Shaheen Bagh: A corner of Delhi but a battle for the Idea of India

The Shaheen Bagh protests in the eastern periphery of Delhi has become a kind of mecca for many anti-CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) supporters

Nirupama Sekhri Jan 06, 2020
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The Shaheen Bagh protests in the eastern periphery of Delhi has become a kind of mecca for many anti-CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) supporters. Shopkeepers and passersby on the cramped, dusty, lane snaking along a Metro line respond graciously when asked ‘Where is the protest happening?’ by pointing out the crossroads at which least a hundred people sit at any time of day demanding the rollback of the controversial - and discriminatory - legislation rammed through Indian Parliament by the ruling BJP-led coalition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
 
Like Muhammad Zulfikar, local resident, who walked me till a small lane that led to the protest site. His homemaker wife and two daughters have been participating whenever they can. ‘My daughter’s hand got scorched by melting wax from the candle she was holding yesterday, but she said it’s okay "for the larger good". His daughters are 13 and 9 years old. 
 
"Too young?"
 
"No", he said, "Children these days know a lot; they feel very strongly about this."
 
And it is these extraordinarily strong feelings that have kept the Shaheen Bagh protest led by women (and by default their children, as they can’t be left home alone) steadily and solidly persist.
 
The protest against the CAA has evoked opprobrium from many in India and across the world for being brazenly discriminatory against Muslims, and has particularly alarmed Muslims and secularists within the country for going against the fundamental spirit and letter of the country’s Constitution that pledged to treat all religions equally.
 
One such protest was at the prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia University with little history of political protest, where students this time though had protested against the CAA, and had been quelled by a chilling attack by the Delhi Police, which had been followed by acts of vandalism and arson in the area by goons. 
 
Shaheen Bagh, located along the Yamuna river, lies south-east of Delhi - across from suburban Noida -  dominated by the Muslim community, predominantly following various small businesses and trades is less than 2 km from Jamia University. The area had also experienced some acts of violence, with its local MLA Amnatullah Khan, belonging to the Delhi's ruling Aam Admi Party, getting embroiled in a controversy over incendiary remarks he is alleged to have made. 
 
However, one of the immediate fallouts to all this was an unprecedented show of solidarity by local residents, especially women from across age groups. They feel that Amanullah’s remarks were not inflammatory but voiced legitimate concerns and fears of the Muslim community that have only been growing under the BJP’s rule since 2014. 
 
This spontaneous, peaceful protest drew support from local and Delhi residents with activists visiting on a daily basis to address the group, and well-wishers sponsoring regular rounds of meals, hot snacks, steaming cups of tea and water bottles.
 
The ladies, with their children, sit on rugs in the centre facing a make-shift stage, while being ringed by boys and men behind a fence of rope. Rabhya studying in class XII and Azra pursuing her Masters at Jamia have been coming here every day. They hold up placard challenging Mr. Modi to meet and talk to them face-to-face.
 
Shagufta, a local make-up artist, too is a regular, ‘We will not give in this time,’ she says. 
 
Murduhan, a grandmother, says sadly, ‘Kaisi sarkar hai jo itni bad-dua le rahi hai, pyaar aur dua nahin!’ (What is this government that is seeking such curses upon it, and not blessings and love).
 
The protest has been praised for its discipline and generosity, and the traffic has settled to find alternative routes around it. 
 
Having crossed three weeks, the fervour doesn’t seem to be diminishing, with a 3 km long march being organised recently between Jamia University and Shaheen Bagh.
 
It is a picture to be celebrated - showing the inclusive, liberal face of India with women from traditionally conservative homes defying social history to come out and make their voices heard. This is what makes us stand out from our neighbours and other fundamentalist countries. It is unfortunate that the government of the day doesn’t see it that way.