Thousands of people gathered at Azad Maidan on Saturday afternoon to participate in a ‘Maha Morcha’ organised to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).
This was the second mass gathering witnessed by Mumbai after the August Kranti Maidan protest last December. While organisers of Saturday’s rally — ‘Alliance against CAA, NRC & NPR Mumbai’ — claimed that two lakh people were in attendance, the police pegged the figure at 70,000.
Speakers from diverse backgrounds, including politicians, Muslim scholars, social activists and even the former principal of St Xavier’s College, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, addressed the crowd.
“We have to stand united and fight this law. Even our Cardinal Oswald Gracias has said that a law that does not benefit the people should be taken back,” Fr. Mascarenhas said. Condemning the attacks on JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia students, he added: “I cannot imagine a situation when the police would not help if students are attacked. When terrorists attacked Mumbai, within minutes, police personnel from Azad Maidan had arrived to protect our students, but this was not the case when goons attacked students in JNU. At Jamia Millia, police entered and attacked students. This cannot be our Bharat.”
Others who attended the event included the convener of the protest, Justice (retd) Kolse Patil, social activist Teesta Setalvad, actor Sushant Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi.
Justice (retd) Patil urged the crowd not to show any document to government officials amid reports that the state is set to roll out NPR from April 1. “Some of our brothers are trying to gather papers to prove their citizenship from April 1, when these clerks and constables will come knocking on your doors. Do not show them documents.”
Shushant Singh, taking on the Centre for its remark that “buses should not be burnt” during protests, said: “We will make a promise to not burn buses, as they are few in number… but men can be killed and burnt as their population is certainly much more than buses.”
The protesters came to Azad Maidan from various parts of Mumbai and extended suburbs like Navi Mumbai, Thane as well as other parts of Maharashtra. With hundreds of buses ferrying them to Azad Maidan, men and women of all ages began to assemble for the protest from 2 pm. By 4 pm, many could be seen waiting outside the ground due to lack of space.
Waving the Tricolour and holding banners denouncing the CAA-NRC-NPR in their hands, the protesters raised slogans like “Modi, Shah se Azadi” “freedom from the CAA and the NRC” while reciting Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s popular poem Hum Dekhenge.
Akhtari Ansari (58) listened to the speeches with rapt attention. A Jogeshwari resident, she travelled for around two-and-a-half hours to be a part of the protest. “I cannot sit for long… my legs get swollen. But it is important to be here.”
Qutubuddin Ansari (73), who runs a bakery in Charkop, arrived at the protest with 18 other members of his family. “At least 34 buses came to our area. At my age, health is always a problem. But the pain I suffered while coming here is nothing when compared to what we would face if we do not show our opposition now,” he added.
Among the crowd stood 24-year-old Wasim Shaikh, holding a poster that read ‘Pyaar Baato Desh Nahi’. Wasim, who works at a call centre, said: “The government has the power to make laws but we have the power to oppose them.”
The crowd cheered as speakers raised the slogan ‘Shaheen Bagh Zindabad’. Mumbra resident Afroz Khan (40), who wore a head band that read ‘No to CAA and NRC’, said: “It is refreshing to see that the protest had moved beyond being of Muslims alone… those from other religions and walks of life are also here.”
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