One of the determinants of a protest's success – or failure – is how conspicuous it is... or isn't. That there was a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Mumbai's August Kranti Maidan on Thursday was palpable at Grant Road station itself, where protesters took to sloganeering and marching in files. Simultaneously, another protest (gathering or rally is more accurate) was taking shape only three stations away, in support of the Act, condemning the alleged spread of misinformation by "vested interests".
It took me 30 minutes to find this gathering, which was scheduled to take place at Churchgate station, and was later shifted to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.
Squeezed between food stalls and an underground walkway was this gathering organised by the Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (reportedly set up by an RSS-affiliate) and multiple student groups; the word 'ABVP' was uttered twice by individuals present, never to be repeated again when I wanted to confirm the student outfit's participation. The police said they estimated this was a group of around 50 to 70 people, and that they were scheduled to stay there for an hour-and-a-half. The group was made up of students as well as people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
This gathering, and the larger endeavour of which it is a part (represented by the hashtag #MumbaiwithCAA on Twitter), was announced after the word of the August Kranti Maidan protest was out; many said that it was an attempt to confuse protesters who were to come to August Kranti Maidan — a smokescreen. This was far from accurate, as I would realise a mere five minutes later.
The points raised at the gathering were specific: "NRC (National Register of Citizens) abhi baaki hai", "PoK baaki hai" and "Modi-Shah sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hai" (one poster said that people's inability to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a great leader stemmed from their concern about only themselves and petty politics). The pamphlets that were being distributed were meant to dispel "myths" about the CAA — about how it is anti-Muslim, that it is against the interests of the indigenous people of Assam, and that common people were protesting against the Act.
The videos and reports showcasing protests of various degrees including violence and vandalism of public property don't showcase any common people but a coordinated effort to destabilise the community and spread chaos, was the "truth" it offered in reference to the last "myth".
Attendees also had ready answers to my questions. An excerpt from a conversation with a senior advocate:
Do you think the CAA discriminates against Muslims?
No, certainly not. Muslims cannot be expected to be discriminated against in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
But the Ahmadiyyas–
They are Muslims. Simply because they are persecuted, it doesn’t mean India becomes a dharamshala.
I read a report yesterday that said Pakistani Hindus don’t wish to migrate to India because of the discriminatory nature of the CAA…
By all means, they can stay there. But if they are being persecuted, they have to come to India because there is literally no other place for Hindus in the world.
This is the physical manifestation of a right-wing WhatsApp group, I told one of my friends over text message. It took me a while to find the organisers of the gathering, and whoever I asked at the start proudly termed the event a "people's protest". We're all organisers and stakeholders, one woman told me. When I asked how the attendees found out about the event, I was told messages and posters were circulated on WhatsApp groups.
One of the objectives of the gathering, a protester told me, was to prove that politics and expressing one's opinions could be practiced peacefully — a thinly-veiled jab at anti-CAA protests which have been portrayed as being violent by the Indian Right. But how peaceful can a gathering be, if the people present proclaim that they will enter the houses of and kill every "Afzal", "Umar Khalid" and "Kanhaiya Kumar" who emerges?
"Goli maaron saalon ko" was another oft-repeated phrase, in reference to "intruders" who have entered the country.
This was one of many contradictions on display. The individuals claimed to have the support of people across religions, and yet an overwhelming number of slogans had an obvious connection to Hinduism, like 'Jai Shri Ram'. Other favourites were 'Vande Mataram' and ;Bharat Mata Ki Jai'. Veer Savarkar was praised, but not without mentioning Dr BR Ambedkar and the Constitution (some of the posters featured Ambedkar too). Most attendees had a pro-army, pro-police stance, expressing solidarity with the Delhi Police whose violent reactions to student protests in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University have partly sparked the nationwide protests we're now witnessing.
The image that stayed with me was of seven to eight attendees raising slogans and waving flags while standing atop a platform. They all seemed to be students, and later I would find that two of them were also organsiers of the gathering.
Aniket, one of the organisers, corrected me when I referred to the gathering as a protest – no, this was a "samarthan" to mark the amendment of an Act that he felt was long overdue. "We organised it because we wanted to show that Mumbai was in support of the CAA. Our objective was to counter the environment of doubt and negativity that has been created in the country right now against the CAA — it is only because of the interests of certain political parties that it is being opposed," he said.
Gautami, another organiser, said they were happy with the turnout of over 50 people. She's convinced that people's happiness with the Act is being overshadowed by the propaganda against it — propaganda that is being broadcast by the media, she added.
Some have said that this rally is meant to distract or confuse protesters who were supposed to go to August Kranti Maidan.
How is this rally a distraction? Those who are organising protests against CAA are doing so because they want to stage a protest and call aatankwadis like Umar Khalid. Why will truly secular Indians want to attend a protest where an aatankwadi is invited?
You're a student too. Do you think what happened in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University is wrong?
What happened there is wrong… Just now we chanted slogans asking what sort of student would want to break up the nation.
One of the posters at this rally eloquently said, "It's not me vs you, it's us versus them." It is the thought that defined this rally: The Congress' "unrighteous criticism" of the NRC versus the Centre's well-intentioned policy; propagandists spreading misinformation versus the people's approval of the CAA; those breaking the country apart into tukde versus those calling for the murder of said people through slogans in order to keep the country together.
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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2019 10:16:41 IST