‘Won’t move come what may’: Shaheen Bagh interlocutors face resilient protesters

‘Won’t move come what may’: Shaheen Bagh interlocutors face resilient protesters

The two SC-appointed interlocutors seemed to make little headway on day one of talks with protesters, who said they were staying put until govt heard them.

Women protesters listen to the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors at Shaheen Bagh on 19 February 2020 | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Representational image | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

New Delhi: Shaheen Bagh protesters Wednesday held their ground after a two-hour long interaction with Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran, and said they will not leave the site come what may.

“Women and children are sitting here, in this biting cold — we aren’t doing so because we are having fun. If we can sacrifice so much for this protest, can’t people tolerate a slight inconvenience?” asked 64-year-old Kaneez Fatima, one of the ‘dadis‘ (grandmothers) who have become synonymous with the protest.

The Shaheen Bagh protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is in its second month, and has been the focal point for similar protests across the country and much debate. The BJP even made Shaheen Bagh its poll plank in the run up to the Delhi elections. Several party leaders have since raised objections to the public inconvenience caused by the cordoning off of the site. A critical arterial road connecting Delhi and Noida has been blocked since the 24×7 sit-in protest began.

Senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran address the protesters at Shaheen Bagh on 19 February 2020 | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Protesters, however, reiterated that their demonstration was beyond the scope of “inconvenience”.

“We understand and acknowledge the temporary inconvenience some might be going through, but we are sitting in this protest to prevent the trauma our future generations will go through due to CAA-NRC,” Nusrat Khan, another dadi told ThePrint.

The Supreme Court, which has been hearing petitions on the matter, had Monday appointed senior advocates Hegde and Ramachandran to speak to the people of Shaheen Bagh and try and persuade them to shift their protest elsewhere. The court also asked the lawyers to speak to former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah for his assistance in handling the matter.

“The right to protest is a fundamental right,” the top court had said, but added that “there are lines and boundaries… if everyone starts blocking roads, where will people go?”

But Hafsa Khan, a Jamia Millia Islamia student, said, “The question of ‘persuasion’ only arises if we had another option. We don’t. This protest has been going on for months now and the government still doesn’t listen to us. Why should we believe they will listen to us if we do move to another site?”

Also read: Supreme Court can’t care for Shaheen Bagh children more than the parents

More than just a road block

The interlocutors, who reached Shaheen Bagh at around 3 pm, first read out the Supreme Court order and said they acknowledged the right to protest, but added that it shouldn’t come at the cost of other people’s rights.

“CAA has been challenged in the Supreme Court. But like everyone here, others have their rights too, like right to use roads, open shops. Our rights must not come at the cost of other people’s rights,” Ramachandran told the protesters.

Protesters listen to the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors at Shaheen Bagh | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

In response, the protesters said the police should open the roads that are “unnecessarily blocked” — a counter argument has often been brought up.

“We have said time and again that the protest only exists on a small 150-meter patch. The police has unnecessarily blocked multiple other roads,” 24-year-old Fatima Hussain said. Hussain is a PhD student at Jamia Millia Islamia who spoke during the discussion with the lawyers.

Other protesters, however, said the road blockade was necessary for the safety of those at the site.

“The other day, there was a firing at Jamia. Then there was a firing at Shaheen Bagh. If tomorrow all these barricades go away, then who knows what will happen,” said Ameer Jahan, one of the people holding the Shaheen Bhagh protest.

At the end of two hours, the interlocutors left the site saying they would be back by Sunday for another round of discussions.

Also read: Shaheen Bagh and the new wave of protest art that’s sweeping across India