New Delhi: For the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, the possibility of being killed for their cause has become all too real as Delhi struggles to cope with the communal violence in its northeastern region.
By Wednesday, the fourth day since riots broke out following clashes between pro- and anti-Citizenship Act (CAA) protests in the Jaffrabad-Maujpur area, 24 people had been killed and scores injured.
At Shaheen Bagh, which has come to symbolise the anti-CAA and NRC protests across the country, the mood is of anger and helplessness. Their once-loved “dilwalon ki Dilli” has become “jhannum (hell),” protesters say.
With their faith in the government, police, judiciary and media completely eroded, Allah is their only ally in the fight for azaadi (freedom), they say.
‘Don’t know if I’ll come back from Shaheen Bagh’
For the past two months, the women of Shaheen Bagh — the leaders of the protest — have spent almost every waking minute sitting under a tent, demanding the rollback of the amended citizenship law. Between the harsh winter cold and attempts to have the protest moved, they’ve faced plenty.
However, the fear of dying for their cause became a present danger after mobs, armed with stones, guns, sickles and daggers, ran amok across Northeast Delhi. The motive of the violence has been clear — to ensure no other Shaheen Bagh emerges.
“I leave my children at home every day to come here. But in the last few days, I feel that I don’t know if I will come back,” said Mona Ahmed, one of the women at the protest.
“I keep telling my family and my sisters here, if I die, don’t take my body home — I want to go to the graveyard straight from the protest site here.”
Ahmed’s sentiment is shared by others, including a woman in her 80s, who refused to identify herself. “Only those who have lost their children can understand the pain of a grieving parent,” she said, close to tears.
New sense of urgency
Visuals of police and journalists from the violence-affected areas dominated the news for several days, even when US President Donald Trump was in India on his first visit. On social media, the images are more jarring — unarmed men being dragged, beaten and harassed while police fail to protect them.
For those at Shaheen Bagh, the impact of these visuals is deeper — they know it could be their families next. This has lent their fight an urgency, even panic.
“Even two-year-olds are talking about azaadi now. This never happened in our families before,” said the woman in her 80s.
The resolve, and resignation, of Ahmed and the old woman is palpable among the other protesters. There is a sense that the Indian Muslim here has lost allies — the government, the police, the judiciary and the media — in their struggle for equality.
“We only have our Allah. Let them pelt as many stones at us, we will not retaliate,” said 32-year-old Fatima Khatun, who was holding a polythene bag containing a bottle of water, fruits and a copy of the Quran. “But when the almighty pelts his stone, no amount of violence and demonisation against us will work.”
Stuck between suspicion & panic
Shaheen Bagh, being the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests, has seen people from across Delhi show up in solidarity. But the communal riots has now made them increasingly suspicious of new faces.
Concerted attempts to brand them as radical Islamists and terrorists have made them reluctant to talk to reporters.
“Modiji kehte hain kapdon se pehchan lo, toh aap bhi kapdon se pehchan lijiye (Modiji said you can recognise us by our clothes, so you can just do that),” said one woman who refused to identify herself and was unwilling to talk to a journalist.
Other women who spoke to ThePrint also repeatedly asked which organisation this reporter worked for, what the report would say and how it would portray the protests. The protesters now have a list of media houses they speak to, and those they will not entertain.
In the background, one can hear a message every few minutes on the loudspeaker asking people to maintain calm no matter what happens.
“Madam, humein bohot badnaam kiya gaya hai. Ab humein Allah ko chhod ke kissi pe trust nahi hai (Madam, we have been defamed a lot. Now, we only trust Allah),” said the woman quoted above. “Yeh sarkar, police aur media ab qaatil bann chuke hain. (The government, police and media have become murderers),” she said.
Former Delhi MLA Kapil Mishra, who is widely being seen as the main instigator of the latest riots, on Tuesday tweeted that what he said about not allowing Jaffrabad turning into another Shaheen Bagh has been achieved.
Following the clashes, the Delhi Police cleared out protesters at Jaffrabad by Tuesday night.
From the fear and grief though, has risen a more resilient sense of purpose.
“Kapil Mishra ne kaha tha Jaffrabad ko Shaheen Bagh nahi banne denge. Hum unhe kehte hain ki hum Shaheen Bagh ko Jaffrabad nahi banne denge (Kapil Mishra said he would not allow Jaffrabad to turn into Shaheen Bagh. We say we will not allow Shaheen Bagh to turn into Jaffrabad),” said Khatun.
“Let them bring their police, their goons, their truckloads of stones — we are not going anywhere till CAA and NRC are rolled back.”
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