Shaheen Bagh protests: Not just parents’ negligence, anti-CAA campaign equally to blame for toddler’s death

  • The shocking death of an infant who mother is an active member of the anti-CAA protests offers an opportunity amid tragedy to cut the clutter around the ‘movement’ that has involved children in a political battle.

  • Is it the mother alone who put her infant in harm’s way while taking part in a political battle?

  • Or should the blame also be shared by the ecosystem of the Opposition, ‘liberals’ and critics of the regime?

  • The death of little Jahaan should spark introspection among the protesters and those profiting from it.

The shocking death of an infant who mother is an active member of the anti-CAA protests offers an opportunity amid tragedy to cut the clutter around the ‘movement’ that has involved children in a political battle.

The mother of little Mohammed Jahaan, who has died due to severe cold and congestion after suffering prolonged exposure to the winter chill at New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protests, was quoted as saying, "We want to tell Modi ji that as long as you do not abandon the plans for an NRC, our protest will continue."

This should set us thinking about the lack of public discourse over a disturbing incident that captures accurately the nature of the misinformed debate over the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens.

Who is responsible for the death of the child? Is it the mother alone who put her infant in harm’s way while taking part in a political battle? Is she aware of what she is fighting for and against? Or should the blame also be shared by the ecosystem of the Opposition, ‘liberals’ and critics of the regime who saw in the Shaheen Bagh protests a chance to challenge the electoral hegemony of the BJP and misled a community to achieve their political objectives? Why was a young life snuffed out before it got a chance to bloom? And why is there so little discussion over this development?

We need to wrap our heads around these questions if we make an honest attempt to understand what’s happening in Shaheen Bagh and its replicas elsewhere in India. The mother, who has two more kids of age five (daughter) and one (son), told the media that she will participate in the protests “for the future of my children”.

 Shaheen Bagh protests: Not just parents’ negligence, anti-CAA campaign equally to blame for toddler’s death

Mohammed Arif (R) and Nazia with one of their surviving children pose for photographs at their residence in Batla House, New Delhi. PTI

A statement more ironic would be hard to find. Little Jahaan did not get a shot at life because his mother wanted a “better future” for her children. The infant, who died on 30 January after catching a cold that turned lethal, was being taken to the protest site by his mother every day since 18 December. The child's parents, who hail from Uttar Pradesh, live in penury, and Nazia, the mother, told the media she “didn’t realise that his congestion was so severe.”

A PTI report quotes her neighbour as saying that Nazia “fought with her mother and husband to visit Shaheen Bagh every day” and was a driving force for women in her area. Despite the tragedy she has vowed to visit Shaheen Bagh and carry on with her protests against the CAA and NRC that, according to her, are “against welfare of all communities”.

A two-month-old infant, who was too young to give consent or exercise choice, was thrown into an environment hostile for kids and exposed to elements that proved to be fatal.

It is easy to blame the parents for it, but the question must go deeper. Did at any point of time the organisers or the volunteers sensitise the protesters on the dangers of exposing little children for weeks to Delhi’s bitter cold?

The death of little Jahaan is as much due to the negligence of his parents as the organisers who encouraged bringing of children to the protest site. It should weigh heavy on the collective conscience of those who made anti-CAA protests a springboard for a political project against the BJP. The media, too, must share responsibility.

It romanticised the presence of infants and children at the protest site and sought to give the platform a moral legitimacy. For instance, The Telegraph wrote in its 25 December edition: “Shaheen Bagh protest: 20-day-old baby marks fight for the future”, giving details of 20-day-old Ashiana from southeast Delhi who apparently became “face of the fight for the future.”

It wasn’t only the elements that posed a risk for the little minds. The children were fed a steady diet of misinformation and subjected to fear-mongering of the worst kind, prompting the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to issue an order to the District Magistrate of South East Delhi to identify the children involved in protests and arrange for their counselling. In its order, as media reports indicate, the NCPCR said the children “may suffer from mental trauma” because of “rumours and miscommunication” regarding the CAA.

Some of the videos that prompted the NCPR to act are quite disturbing. These point to deep-seated trauma among children who have been deliberately lied to.

These instances are a testimony to the way children have been used as tools in anti-CAA protests across India. Recently, the Lucknow Child Welfare Committee (CWC) issued notice to protesting parents at the Clock Tower against CAA, ordering them to send the kids home immediately or face action.

The notice points out that the children are being denied their time to study, regular meals and healthcare. “Therefore, in the best interest of children and to ensure that there is no mental stress on them, it is necessary that they are immediately removed from the dharna site or else action will be taken under Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act”.

The death of little Jahaan should spark introspection among the protesters and those profiting from it on whether in their fight to have a “better future” for their children, they are putting the lives of those very kids in danger. Jahaan’s parents are among many who have become victims of a misinformation campaign around CAA and are paying the price for it. The CAA has neither the power to take away citizenship, nor does it affect the status of Indian Muslims in any way whatsoever. The Centre, on Tuesday, also made it clear in Lok Sabha that there has been no decision yet on a nationwide NRC. This is merely the formalisation of an announcement made by the prime minister earlier.

This raises a simple question. Why did little Jahaan die?

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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2020 21:41:54 IST