Updated: December 20, 2019 7:28:47 am
Carrying banners and chanting slogans, nearly 20,000 protesters poured into the historic August Kranti Maidan, the cradle of 1942 Quit India Movement, in Mumbai on Thursday to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC. The four-hour protest was peaceful and without incident, with about 2,000 police officers keeping vigil.
When members of 14 civil society groups met on Monday to discuss the protest, and organised themselves under the banner of ‘Hum Bharat Ke Log’, they were not sure about the turnout, or whether the police would even give permission. But Thursday’s turnout far exceeded their expectation.
Going by police estimates, the five sections of the ground were packed way beyond their capacity of 15,000. And when no more could be accommodated, people gathered in surrounding streets, unwilling to be left out of the protest.
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The activists who spearheaded the public meeting asked people to demand that the Maharashtra government must not implement the “discriminatory Act”.
Participants complimented Mumbai Police for facilitating the protest meeting. In the morning, the police had put out an advisory for traffic diversions.
Besides thousands of students, youths, women and even many senior citizens, film personalities such as Swara Bhaskar, Nandita Das, Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra, Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Javed Jaffrey, Saeed Mirza, Huma Qureshi, Raj Babbar and Sushant Singh, activists Teesta Setalvad, Feroze Mithborwala, Dolphy D’Souza, Javed Ahmed, Varsha Vilas, freedom fighter G G Parikh and political workers of the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the NCP participated in a turnout that covered a wide spectrum of Mumbai’s citizenry.
Parikh, 94, told The Indian Express, “I am a follower of Gandhi, a follower of the Constitution, and I am a freedom fighter. I came here because only a mass movement can change the situation in India. Remember the J P movement…protest and mass movement can have a huge impact.”
Actor Farhan Akhtar’s appearance was brief but purposeful. While he did not deliver a speech at the venue, unlike his industry colleagues such as filmmaker Mehra and actors Bhaskar and Jaffrey, he told the media at the protest site that to raise one’s voice against something wrong is an “absolute democratic right”. As a citizen, and as someone who grew up “with a certain idea of what India is, it is important to raise my voice against this”, he said.
Mehra, who made films such as Rang De Basanti and Dilli-6, evoked the idea of “rang (colours)” in his speech. Comparing India’s diversity to a garden, he said, “There are many kinds of flowers in our garden, and we should not insist that there should be just one kind of flower, and in one colour.”
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Bhaskar said if the government could give citizenship to singer Adnan Sami — born in London to a Pakistani father — then it could give citizenship to refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, too. “Why do they need to change the Constitution for that,” she asked.
Remembering freedom fighters Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan and Roshan Singh, activist Prakash Reddy said, “The British hanged a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Sikh – they fought for our freedom together; that is our history. Today, we should (unite and) fight for our freedom.”
Mithiborwala, one of the organisers of the protest, said Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought they could “divide us” but unwittingly “united all Indians”. The venue, he said, was changed from Girgaum Chowpatty to August Kranti Maidan to accommodate more people. “But we never imagined these many people to turn up,” he told The Indian Express.
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