Anti-CAA protests in Delhi | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Anti-CAA protests in Delhi | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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Under the Narendra Modi government’s rule, India has been divided into sharp binaries in the past few years. And these became even starker since the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Amit Shah’s plans for a National Register of Citizens.

This is why I initiated a social experiment — away from the social media echo chambers. On the day when thousands of protesters turned up at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to oppose the Act, I invited ordinary Indians to my house to peel the layers of the CAA and citizenship that Twitter can only dream of.

I wanted an honest and civil conversation about the CAA, which tries to replace the online vitriol and name-calling that the BJP and its supporters had unleashed on protesters.


Also read: How citizenship will be granted under new law and what role a state govt plays


A neutral space

I asked on Twitter if people were interested in hearing those outside their usual circles. And if they did, would they want to come along with a friend with an opposing viewpoint and discuss the CAA and the idea of citizenship?

To my surprise, about four dozen people expressed interest in a very short span of time.

Some friends who saw my post offered to host this “offline meet up” in conference rooms of their corporate offices, others offered spare rooms in their NGO offices. Every space carries a certain message. Many young university students or family members would have felt out of place in corporate offices, while some would have questioned the neutrality if the meet-up was in offices of organisations that are openly opposing the CAA.

In the interest of ‘neutrality’, I decided to open up my house. A lot of the people were willing to commute from faraway places to reach my house. After 24 hours of receiving responses, I had to make an announcement that we had reached full capacity. My small house would not accommodate any more people.

It was certainly scary to share my address with strangers on Twitter. It was worth it at the end of the day.


Also read: Indian Muslims have finally found their voice, there’s no going back: Salman Khurshid


Better than Twitter

Early on 30 December, a mildly sunny Sunday, I invited seven people to come along with a friend who holds an opposing viewpoint on the CAA. Armed with buttermilk, biscuits and chips for 14 people, I braced myself for the conversations.

What transpired throughout the day was a valuable experience.

Initially, only five of the 14 turned up. It was a Sunday and commuting in Mumbai is no joke.

Of these five, everyone opposed the police brutality against the protesters. But, not all of them were for street protests. They would not protest on the streets but no one should be harmed for it, they felt. They didn’t believe in such modes of protest.

All of them said they opposed the CAA, but while two had ideological reasons, one person felt that the state lacked the capacity to see such a massive exercise through. “If the state had capacity, should it have passed such a law?” I asked. “No, the state should not limit entry to just one kind of migrants,” he answered. “It should limit entry to all migrants who are entering for economic reasons.”

While others in the room were vocal advocates of opening the borders to all kinds of migrants and refugees, they withheld their disappointment and tried to reason with him rationally.

What would have otherwise been an acidic quote-tweet about whether this man had an affordable Bangladeshi domestic worker became a well-reasoned conversation on just wages for the domestic workers and humanitarian concerns India should have as a nation.

Over a period of time, everyone loosened up. They began talking about how their families and friends support the law. “A friend who supports the law cited the Spanish law and said everyone who shares Spain’s cultural roots is welcome in Spain more than others. Why should India not have such a law which is religious in nature?” asked one.

This led to a long debate on the idea of India, which was meant to be inclusive and open to all cultures.


Also read: You can’t cancel Modi, RSS: Why US-style identity politics won’t help Indian liberals’ fight


Holding space

After they left, three women knocked on my door. “We are very late, but wanted to drop in to see if people are conversing still,” they said. Two of them resembled each other, I asked if they were related. “My mom,” said the younger one. She had brought along her mother to discuss if Muslims should participate in these protests at all. “At home, we only fight,” she said sweetly. So, she wanted to have the conversation in a different place and amidst different people.

Her mother carefully removed her burqa and placed it aside. With a loud voice, she expressed herself clearly. “We need to be strategic. This is the time for Muslims to let others take on the struggle. If we seek our rights, they will shut us up,” she said. “Like they are doing in Uttar Pradesh.”

Her daughter was distraught. “But it is our fight, why not fight it boldly?”

One person messaged late afternoon and dropped in early evening. With his wife. “I want to understand why she is so anti-Modi and why she supports those who are burning buses,” he said. He fights with many people like his wife online, but can’t take her on every day at home without making his life hell. So, he had driven her from more than 25 kilometres away to reach my house.

We spoke till late in the evening over bottles of wine.

“Wish we spoke more to people,” said the woman. “We end up speaking at people all the time.”

Each of these people had much to do on a Sunday. But they choose to drop in for conversations. I am not sure how much of a change in their viewpoints this brought about. For many though, it was the first time they were talking openly and without fear, with someone who held opposing beliefs.

The nature of Twitter is such that those who turned up were from better socio-economic backgrounds. However, it is not tough to adapt this model to different settings.

Some people came forward to organise such face-to-face meetings in other cities. We will continue holding space.

