The anti Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests across the country seem to have taken on a scale that no one originally anticipated. To be true, when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was introduced in Lok Sabha and then Rajya Sabha and became an Act when the presidential seal was put on it, not many people, least of them Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, thought it will cause such a massive backlash from common public. Now many people are already calling it a bigger movement than even the JP Movement of 1974 or Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement that catapulted the BJP to power at the Center.
The intensity of the protests is spreading like wildfire to almost every part of the country, notwithstanding the fact the UP brutally suppressed anti-CAA protests causing death to as many as twenty people, including an eight year old child and incarceration of thousands and thousands of people, many of who continue to languish in jail on draconian charges.
The saffron robed chief minister of UP not just gave a free hand to police to tackle protesters –most of them peaceful – but also talked of extracting revenge from protesters. Following the bouts of huge protests across the state, the Adityanath was quoted by the PTI as saying, “There was violence in Lucknow and Sambhal and we will deal with it strictly. All properties of those involved in damaging public assets will be seized and auctioned to compensate for the losses. They have been captured in video and CCTV footage. We will take ‘badla’ (revenge) on them”. This language of revenge was apparently never used by any other chief minister not just in the state, but anywhere in the country. What followed in the state is no secret.
Two other states where efforts were made to forcefully suppress the protests also happened to be BJP ruled states of Assam and Karnataka. In states where non-BJP governments are in power, no loss of life or property has been reported. Massive protests are being reported from every part of the country. From God’s own country, Kerala, to Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, every state has seen a groundswell of support to anti-CAA protests.
However, two protests sites that have galvanized the protests, and spurred anti CAA/NRC protests, demonstrations and rallies, at Jamia Millia and Shaheen Bagh, have become the rallying points for people of all backgrounds and age groups.
The ghettos of Shaheen Bagh and Abul Fazal Enclave, the area bisected by upscale Noida in UP and Jasola Vihar in Delhi, no go areas for people outside the locality, have become sort of picnic spots for people from across the National Capital Region (NCR). When the clock stuck 12 in the night on December 31, at least a quarter of people at Shaheen Bagh protest site were people from across Delhi, outside Jamia Nagar and many of them were non-Muslims. Every day more and more new faces are turning up at protest sites in Jamia Millia and Shaheen Bagh and everyone seems to be impressed by the discipline of the protesting boys and girls, men and women, teenagers and even pre-teens.
Self disciplined crowd
The most amazing aspect of the protests, that not many people had anticipated, was the fact that the protests have become a symbol of discipline, regulation, control and dedication. The Jamia protest site, where protesters gather from noon till sunset, will certainly become a textbook material for future organizers of the protests how despite a raging controversy the protesters can be so self disciplined and regimented. When thousands of thousands of protesters leave the protest site, a massive amount of trash is left behind. This shouldn’t amaze many. However what should amaze people is the fact that student and local volunteers collect every piece of trash left behind by protesters and clean the entire site as if professional cleaners had been deployed for the job. This has been the case ever since the protests broke out in the national capital.
The brutal crackdown on Jamia Millia protesters on December 15, when the police used disproportionate force to disperse a group of protesting students and went on rampage in the huge library of the central university, had everything to further inflame the atmosphere and further agitate the students. However, the students, led by no political or community organization, but faceless youngsters from their midst have taken a path that no one anticipated them to take. Had they got agitated or gone on rampage in response to police highhandedness, not many would have blamed them. However, they relieved the pressure through nationalist plays, songs, rhymes and ingenious sloganeering that is attracting people from all walks of life and from all religious backgrounds. Now they are being entertained by standup comedians, Bollywood actors and other celebrities from across the country, making it all the more attractive for youngsters of all age and backgrounds to come and join.
Similar is the case of Shaheen Bagh protest site where women, many of them donning headscarves, have taken the complete control. For me personally this is nothing short of a miracle, as many young and not so young women, who rarely ventured out of their homes, are now taking control of a massive protest movement. I seriously hope this will be a harbinger of change in the larger Muslim society across the country. It will dawn an era where Muslim women will be allowed to not just take the charge of their own lives, but also start playing leadership role in the larger society. While I hope these protests bear fruit and the protesters succeed in forcing the government to repeal CAA and NRC, however, if this is the only take away of the protests, I will still be very happy.
These women have become very outspoken, assertive and voice their opinions without any inhibition. Anyone can take the mike from among the crowd and speak up. Throughout the day, it is women, mostly from nearby localities who speak and voice their dissent not just against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, but also about everything that they deem fit. The atmosphere here seems to be charged and lively. As they are served biryani and chai (tea) brought by people thronging the place during the extremely harsh Delhi winter, the bonhomie is visible despite the apparent difference of class, background and also religion.
No incidents of molestation, eave teasing
Prime Minister Modi once called Delhi the rape capital of India. A large number of such cases are reported on a daily basis. When the number of women started swelling among the protesters, this scared many organizers of the protests, as they thought the female participants will be harassed, eave teased or even molested in the protests attended by thousands and thousands of boys and girls. Had this happened, it wouldn’t have surprised many as it happens daily on Delhi streets. The national capital reported the highest number of crimes against women in the year 2017 when, according to NCRB data at least 11,542 cases of crime against women were reported. It is three times higher than the crimes reported in Mumbai. However, almost twenty days since the beginning of the protests, not a single incident of molestation has been reported either from Jamia Millia protest site or from Shaheen Bagh.
This didn’t happen even on the New Year eve when at least thirty thousand people from across the capital gathered at the extremely crowded stretch of road that makes the protest hotspot of Shaheen Bagh. Women of all ages, religions, caste and creed were there to witness the dawn of a new year along with men of all ages, singing national anthem, Bharat Mata ki Jai, Sare Jahan se acha and popular revolutionary songs including Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s ‘Ham bhi dekhenge’. However, not a single woman was harassed, no one pushed or molested as usually happens on every road, every market and during every festive season in Delhi on almost daily basis.
(Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His latest book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Silk Letter Movement (Reshmi Rumal Tehrik)' has just been released
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a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October