Despite Opposition, Shaheen Bagh Stands Strong. But What Next?

Challenging stereotypes, breaking boundaries and inspiring many others – the Shaheen Bagh protest stands strong.

Published26 Jan 2020, 07:29 AM IST
Opinion
5 min read

On Friday, 24 January, the Supreme Court of India refused to give an early date of hearing to a petition seeking removal of the Shaheen Bagh protesters. A petition had recently been filed in the apex court seeking directions for the concerned authorities ‘to monitor and track the situation in parts of South Delhi which had arisen due to protests in Shaheen Bagh’.

The petitioner, Amit Sahni, approached the apex court after the Delhi High Court refused to give any specific orders to remove the protesters. As per the petitioner, the High Court order does not achieve the relief sought by the petitioner, as it merely directs Delhi Police to look into the grievances of the people on the issue.

The Story of Shaheen Bagh

It can be noted that the protests in Shaheen Bagh have been going on for over a month — since 15 December, when Jamia Nagar, Jamia Millia Islamia and the neighbouring New Friends Colony witnessed violence during an anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) protest.

The Shaheen Bagh protest, which is essentially led, managed and sustained by ordinary Muslim women of the area, has become a point of discussion and debate even among those who have never heard of the area before. And one could point to several reasons for that.

Challenging Narratives, Demanding Change

The ongoing agitation has challenged numerous narratives about Muslims, especially Muslim Women. After passing of the law against Triple Talaq, it was often argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the real benefactor of Muslim women for putting an end to ‘the fear of triple talaq which kept haunting Muslim women.’

It was also believed that since Modi and his government had performed this service for the Muslim women, they would in turn oblige by agreeing to anything, or supporting any legislation brought by the PM and his party members. This belief became stronger when ‘no protest’ or opposition was observed from the ‘Muslim end’ in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 and the Ayodhya land dispute verdict.

The protests in Shaheen Bagh have, however, proven contrary to all these assumptions and arguments.

It has sent out a clear message that Muslim women are not anyone’s ‘property’, and capable of leading and organising protests and giving voice to their own demands.

This has presumably come as a big set back for the government and its supporters who have failed to give legitimacy to their agency in the past. For the opponents of the protest, the difficulty also lies in trying to confine it to a box by linking it to a particular party or organisation.

But despite these protests being led and organised by Muslim women, it has and continues to witness participation from different sections and parts of the country. The protests have also seen multi-faith prayers at the site, and chants such as ‘Jai Shri Ram’, etc have been raised without facing any objection whatsoever.

Communalism vs Unity

Such diverse participation has given way to an increased interaction between people belonging to different communities. People who had never encountered a Muslim concentrated area earlier have done so now because of their interest in these protests. This has led them to experience and gain knowledge of these localities, which are often unfortunately labeled as “Mini Pakistan”.

This seems to have irked proponents of communal politics the most, as it goes against their often put out narrative against Muslims. And instead of engaging with them, they have tried every trick in their bag to defame them and the protests. The BJP IT Cell’s national in-charge putting up an unverified video should also be seen in the same context.

Nationwide Protests

Meanwhile, taking a cue from Shaheen Bagh, similar protests have spread across the country. As per a recent report, these range to no less than a 100 places across the country. The national capital has itself witnessed nearly half a dozen of them.

And as far as the issue of inconvenience due to road blockages are concerned, one ought to remember the spatial dynamics of the Muslim concentrated areas. They are forced to protest on roads and highways for the lack of open spaces like parks and common land in these localities.

In Shaheen Bagh alone, or for that matter Jamia Nagar as well, there is not even one Eidgaah for them to organise their protests.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that even if the protests are organised in an Eidgaah or a park, it will not be put an end to. For a few weeks ago, when the women of Jafrabad, which is another Muslim concentrated area of Delhi, had tried to organise a protest similar to the one at Shaheen Bagh, they were forcibly evicted by the police.

The treatment meted out to the women protesters at Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow is another example of how the government and its supporters are decidedly against letting people register their sustained protest against CAA and NRC.

What Happens Next?

Coming to the big question, what next? For how long will the protest go on and keep causing inconvenience to the 'ordinary commuters'?

The protesters are in no mood to budge as they believe that it is a matter of life and death for them, their very existence is at stake.

If they don’t protest today, it will used against them in future to argue that if CAA, NRC and NPR were so problematic then why did not you protest back then, or stopped opposing it after a while?

This can also be used to argue that the protestors took part in the agitation as long as they were paid as alleged. They say, and rightly so, that the ball is in government’s court now and only the government can do something in this regard.

On 19 January, the protesters of Shaheen Bagh wrote letters to the PM Modi, inviting him to the protest site to listen their concerns and apprehensions about CAA, NRC and NPR but there has been no response yet. So far the government and its representatives’ response have been largely comprised of denial, demonisation and delegitimisation.

Until and unless there is a sympathetic hearing and honest effort from the government, especially Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the protest is likely to continue.

(Mahtab Alam is a multilingual journalist and writer. He writes on issues related to politics, law, literature, human rights and tweets @MahtabNama. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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