Shaheen Bagh Effect: Base of Anti-CAA Protests Is Slowly Expanding
With the Shaheen Bagh protesters starting a dialogue with the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors, the thousands of ‘Shaheen Baghs’ that have emerged across India are helping to gradually expand the reach of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests.
A significant win for the protesters is that the participation of non-Muslims in the protests is steadily increasing. Particularly significant is the rising involvement of Sikh, Dalit, Adivasi and farmers’ groups in the protests. However, there are state-wise variations, with participation from non-Muslim groups more pronounced in non-BJP ruled states. Let’s take a look at the protests in five states.
On 15 February, there was a massive protest at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan. Besides local Muslims, several Dalit, Bahujan and neo-Buddhist groups also participated in the protest. An important organisation which mobilised people for the Azad Maidan protest was the Chhatrapati Sambhaji Brigade.
Sachin Kamble, leader of the Chhatrapati Sambhaji Brigade says that Bahujan communities must recognise the threat that CAA and NRC pose to them.
Kamble explains that RSS and BJP have tried to “subjugate” Bahujan communities by “feeding them the poison of Hindutva and hatred against Muslims”.
“RSS feeds SC, ST & OBC communities lies about Muslims to keep them under their Brahminical authority. This is nothing but a way to increase their oppression. This poison is the reason why these communities didn’t react against the CAA earlier. But this is changing now,” Kamble said.
According to Kamble, if NRC is carried out on the basis of DNA, Brahmins will be the first ones to be identified as outsiders.
Kamble and his organisation have been organising a number of joint protests with Muslims groups against the CAA.
Organisations like Bharatiya Bhatke Vimukta Youth Front, representing nomadic tribes, are particularly worried about the potential NRC and the NPR.
They point out that most people from nomadic tribes don’t have documents such as proof of residence and will be the worst affected by an NRC-like exercise.
In Punjab, the protests against the CAA are being led mainly by farmers’ groups, Sikh organisations, Dalit outfits and students.
Punjab witnessed its largest anti-CAA protest at the Anaj Mandi in Malerkotla in Sangrur district on 15 February, with Muslim organisations and locals joining hands with farmers’ groups such as Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) and Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and Left students’ groups like Punjab Students’ Union – Lalkaar. Professor Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, also addressed the rally.
On the same day, a large protest march was organised by Dalit organisations under the banner of the Bharat Bachao Dalit Manch. Beginning from the Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hall, the protesters planned to march till the city’s RSS headquarters but were stopped on the way. But they succeeded in bringing the area to a standstill for about three hours.
Panthic organisations like Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) have also held protests against CAA and NRC.
A key development was the Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh meeting Muslim representatives and expressing support for the anti-CAA stir.
“There’s an atmosphere of insecurity among minorities. Sikhs are bound to stand by the oppressed,” he said.
In Madhya Pradesh, besides Muslims, the battle against CAA and NRC is being led by Adivasi and Dalit groups. The first major protest by Adivasi and Dalit groups was organised in Barwani in the end of January.
Protests also took place at Khargone and Burhanpur. The joint demand by Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit groups compelled the Madhya Pradesh government to adopt a motion against the CAA.
In Tamil Nadu, the protests against CAA appear to have the active backing of the DMK and the MDMK. The brutal police action against protesters in Chennai also expanded support for the anti-CAA movement in Tamil Nadu, with several Opposition parties and individual citizens expressing their solidarity.
DMK President MK Stalin also initiated a signature campaign against CAA, which reportedly received over 2 crore signatures.
In West Bengal, the battle against CAA and NRC is not seen as an exclusively Muslim issue, with several activists, artists and the ruling Trinamool Congress also joining the stir. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has herself led protests in several parts of the state since the passage of the CAA.
The NRC process in Assam, which affected several Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims, has created fear among some Hindus in West Bengal as well. And the protesters as well as the TMC have partially succeeded in sending the message that this isn’t a Hindu-Muslim issue.
There is also a narrative that BJP’s Hindutva project goes against West Bengal’s ‘syncretic’ culture and there are attempts to counter it from a Bengali Hindu perspective.
This has pushed elements within BJP on the back-foot as well, with leaders like Chandra Kumar Bose adopting a more conciliatory line regarding the CAA.
Why Have Protests Expanded?
There are several reasons why the involvement of non-Muslims in the anti-CAA protests is slowly increasing.
First, the protests by Muslims themselves have expanded manifold from the time the agitation initially started. In Maharashtra for example, there are protests in almost every town with a sizable Muslim population. This has enabled non-Muslims who are aggrieved with Hindutva forces or the central government, Dalits and farmers for example, to join the protests out of a sense of common disaffection.
Second, Muslim women being at the forefront of the protests has helped broaden the appeal of the anti-CAA agitation.
Third, in states like Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the protests are also invoking a shared syncretic culture, standing against the Hindi-Hindutva hegemony. In Maharashtra, the dominant narrative of the protests is rooted in the ideals of Jotiba Phule and BR Ambedkar and the need to resist Brahminical hegemony.
Fourth, the vocabulary of the Constitution and the constant invocation of the freedom struggle and icons like BR Ambedkar have also provided a platform for including diverse forces under the protests.
Fifth, it is perhaps no coincidence that non-Muslims have joined the protests at a far greater scale in non-BJP ruled states. This could be because the threat of state repression as well as right-wing propaganda against the protests are less in these states. There are exceptions, of course, such as the Sikh farmers from Punjab who came to Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh in large numbers despite the threat of violence by Delhi Police or of attacks by right-wing goons.
The broadening of the base of the protests could have harmful consequences for the government as it appears that the propaganda that the anti-CAA stir is “Islamist” or “anti-national” isn’t quite cutting it.