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Lucknow women’s anti-CAA protest: unprecedented show of strength through ‘ahimsa’

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Lucknow: Undeterred by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanth’s loud threats to book them and undaunted by the biting chill, thousands of women were truly braving it out here to make their voices heard against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register for Citizens (NRC).

Far from losing its steam as their ‘dharna’ entered the ninth day under the open skies at Lucknow’s historical Hussainabad Clock Tower, the number of the demonstrators appears to be increasing . Friday’s gathering looked not less than a 8,000-10,000 plus .  And significantly , they are  neither under a political banner nor guided by any recognised social activist group.

 Similar protests by ordinary women have been going on in Varanasi, Allahabad (Prayagraj), Aligarh, Sambhal and some other UP towns. And despite being booked for “violation of section 144” or for “instigation”, such protesters have not given up their demonstrations.

Sprawled over a roughly 4-acre stone-paved platform in front of the 19th century clock tower, these first-time demonstrators in Lucknow refused to get cowed down by Yogi Adityanath’s threat to book them for sedition and send them behind bars. “We are just staging a peaceful ‘dharna’ in this corner of the city ; what is most shocking is that simply because we raised this slogan of ‘azadi’, we are being accused of indulging in anti-national activity ; how can someone equate our quest for ‘azadi’ with that of separatists in Kashmir ?”,  asked Sabiha Rizvi a B.Com final student of a local elitist college who defied her family to participate in the anti-CAA dharna.  She was referring to the chief minister’s remark that if the demonstrators continued with their ‘azadi’ slogan, they would be dealt with most severely because it clearly sounds similar to Kashmiri terrorists’  call for ‘azadi’.

Rizvi goes on to point out, “what we are seeking is freedom from CAA and NRC, besides ‘azadi’ from unemployment and illiteracy as also ‘azadi’ from heinous crimes like rape and dowry deaths .”

Well known former BBC journalist Ramdutt Tripathi feels, “this intimidation by the BJP government is a reflection of their aversion to the word ‘azadi’ because these right-wingers had nothing to do with India’s freedom movement; rather some of them even joined hands with the British to oppose the freedom movement.” Tripathi compares this protest to what Mahatma Gandhi did way back in 1906 in South Africa against a new law that prescribed compulsory registration of all Indians, Chinese, Arabs and other black Asians.

Meanwhile, emboldened by the chief minister’s offensive attitude against the demonstrators, policemen went to the extent of even snatching away blankets brought by volunteers to save the demonstrators from the extreme cold at night . Temperature usually drops very low because of the close proximity of the area to the Gomati river. Blanket snatching was stopped after the social media went viral with stories of “kambal chor”, leading   Lucknow’s new police commissioner Sujit Pande to castigate his men in khakhi. But then,  civic officials got down to switching off all street lights in and around the area,  thereby plunging the entire place into  darkness. They also locked the public toilets in and around the area but were compelled to open them after loud public outcry.

“The Yogi Adityanath government thinks they can scare us through their petty act of switching off lights at night, or by taking away our blankets,  but such acts of intimidation are only giving us more strength to fight” asserts Naish Hasan,  a middle-aged social activist. “But such oppressive actions have failed to deter these protestor women”, observed former Lucknow University vice chancellor Prof Roop Rekha Verma,  who is a regular at the ‘dharna’ site.

Seventy-six year old Verma , who is widely known for her activism, spends some time every day encouraging the younger lot,  whose passion to fight for their rights is incredible. All India Democratic Women' Association (AIDWA) leader Madhu Garg too extends all support to the protest with her team of activists who make it a point to join the sit-in demonstration every day.

What came as another shot in the arm was the surprise visit by internationally acclaimed Shia scholar and cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq who is also senior vice president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) . The octogenarian,  who has been battling cancer for three years stepped out of his hospital room for the first time to address the demonstrators.  Sitting on a wheel-chair, he aired all his admiration for the protestors .

“These women have created history , by doing what men have not done anywhere. This is the first time that I am witnessing ordinary housewives,  young students and grandmothers all joining hands to stage a protest in this Gandhian way.  And the manner in which Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian women and young girls have joined hands  to stage a round-the-clock demonstration braving the cold weather under the open skies,  is unparalleled”, he said.

He went on to tell the protestors, “my advice to you all is to not get cowed down by any kind of oppression or threats;  maintain peace and calm and do not give up;  I can assure you that victory will be yours once day.” 

Reacting to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s declaration at a public rally in Lucknow that he would not withdraw CAA or NRC under any circumstances, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq sought to hit back, “if you don’t take back this law, then these demonstrating women, these children will unseat you one day”.

In his feeble but firm voice he went on to add, “don’t get disheartened by adversities and intimidation ; remember every night is followed by a morning.” He also flayed a UP minister for his remark, “if these anti-CAA protestors do not listen, we will teach them a lesson that their generations will remember.”

In less than 24 hours of his visit to the dharna site, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq received the government’s retort.  His son Kalbe Sibtain has been booked for “unlawful assembly” and for “instigation”.  He had visited the dharna a day earlier.

It may be recalled that the UP government had been extremely harsh on anti-CAA protestors when they undertook their first demonstration last month. Not only were thousands of protestors arrested and dumped in jails in different parts of the state, but about 17 protestors were killed in police firing. Yet, many of such sufferers were seen joining the dharna at the Clock Tower. These include activists like Deepak Kabir and Sadaf Jafar who really had to face much police brutalities last time.

Popular public support to the peaceful demonstration is visible in the help that is pouring in from local citizens who are donating food, water, blankets and other essential items for them. Some battery operated lights have also been donated to protect the demonstrators from darkness.

In a nutshell, the dharna has already turned into a people’s movement on the lines of the mass upsurge that was witnessed in protest against the Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi some years ago.

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