The day and night protest by thousands of women in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi, defying and surving the most freezing cold of the century in the city, is into its sixth week.
The sit-in was launched in the wake of the police brutally repressing the strike made by students of Jamia Millia against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – capable of 'dividing' the country along religious lines. It was a few Muslim home makers who kicked off this protest along the Noida-Kalindi Kunj National Highway. The protest tent, initially ignored by the authorities, has been attracting a flow of protesters, notably women, each day; with that, the police tried to evacuate the tents by some means or the other. But each time, they were forced to succumb before the dourness of women power. A month thence, Shaheen Bagh has become the focus and symbol of the civic protests over citizenship raging across the country.
In solidarity with this protest of resistance that caught on without the support of any organization or movement, people from mainstream political parties to those from abroad, have been descending on the scene. As a clear departure from the time-tired perfunctory strikes, Shaheen Bagh marked a protest scene with a difference in tune with the new era of neo-democracy. Shaheen Bagh has been strenghtening steadily embracing the essence of all diversitities while, for that very reason, art and music have been getting transformed into poetic slogans against a fascist regime.
What more, the strike that started against the CAA, has expanded into an agitation against all the anti-democratic policies of Modi government. It makes some good news when the peaceful model of this agitation is spreading to other parts of the country: at least 16 places have seen the rise of Shaheen Bagh-model protest tents. And reports indicate that it will be replicated in more places.
Many intellectuals did theorise, while analysing the inertia of mainstream political parties, that our society has given in before fear under Modi's fascist rule. It was this 'fear theory' that was used to explain why the Opposition did not come to the streets even on issues that affected the entire population like demonetisation. But the students of Aligarh and Jamia and the northeastern states, who started the protests, and the ordinary citizens of Shaheen Bah, have torn that thesis to pieces. They boldly faced both police's long baton and government's arrogance.
In the process, they convince the country of the message that the time for strike and struggle is not over, and that for fear and apathy is no more. And this is where primarily Aligarh, Jamia and Shaheen Bagh show the way for our mainstream political parties. Those restive assemblies are performing the historic role of liberating the whole country from the fear that has engulfed it. For the same reason, when women without even primary education call out the slogan 'hum kaagaz nahin dikhaayene' (We will not show any document), it commands more attention than the resolutions passed by Kerala and Punjab assemblies. As the Shaheen Bagh model spreads out to more places, so much that it cannot be wished away or decimated, it also carries the answer to the question what the future of the anti-CAA stir will be.
There were at least some sceptics who, notwithstanding their opposition to the CAA, had viewed these strikes with reservations. When Muslims, the primary victims of the CAA, oppose it upholding their identity, wouldn't that alienate others following different streams of opinion? This was a concern raised by such quarters. But now it has to be admitted that all those concerns, originating from the extant 'political habits' reigning for long, are all out of place. It is clear and visible now how followers of Hindu and Sikh religions are also uniting with Muslims in Shaheen Bagh, in a remarkably creative visual expression of the concept of 'unity in diversity' – the very essence of the Constitution.
To be read with this is the politics of distant Tamil Nadu where Brahmin ladies who protested by burning 'anti-CAA' effigy. No doubt, Shaheen Bagh has become a synonym of a creative and pragmatic resistance against fascism. When this patch of land, near River Yamuna, has become a huge sentiment flowing all over the country, there is room for nothing but hope and optimism. Let us make a thousand Shaheen Baghs.