Shaheen Bagh
Women and children hold placards during a silent protest at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi | Photo: PTI
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As Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party swept the Delhi assembly election Tuesday, Shaheen Bagh fell silent. They had heard enough already from politicians through the campaign – from ‘goli maaro’ to ‘jihadi’ to ‘rapists’. It was a day they chose to step back from electoral politics. The women protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act at the site covered their mouths with black cloth and held placards that read “we don’t support any political party”.

The silent protest was to decry the police brutality against Jamia Millia Islamia University students but more importantly, it was to keep themselves at an arm’s length from partisan politics. After all, it wasn’t just the BJP, but even Delhi CM and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal never visited the protest grounds.

How do we read their silence? By not saying anything on a day of election results, they were expressing their lack of faith in the majoritarian politics that has brought the Muslim citizens of India to this state of being suspect. Since their ‘azaadi’ and ‘la ilaha illallah’ slogans were demonised by the BJP leaders, their supporters and many in the media, the protesters chose silence to communicate their message. They had literally run out of political language to speak to those in power.

While a non-aligned stance like this may echo a NOTA vote or a scratch ballot, it was more of a distancing from the game of winners and losers.


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Denying media the chance to sensationalise the issue

It is equally significant that when journalists approached protesters in Shaheen Bagh Tuesday, the demonstrators refused to speak and only pointed at their placards. Perhaps the assumption was that the protesters, who categorically criticise the BJP for churning out divisive measures such as the CAA, NRC and NPR, would be happy with the party’s loss.

The reporters perhaps hoped to catch hold of someone speaking in support of AAP, given that Shaheen Bagh is located in the Okhla constituency, which re-elected Amanatullah Khan. But there was no celebration or concept of “either or”. The sentiment at the protest was sombre and seemed to belittle the “fun” surrounding election results.


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Credibility of the cause 

Choosing a stance of non-alignment was also necessary for the credibility of the cause. This makes the distinction between realpolitik and electoral politics all the more critical even though the two feed into each other.

The resistance began on 15 December with just a handful of women protesting the CAA before it snowballed into a nationwide movement. They picked their symbols and optics cautiously. Waving the national flag, invoking Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, they have so far successfully avoided being boxed into the category of holding an Islamist protest, which the BJP tried very hard to. But in the larger public perception, they are not viewed as “anti-national” or “separatist”, tags that were used against Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar during the 2016 JNU protest.

Given its sheer growth over the last two months, Shaheen Bagh cannot afford to stoop down to partisan politics now. If it does, it may be subjected to a particular party’s apparatus — be it ideology, methods or past history. It is a lesson to future social movements in India that associating with a political party can be detrimental to the cause and rob it of its sentiment.


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The Shaheen Bagh protest began as a response to electoral politics, but what they have articulated with their silence – and their words – is above and beyond it.

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. The JNU protests of 2016 tagged ‘anti-national’ to ‘separatist’ were primarily spearheaded by kashmiri students.However the protests primarily by women of shaheehbaug holding tricolor in hand is truly transformational.The protest snowballing into a national protest movement across the country to claim ownership of the land with national fervour as never before owes it to
    CAA.The one notable exception is the Kashmir valley which has not witnessed a single anti CAA protests! Not feeling Indian enough yet ?

  2. Now they will adopt silence as this protest was supported by political parties to influence the elections. Now when elections are over and parties have achieved what they wanted, no political leader viz. Mani Shankar aiyyar, Shashi Tharoor and similar will visit. CM Mr. Arvind Kejriwal or Mr. Manish Sisodia will not say that are with Shaheen Bagh.
    So they are befooling public by adopting silence.
    This protest is based on

  3. Though in minority they ransacked the non existing danger on CAA and what is the fate of the country if they are in majority. Kashmir is tough to be controlled as they are in full majority there. India as country of
    at least as a Hindu majority state is in stake, if not now in near future. India is in perpetual danger but our pseudo secular Hindus, Communists etc do not understand unless they themselves face it. Kashmir is proof and Assam and Bengal are in line.

  4. Author clearly has amnesia. Shaheen Bagh started as a protest against CAA. Not as a protest against protest of another protest.

    Azaadi…I never Understood what they meant by it. Whom do they want azaadi from. Is India still in shackles.

    La illah illah…it’s a communal slogan which translates to no god except allah. If the author had a made a quick trip to google search she would have understood it.

    Khilafat…raised at Jamia means establishing Islamic caliphate in India.

    These slogans are not innocuous but with radical undertones. If you opt to disbelieve then it’s your freedom.

    • Though in minority they ransacked the non exisiting danger on CAA and what is the fate of the country if they are in minority. Kashmir is tough to be controlled as they are in full majority there. India as country of Hindu minority is in stake if not now in near future. India is in perpetual danger but our pseudo secular Hindus, Communists etc do not understand unless they themselves face it. Kashmir is proof and Assam and Bengal are in line.

  5. A leopard cannot change its spots. These people are Islamist bigots. There has been lot of sound and fury in this place about boycotting Reliance, Patanjali brand, attacking the police. Now, the silence. It is a case of “Hazaar choohe khaker billi Haj gayee”. Don’t give too much credence to it.

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