It has been over a month since New Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch has turned into ground zero for the anti-CAA protests in the country. From the coldest winters in decades in the national capital to charges of being “sponsored”, the protest led by Shaheen Bagh women has faced a lot so far – only to emerge stronger, sharper, and a lot smarter, media-savvy in other words, in response. Remember, the three wizened women holding forth on a TV channel, defending their right to protest while speaking truth to power.
No matter where you stand on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and NRC, there is no way that the grit and perseverance of Shaheen Bagh protesters as also their warmth can go unnoticed by anyone. By now, the protesters here very well know how to deal with the hatred and falsehoods coming their way, especially those spewed daily on the social media to discredit their fight. They are quick to put out statements, run hashtags and organise events to reject slanderous claims as also to remain in the news cycle. They already have two Twitter handles with thousands of followers and a Wikipedia page also in place.
Of course, the real fight is taking place on the ground. So when the Shaheen Bagh protesters were called “Islamists”, they went ahead and held readings from the Quran, the Bible and even organised a havan and shabad kirtan at the protest site.
Then, when they were accused of celebrating the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, the next thing you know was that Shaheen Bagh had opened up its arms and stood in solidarity with the KPs.
Not only this, when the devil of fake news made the rounds and sting-operations sensationally claimed that the protest was sponsored and each of them out there was being paid, the women threw a challenge at such claimant(s) and dared them to spend a night in the biting cold in return for money.
They did not stop there. Two of them have gone ahead and sent a defamation notice of Rs one crore to the IT cell head of the ruling party, who was amongst those to make such a claim. The organisers also put up a large banner on the protest site reading “No cash. No Paytm. No account”.
Amid complaints about blocking the road causing inconvenience to the public, the protesters have now made way for the school vans to pass saying ‘We too have children’. They have also put up a huge banner reading ‘Welcome Ambulance’, and make routine announcements to make way for vehicles on emergency services.
Apart from how the protesters are taking on every challenge on a daily basis now, the manner in which they have arrested the attention of the country is unprecedented and also a learning lesson, especially for the political class.
From poetry, slogans, protest art and attendance from well-known faces, creative campaigns such as #TumKabAaoge inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have tea with them and listen to their “Mann ki Baat” or writing postcards to the Chief Justice of India is what makes Shaheen Bagh different. And it is not the brainchild of one individual or party, but a collective effort of many nameless people.
For a protest that many now believe is the face of resistance in the country and has been peaceful throughout, its management is also commendable. There is a medical camp, a makeshift creche that looks after the children accompanying their mothers, a small library and arrangement of food including a langar set up by farmers from Punjab that ensure that the resistance is always charged up.
While Shaheen Bagh protest continues to run in full swing, it has also become a model of sorts triggering similar protests in several parts of the country.
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