The author is a multimedia journalist, focussing on human rights. She won the Chameli Devi Award for Outstanding Media Personality. Views are personal.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. I have a suggestion to defeat the crude attempts to divide the country. An element of flexibility is needed from the Muslim clergy to tide over the crisis created by Modi and Shah. Deoband can issue a Fatwa in this matter if found possible under the Islamic theology. The suggestion is that Muslims should be temporarily allowed to go to temples without losing their religion. They may be also allowed to adopt Hindu names till Modi and Shah are in power without losing their faith. They should be allowed to pretend that they are Hindus while remaining as true Muslims in belief. I am sure in the long history of Islam, some stalwarts of the Islam faith must have pretended that they were non- Muslims to save their lives. Modi cannot invent a foolproof system to distinguish a pretending Hindu from a true Hindu and the survey on the basis of religion will fail. If Modi makes any effort to separate the true Hindus, many non-practising Hindus also will suffer and that will make Modi a dreaded man even among Hindus.
    In the bargain I expect the Muslim community also to become less rigid in their attitudes.

    • nice idea. alternatively, we hindus can all temporarily become muslims, why don’t we do both? this is not sarchastic – it is to say that solidarity comes from both sides.

    • Why don’t you ask Indian muslims to support India by opposing the Pakistani/Bangladeshi majority sneaking into India. It should be fair because Pakistani/Bangladeshi majority community was responsible for making those muslim states by dividing India.
      India doesn’t need those radicals back here.

  2. “We end up speaking [AT] people all the time.” Mostly true, especially when emotions / stakes are high. Happens in the business world all the time, too.

    This was a brave and useful experiment to conduct for which the author should be commended and recognised.

    The author clearly understands how Humans communicate ie verbally and non-verbally. Intent is often conveyed non-verbally which is why using emojis in text can help tremendously with conveying context and emotion.

    Conversationalists and facilitators understand this well.

    The sense of a neutral space is also very important.

  3. Muslims must protest as Muslims, using the symbols, clothing and chants they want. The idea is not to accede to uniformity under pressure from the majority.

  4. We need to be strategic. This is the time for Muslims to let others take on the struggle. If we seek our rights, they will shut us up,”

    These lines proves it all, India needs to be careful about this green Arabic religion and it’s nefarious design on India.

  5. By making CAA an anti muslim issue, everyone is making a big mistake and handing over a major divisive issue to BJP. All should welcome CAA but also demand that Kashmiri Pandits be settled in Kashmir immediately and then persecuted muslims or economic migrants who have crossed over to India should be given citizenship as well. This will create a positive atmosphere in the country and BJP cannot exploit it as Hindu versus Muslim issue. Just because some step benefits non muslims, one can’t start blindly opposing them as anti muslims. Accept its logic and then demand extra from the government. And why not create a fund for their resettlement, minimum income support and not burden the government? NGO should get funds from their foreign sources for such humanitarian activities. I am sure billions will flow in for this worthy cause. Let us all discuss this at the next meeting!

  6. Stop making a jab at BJP for everything. It is doing everything a 1000 times better those idiots politians and you filthy hypocrites.. 😈

  7. Interesting and innovative experiment.Kudos to the writer
    to take so much effort and also substantial risk!
    But I doubt it will have any impact in the real world
    for at least 2 reasons
    1) the reach of such discussion will be limited as compared to
    the spread of social media
    quantity does trounce quality sometimes.
    2)”spoke till late in the evening over bottles of wine”- This phrase is very revelatory.
    No I am not for a moment being judgmental or prejudiced, but its
    is quite obvious that the crowd was quite a sophisticated and
    perhaps articulate crowd.The wine culture in India is limited to
    a very thin upper elite crust in society.So a soul-searching discussion among such
    urbane and well healed crowd may be possible, but what
    about the vast majority out there who are not as resourceful?Indulging
    in a meaningful group discussion needs a fairly large range of social and language skills.
    It is far more easier and of course,more prevalent to settle an argument resorting to threats
    and violence.
    However the take away maybe that if we genuinely want to understand complex issues
    and contribute meaningfully to society then there are no short cuts.We need to go the extra mile
    to meet people face to face and get our backsides off the chair.

  8. Try doing such a debate in Delhi and the result could be participants coming to blows. Tell you what, all M & S supporters support them only and only for one reason alone- ‘we hate Muslims and M & S implement our hate in their governance’- Period. Rest of all their arguments like development, nationalism, CAA, JNU, Luv Jihad, etc etc are nothing but pathetic excuses. The country is now dominated by hate-drums of Hindutva and it is doomed. Frankly, I have fallen out of love with it and nothing about it (success or failure) affects me any more.

    • M & S: LOL!! dont be disillusined, be active – your M&S comments shows your creativity – use it for the end of the reign of messrs s&m (by the way, they are mainly S, did not see any sign of M yet).

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