On day one, when the slogan was first raised, the audience had to be tutored to respond, in chorus. That day, every impassioned speech was followed by the exhortation, “hum sab”, which was largely greeted by silence. That was 18 days ago. On Tuesday, even the children joined in, their voices crooning, “ek hai”, completing the anthem of resistance. “We are united”.
Stepping into 2020, Shaheen Bagh sounds more determined than ever. “We are not going anywhere. We are speaking in one voice. But our rulers are not. They are confused,” says Nasreen Hasan, a homemaker.
“This gathering has shattered the perception that Muslim women are conservative, suggestions that they are chained. Log kehte the ki Musalman aurat nikalte nahi hai, ab humne unka wo khawaish bhi poora kar diya,” Nasreen says, her neighbours nodding in agreement.
The protest by the residents of Shaheen Bagh — several of them are women accompanied by their children — began on December 15 when residents came out to protest the Delhi Police action on Jamia Millia Islamia campus. The sit-in has continued since. Residents continue to raise their voice against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).
On Tuesday, the gathering swelled by the minute, with people pouring in not just from the immediate neighbourhoods, but across Delhi.
Groups of young women and men turned up with packets of food and other essentials, while a team of doctors attended to patients at one corner of the stage pitched on the Kalindi Kunj Road.
“We have ample stock of food and other commodities to last us a month. We plan to distribute the excess items at the nearby Rohingya camp on January 1 to spread some cheer among them,” says Asif Mujtaba, a PhD scholar from IIT who is among the chief organisers of the protest.
Mujtaba rejected suggestions of any political backing helping them sustain the protest. His assertion found wide resonance among the general public of the neighbourhood, especially women who have been at the forefront of the protest.
“Our awareness is behind the mobilisation; the awareness that CAA goes against Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution. We are not against others coming in. But why are Muslims being kept out?” says Saba Fuzail, a UPSC aspirant.
Around 10.45 pm, Swaraj India founder Yogendra Yadav addressed the gathering, which had by then spilled out of the perimeters marked using a thin rope. “In the future, when someone asks where you were when the country was being destroyed, I will proudly say that I was in Shaheen Bagh,” says Yadav, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Addressing the gathering around 11.15 pm, IAS-turned-activist Harsh Mander said the people of Shaheen Bagh have set a great example through their determination. Mander said the denial from the top echelons of the government that there was no detention centre in the country was a lie.
“I have witnessed first hand the hellish conditions in those facilities,” he said, pointing out that the victory of the ongoing movement against CAA and NRC also lies in the fact that many states have decided not to implement them.
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