The blank postcards and pens were distributed in an orderly way. Women collected them and duly passed them on to their neighbours. However, things got frenetic soon.
“Are you done already?”
“Can we write in Urdu?”
“You don’t have a pen? Wait, I will pass mine.”
Saturday, the 36th day of the Shaheen Bagh women’s sit-in protest against the amended Citizenship Act and NRC, saw the launch of a new campaign. The women are writing postcards to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, inviting him “to have tea with them and listen to their Mann ki Baat.” Titled #TumKabAaoge, the campaign is the brainchild of ‘Friends of Shaheen Bagh’, a group of journalists, activists, and residents of nearby areas.
The women write enthusiastically, energetically. They have a lot to say.
“The first thing I want to say to the PM is that you always speak of Beti Bachao. We are the daughters of this country. We have been sitting here for months. Aren’t you interested in our grievances? Also, lies are being spread about us that we are sitting here for the money. Isn’t our respect important to you?” says Huma Naaz, a fashion designer.
Sitting next to Naaz, Waheedan, in her 60s, pitches in: “No one can sit here day after day, leaving behind our homes and chores, for money. We are here because we want our concerns heard. Why doesn’t the PM visit us once? Why doesn’t he come and ask us why we are here, on whose orders, due to what enticements?”
Naaz, her postcard filled by now, says: “This is what I have written in my postcard too. Are the women of Shaheen Bagh not important for the PM? If he can’t visit us, he can at least ensure lies and crass jokes are not spread about us. It wasn’t random trolls who abused us on Twitter. Ashoke Pandit, Vivek Agnihotri, other prominent BJP supporters shared canards about us. I want to ask the PM: the BJP speaks of Beti Bachao. Why has no BJP leader issued a statement saying ‘you can disagree with these women, but don’t insult them’?”
Further ahead, Heba is struggling to write with her toddler in her lap. “I am writing to the Prime Minister as a woman, as a mother, as a citizen of this country. The CAA and then the proposed NRC are making me a second-class citizen. I want to tell him, let my child grow up free and fearless. Let me worry about my home, my children — not about whether my citizenship is in danger. It’s difficult, leaving our homes and sitting here. But I do it because the future of my children is at stake.”
Refugees from other countries are welcome, say most women. It’s the pointed exclusion of Muslims that rankles. Coupled with NRC, the slight becomes a threat.
“In my postcard, I want to ask the PM what was the need for a new law. Couldn’t refugees get citizenship without it? How many Parsis have sought citizenship in India from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh? Yet, they were included, while Muslims were not. Was the law passed only to make the point that Muslims were not welcome? Also, if you don’t intend to implement NRC immediately, why do your party leaders keep talking about it? To create fear?” says another teenager, refusing to be named.
Not everyone is willing to talk to the media, though. Some women cover up their postcards when they see cameras around. “The media has spread lies about us. We have been called paid women. Why should we trust you?” says one woman.
By now, volunteers have started collecting the filled-up postcards. They will be posted to the PM’s residence and office. Samiya, a public health professional who is a member of Friends of Shaheen Bagh, says: “#TumKabAaoge is one way to take the movement forward. We will conduct the campaign at Seelampuri and other areas too, wherever women are out protesting. After the PM, we will invite other prominent personalities. We also intend to hold writing and painting workshops for these women and children. Their work will then be displayed at the protest sites.”
Just then, chants of ‘Jai Hind’ fill the air. Actor Sushant Singh has arrived at the venue to express solidarity. “People in the government, people from BJP are saying protesters haven’t understood the Citizenship Amendment Act, they are confused. Why doesn’t the PM come here and explain the law to us, assuage our fears?” Singh says from the stage, to loud cheers.
Near the stage stands Masoom Nabi. Asked if he’s among the organisers, he says: “There is no one organiser here. We the people of Shaheen Bagh are the organisers, and the participants. Women are pouring out here spontaneously. Also, it’s wrong to call them protesters. They are protectors. Of the Constitution, of the country. Look at the postcards. They talk about love for India, about concern for its secular character.”
Neha Bhasin, a lawyer who now works as an interior designer, chimes in: “Yes, this movement is about justice and equal rights. I am a Hindu, I come here regularly. Because polarization and disenfranchisement, if once allowed to go unchallenged, will only increase. After minorities, who knows, they will come for women.”
Colonel VK Sharma, who has come here for the first time, says: “I saw rows upon rows of women filling out the postcards. BJP often claims Muslim women support it. It should come and listen to the Shaheen Bagh women.”
By the end of the evening, according to Zeyad Masroor Khan, another member of Friends of Shaheen Bagh, over 2,000 postcards were collected, in Hindi, English, Urdu, and other languages.
Says another volunteer not wishing to be named: “We will make sure the postcards reach the PM. We can only hope he gets their message too.”
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