A new generation of student leaders, the bold participation of Bollywood celebrities like Deepika Padukone, the dadis and nanis of Shaheen Bagh and several other instances. The first year of PM Modi's second term has seen widespread protests across India.
While the students have been the heart of the protest, with several emerging as activists and leaders in their own right, intellectuals and civil activists been intrinsic to the the movement as well.
While the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 has put a pause on these protests, let's take a look at some of these civil society activists who raised their voice against the PM Narendra Modi-led central government. Some of them have come under the scanner by Delhi police who has arrested them in the NE Delhi riots case.
The Women of Shaheen Bagh
Standing tall to defend their identities and survival the women at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protests have become an iconic symbol of protest against the PM Modi government.
The protests started on 15 December 2019 as a response to the police intervention inside the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia as well as the passing of the CAA on 11 December. Ever since a group of women went on an indefinite protest to demand scrapping of the new citizenship law.
The crowd swelled over the weeks, however the female-driven nature of these protests did not end. The grandmothers of Shaheen Bagh took centre stage soon enough. Explaining their concerns regarding the CAA, they've explained how they do not have the papers one needs to prove their citizenship. Fearing this, they are worried about not only themselves but also of the offspring they've brought into this world.
They've pushed television channels who generally have studio debates, to either come down to Shaheen Bagh or to bring these grandmothers to their studios. Either way, there is no way one can talk about the anti-CAA protest agitation and not speak of the Shaheen Bagh protests.
United Against Hate
Speaking in Parliament on the Delhi violence, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “United Against Hate – the name sounds so pious but look what they advocated. They said, ‘(Donald) Trump is about to come, we should block the streets’”.
UAH started as a citizen's campaign in July 2017 in response to the series of lynchings that had taken place around that time. It was led by a group of lawyers, activists and young students and started by Banojyotsana Lahiri, Umar Khalid, Nadeem khan, Mohit Pandey and Khalid Saifi with several others joining after as well. The organisation has regularly organised protests to raise their voice against the spate of lynchings across the country.
They also started a helpline to help various people who were targetted in hate crimes. In several instances they've helped arranged medical or legal aid for the victims. This includes the case of Inspector Subodh Kumar who was killed in Bulandshahr during violent clashes that sparked unrest in the area after a cow carcass was found. They have also been at the forefront with Najeeb Jung’s mother, since he went missing from JNU in October 2016.
With the passing of the CAA, joined the agitation against the law while continuing to fight against mob lynchings.
Khalid Saifi was picked up from the Khureji protest site, his bail denied and then he was charged under UAPA and other charges in the Delhi riots case. Umar Khalid has been slapped with UAPA and other charges.
Pinjra Tod Activists
Calling themselves an "autonomous collective of women students fighting for a just, accessible, non discriminatory University and affordable accommodation", Pinjra Tod has become a name amongst student activists across universities. The movement began in 2015 after an open letter was sent to the vice chancellor of Jamia opposing the cancellation of women students’ right to stay out until late at night.
From then to now, Pinjra Tod has helped several women question biased gender based rules in universities and campus'. Right before the NE Delhi riots, it was Pinjra Tod activists who along with those protesting at the Seelampur protest site got into an altercation with the police, leading to them moving under the Jaffrabad protest on 23 February.
Two activists of Pinjra Tod were arrested on 24 May, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, granted bail and then immediately rearrested by Delhi police.
Assam's Akhil Gogoi and Zubeen Garg
While protests reached rest of India about a week later, Assam erupted in protests against the CAA on 4 December. The leader of Assam's peasant organisation, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Akhil Gogoi was arrested in December 2019 for his role in leading protests against the CAA in Assam. Gogoi is also known to be an RTI activist who uses the medium to get information about the government.
The National Investigation Agency said Gogoi has been booked for “waging a war against the nation”, conspiracy and rioting. After which he was also booked under the UAPA which empowers the central government to designate an individual as a “terrorist” if he or she is found to be committing, preparing for, promoting, or being involved in an act of terrorism.
Popular Assamese singer Zubeen Garg has been another big name who is fronting anti-CAA protests in the state. He has spoken against the arrest of Gogoi and other leaders of the KMSS and slammed the sedition cases as well. He also launched a website to on the CAA in February, with the message: "Our agitation is to exclude Assam from the purview of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Our fight is for the injustice done to our Motherland, our People and Our Culture."
Keeping the police on their toes was Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azaad. From leading Anti-CAA protests in Delhi's Jama Masjid, escaping the police, only to return to the protest triumphantly, Azaad has said the Anti-CAA movement will continue. The image of Azaad holding the Constitution of India on the stairs of the Jama Masjid is an image of his political mission to create a stable coalition between Dalits and Muslims against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Someone who is able to pull the crowd and the media, he also recently inaugurated the Azad Samaj Party on the birth anniversary of Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram on 15 March 2020.
The Bollywood Brigade
Personalities from the Hindi film industry have not only issued statements regularly, but have also come out to protest in public spaces.
Even before the CAA became an Act, 49 celebrities from different fields wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over incidents of lynching in the country on 23 July 2019. They said that while the PM had criticized lynchings in parliament, that was not enough. They also highlighted how 'Jai Sri Ram' had become a provocative war-cry that leads to law and order problems. The signatories includep several Bollywood personalities Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap, Konkana Sen Sharma and others including historian Ramchandra Guha.
While Richa Chadha, Huma Qureshi and Anurag Kashyap were regularly tweeting against the police brutality against students, at a massive protest organised at Mumbai's August Kranti Maidan in December 2019 Farhan Akhter, Zoya Akhter, Rahul Bose and Sushant Singh showed up. A day after the attack in JNU hostels by a masked mob on 5 January Anurag Kashyap, Taapsee Pannu, Zoya Akhtar, Richa Chadha, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dia Mirza, and Anubhav Sinha were among those who joined the Carter Road protest in Mumbai.
On 7 January, however, superstar Deepika Padukone surprised everyone when she decided to show up at JNU and stood next to an injured JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh, while former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar raised slogans of Azaadi, to show solidarity with the students after masked goons had ransacked some hostels in the campus.