘we the people of India’ have been etched.
Every afternoon Mohd Salahuddin, a 70-year old from Gopalganj in Bihar, visits Shaheen Bagh and reads Munshi Premchand’s novels by sitting in a corner till 11 pm. “I have been coming here since 15 December. This CAA and NRC will end our rights as citizens of India, and it should be uprooted. In Bihar, anti-CAA movement has become big,” he remarked.
Three youths from Noida — Aban, Athar and Aqib — have formed a group and sing rap at the protest site, narrating the difficulties people have been facing.
: A replica of a metal detention camp erected at the site has been drawing a lot of visitors and people are taking photographs by posing inside the cell. Many women visiting Shaheen Bagh asked whether people who fail to qualify in the CAA-NRC list would be put inside the detention cell. Many look worried.
Medical camps have been set up, where doctors and medical students are extending services for free. “Like many others, I’m also worried about the consequences of the CAA-NPR-NRC,” said Aisha, a fourth-year medical student from Aligarh. “What’s the hidden agenda behind this? Is it to takeaway citizenship of Muslims? Even to procure legal documents, corruption which has become an integral part of our system, will take place. Government must clarify the situation.”
Gurdwaras, local bodies and residents of Shaheen Bagh, both Muslims and Hindus, are providing free meals every day to protesters through contributions.
‘We the people of India’ has become an anthem for protesters, who read aloud the Preamble to the Constitution every day.
A platform of solidarity
Over the past 36 days, Shaheen Bagh has emerged as a platform of freedom of expression – for dissenting voices to air their grievances and express solidarity. Bollywood actors and Sikh farmers have shared the stage, the backdrop of which bears the photos of stalwarts such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, BR Ambedkar, Abul Kalam Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Bhagat Singh, Asfaqullah Khan and Subash Chandra Bose.
“Hundreds of Sikh farmers from Punjab came here on 15 January to express solidarity and extend their support to the protesters,” said Mohd Bundu Malik, a local resident and trader.. They organised Langar (community kitchen) here to provide meals to protesters. “Shaheen Bagh has provided a platform for people from all walks of life to protest against CAA and NRC. There are a lot of Muslims who don’t have proper documents, but have been living here for decades. Now all of them are worried they might be sent to detention centres, as happened in Assam.”
Irrespective of how things play out, Shaheen Bagh— formerly a lesser known address of Delhi — has found its place in India’s mass movement. The Sunday gathering that saw nearly 5,000 people turn out attests to the fact.
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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2020 23:34:26 IST