If holding Mahatma Gandhi’s poster, waving the Tricolour and peacefully agitating for the “cause of a secular framework” of the Constitution of India makes you a ‘traitor’, then who really makes the cut for being called a true Indian?
This question pops up in the mind when one thinks through the prism of Shaheen Bagh, for this is the place where debates around nationalism and secularism are followed by charges of sedition.
The all-women protest in Shaheen Bagh has crossed 100 days. (Photo: Reuters)
Hundreds of women demonstrators have been holding fort in Shaheen Bagh since December 15, 2019, against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).
Ironically, these women hit the streets against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who happens to be a flag-bearer of women empowerment.
The protest started against the passing of the CAA, which came into effect on December 11, 2019, offering citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Having singled out Muslims as the sole non-beneficiaries, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government said the amended law will protect religious minorities fleeing persecution in the aforementioned countries. The legislation assumes Muslims don’t face persecution in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Interestingly, at Shaheen Bagh, which has now completed 100 days of protest, the peaceful protest and the temperament of those protesting, has remained unfazed even in the face of harsh weather conditions since Day 1.
From the biting cold of December, to the attempted provocation in slogans like “Goli Maro…”, to the frenzy created by a gunman who turned up at the protest site, Shaheen Bagh remained peaceful.
Even the northeast Delhi riots, which left over 50 persons dead, couldn’t deter the resolve of Shaheen Bagh protesters.
What could have been the driving force behind the enduring conviction at this demonstration site in the national capital?
Well, I believe that for any nationalist Indian, who believes in peace and communal harmony, who can be a bigger inspiration than Mahatma Gandhi, whose posters often graced the demonstration site, alongside posters of Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar?
The Father of the Nation called his protest mode satyagraha or ‘truth-force’. In Gandhi's philosophy, satyagraha is an outgrowth of non-violence.
Satyagraha was an ideology Gandhi lived by. Much before he joined the freedom struggle, when he was practicing law in South Africa, Gandhi practised satyagraha. Gandhian ideology didn’t die with his assassination. Gandhi and his principles continue to inspire free India. It has only acquired a new name - Gandhigiri.
Shaheen Bagh has been adhering to the same Gandhian ideology, even in the face of extreme provocation; even the violent ones.
Gandhi taught the world: “If someone slaps you on one side of your face, turn the other one to him."
Had Shaheen Bagh not adhered to democratic principles, would Supreme Court have appointed interlocutors and not ordered eviction of protesters from the site?
Amid petition after petition seeking their removal, the protesters always defended the demonstrations saying, “CAA combined with NPR and NRC was no less dangerous than any other deadly situation.”
For the agitating women, the protests may have come as a liberating opportunity. For years, many of them had been seen as suppressed by their largely patriarchal Muslim society. The CAA, however, proved a game changer.
With these women, including those in the burqa and hijab, having led the agitation, the role of men from the community was reduced to that of being volunteers alone. The icing on the cake has remained the heart-warming support from people from all walks of life, communities, religious and political ideologies, who cherish India’s unity in diversity.
To that end, Shaheen Bagh has achieved a lot and is not just a protest site alone. It stands for much more that goes beyond just winning or losing.