Shaheen Bagh: The undying protest

Shaheen Bagh has become the central battle field for the war against CAA as well as NRC.  The Shaheen Bagh protest began with just 10 to 15 local women on the afternoon of 14 December 2019. Later it developed into a 24/7 sit-in protest where locals and more women joined in, the extent of the protest kept growing and reached to an extensive amount of 1,00,000. The primary aim for the peaceful protest is the retraction of the CAA as well as refrain from implementing NRC-NPC across the country.

CAA or The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities, who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014. Muslims from those countries were not given such eligibility. The act was the first time religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law which goes against article 14.

Article 14 – Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Republic day

There have been efforts to remove or relocate the protest from Shaheen Bagh to a place where it would not be at a central location as to not restrict traffic, but till now Delhi high court has refused the plea. Delhi police has dealt it as a matter of traffic matter but would not use force instead use “persuasion”, there have been quite a handful cases of police brutality since the apex of the protests from JNU to Jamia Millia Islamia, there are also been protests regarding the aforementioned brutality. Protesters have said they will help relieve the traffic congestion but won’t budge until CAA is scrapped.

Till now, the Shaheen Bagh protesters have shown no sign of relenting. On the other hand, the Narendra Modi government has stood firm saying the CAA will not be taken back. This looks a stalemate kind of a situation.

But despite the government’s stand of “not budging an inch” on the Citizenship Amendment Act that seeks to expedite procedure for naturalisation of non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Shaheen Bagh protest has visibly put the BJP-led NDA on the back-foot. Not less than Prime Minister Narendra has announced a sort of retreat on the issue of CAA-NPR-NRC.

PM Modi and a host of his ministers have clarified on multiple platforms that the CAA “does not affect Indian Muslims”. PM Modi accused the Congress and other Opposition parties of leading a misinformation campaign over CAA and alleging that individuals and groups with vested interests are using anti-CAA protesters to spread anti-India agenda.

Tents in the freezing nights of Delhi.

There are clear signs of climbdown by the Modi government on the issue of the CAA-NPR-NRC. During the discussion on the CAA, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared the NRC (National Register of Citizens) would definitely be prepared despite hue and cry by the Opposition. He has long pitched for a pan-India NRC saying “every infiltrator will be thrown out” of the country.

Days after Amit Shah’s NRC declaration in Parliament, PM Modi – with Shaheen Bagh protest gathering momentum against the CAA – told a public rally in Delhi that there was “no discussion in the government” about NRC. This was the first sign that the government was in retreat on this issue which began as security challenge but turned into an emotive one.

Later, the government told Parliament in a written reply that there was no decision on the proposed pan-India NRC.

Given the legal status and connection of the NRC with the NPR (National Population Register), the government actually does not require to conduct an exclusive NRC drive. The data gathered for the NPR can be used to prepare the NRC.

The protesters at Shaheen Bagh have since then deflected the protest to target the NPR exercise. Some of the states beginning West Bengal and Kerala have already halted the process of NPR.

In this backdrop, the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh – piloted by women, particularly those from the Muslim community – has achieved what many other protests, especially those led by political parties, have failed to accomplish. Protests against demonetisation, GST rollout, Rafale deal and triple talaq law are such examples of protests failing to achieve their objective.

There have been multiple attempts to demean or reject the protests by many BPJ politicians including Yogi Adityanath, there also have been constant firing near the site of protest, how will the protest turn is something to keep our eyes on as citizens of India as it is bound to be a monumental moment in our history.

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