Dilshad Begum’s provision shop stands bang in the middle of the Batla House Chowk in Delhi’s Okhla Vidhan Sabha constituency. Dilshad (68) has a bristling efficiency about her that only comes with experience. She attends to customers even as she speaks with us. She has been running the shop for almost two decades now to support her family of five.
“You guys think we Muslim women are shackled to our homes. We are dependent on our men. I have been supporting my family for decades now,” says Dilshad. In her time at Batla House, Dilshad has seen many ups and downs, the infamous Batla House encounters of 2008 being one, but never has she been this angry, she says.
“If a politician comes to ask for vote, I will turn him away. No one cares for the poor in this country. During Batla House too, they politicised everything. They are doing the same now,” says Dilshad.
She may be disillusioned with the system, but she has not lost faith in democracy. Every evening, after closing her shop at 9pm, Dilshad takes an e-rickshaw to the protest site at Shaheen Bagh, where she sits for two-three hours. “Other women of my household take turns sitting there,” she says. Does she really believe that this protest will make the government roll back the controversial citizenship Act?
“I don’t know. But we have to register our protest, tell them we exist and we won’t take things lying down,” says Dilshad.
“Why are they demonising a bunch of women? Are we rapists ?”
Even a month ago, not many would have guessed that Shaheen Bagh and this constituency would emerge as the battleground for 2020 Delhi polls. That Dilshad and thousands of women like her would emerge as the “mudda” of this election.
Recently, Union Home Minister Amit Shahs said voting for the BJP in the upcoming polls “will prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh”. West Delhi BJP MP Parvesh Verma told ANI Tuesday, “Lakhs of people gather there (Shaheen Bagh)… They’ll enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There’s time today, Modi ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.”
“It’s funny how they are hell-bent on demonising us,” says 27-year-old Noor Alam, project manager at an NGO that runs a medical centre in Zakir Nagar. Alam lives rougly four kilometers away from Shaheen Bagh, the protest site. “It’s a peaceful protest of women. How can they even say something like this? Are we rapists and murderers? They use our religion like a gaali (swear word). But we know this is all an effort to dilute the main issues of this election. We will vote for infrastructural development, education and health,” says Noor.
She claims she is not a regular at the Shaheen Bagh protests, but supports it in spirit.
“The idea is to divert attention from main issues”
Fahad Fareed (22) works as a graphic designer at a private firm and lives in Jamia Nagar. He feels the Delhi elections should be fought on issues that matter to Delhiiites. “CAA/NRC should not be an issue here, technically, but it will colour our vote. That’s unfortunate. It’s hurtful when we hear MPs trying to demonise us to win this election,” he says.
He claims this religious polarisation will end up affecting the job market too. “If lawmakers start saying things like this, why will the employers stop?” he asks.
Vikas Chaurasia (28), who runs a paan shop right next to the protest site, feels that voters should keep their priorities in mind when they go out to vote on February 8. “I am a Hindu, but that’s immaterial. We should realise that we will be voting for our city and its development that day. I know with these anti-CAA protests, things are getting too emotional for people. But we will be the losers if we vote on the basis of that,” says Chaurasia.
“Protestors won’t move because no govt representative is prepared to hear them out”
One December 15, when the police stormed the Jamia Milia campus and there was chaos in the surrounding areas, Naseer Siddiqui, 53, a resident of Batla House, rushed to the spot. He wanted to make “sense of the madness”.
“We cleared the traffic. We spoke to both protestors and police. There was so much fear. There still is fear. This is why I feel it’s important for BJP leaders to come and speak to the people of the area. They should come and clear their doubts. We went to Shaheen Bagh to make them move the protest elsewhere, but they refused, saying their voice is not being heard,” says Siddiqui.
He feels that though the local MLA, Amanatullah Khan, has done some good work in the constituency, the elections in the area might end up being fought on the issue of CAA/NRC. “Amanatullah Khan is a very approachable MLA, but the last two months and the incidents have eclipsed everything else,” says Siddiqui.
“My shop is closed and we have made losses of Rs 50 lakh. But I still support the protest”
Mohammad Arif (28) runs a leather goods outlet at the stretch of road that has been closed down because of the protests. He as a smaller shop in the bylanes of Shaheen Bagh.
Arif, who has been running the store for the past seven years, claims he has made losses amounting to Rs 50 lakh since the protest started. “My shop is in a prime locality. We did brisk business. We have made huge losses but I still support the protests. It’s an ideological battle for us,” he says.
But if the Centre is to be believed, Muslim residents who have papers have nothing to fear from NRC. “How many of us have valid papers? My employees, who come from villages, have no papers at all. Where will they get their papers from? Moreover, why is CAA not including Muslim refugees? It’s an insult to our religion,” he says.
He also feels that the BJP government has done little to clear doubts about the controversial Act. “Amit Shah and other leaders are trying to convince people that CAA isn’t anti Muslim in Hindu-dominated areas. Why aren’t they coming here?” he asks.
Nazar Khan, who also owns a garment shop in the area, feels that the recent spate of hate comments from BJP leaders will make this election even more volatile. “Even if we want to hold our MLA accountable for his work, these comments and the hate speeches are making us side with AAP. They are talking about development and education while BJP leaders are targetting us,” says Khan.
Okhla Vidhan Sabha Constituency
MLA: Amanatullah Khan of AAP defeated Braham Singh of BJP by 64,532 votes in 2015
Around 60 per cent of voters here are Muslim
MLA says: “The kind of comments BJP leaders are making is deplorable. It shows that they are desperate and have nothing to say. We are with our sisters and brothers of Shaheen Bagh. We are confident that our voters will judge us on our performance,” Amanatullah Khan told indianexpress.com.
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