Shaheen Bagh | ThePrint
Representational image | Shaheen Bagh protest | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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When you press the button on the EVM, do it with such force that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh, Amit Shah said while campaigning for the BJP ahead of the Delhi election. ‘Prevent a thousand Shaheen Baghs’ was his message. Then law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called a press conference to accuse Arvind Kejriwal of standing with Shaheen Bagh protesters.

Clearly, Shaheen Bagh is no longer just the name of a locality or a local site of protest. It has already etched its name on the global stage with the likes of Tahrir Square in Egypt, Taksim Square in Turkey, and Wall Street in New York. Every night Shaheen Bagh persists, it creates more of itself in different corners of India. More Shaheen Baghs – in Park Circus in Kolkata, Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow, and Mosque Road in Bengaluru.

As one placard reads: “You divide, we multiply”.

Also read: Modi-Shah’s Delhi dislike found its new target just in time for election – Shaheen Bagh

A muted community speaks up

Be it Shaheen Bagh or any of the other sit-ins against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, it is clear that these are not ordinary protest sites. No pliant audience sits listening to political speeches and disperses soon after, leaving just flyers on the road. At any point during the day, Shaheen Bagh is alive. Children sit with mothers, grandmothers sit near the stage, food is brought in from homes, art is made, songs are sung.

Ignoring the armed police who loom like dementors, protesters have turned Shaheen Bagh into a site for the fearless and the determined. Revolution, after all, is a carnival of people power.

Some cynics ask, ‘What have the protests achieved and can they change Narendra Modi and Shah’s plans?’ For the first time since Independence, the Muslims of India have found a language, a new grammar of politics to articulate their pain and their aspirations. For the first time in the last five years of Modi rule, those who could not step out after each lynching, those who had to keep quiet after the unjust Ayodhya verdict, those who have been overtaken by fear and despair, are speaking up. A muted community is speaking up for itself. The Muslim youth and women in these sit-ins today are more aware, more up to date, more informed, more critical, more conscious than the average Indian studying in ‘WhatsApp university’. This, for me, is the biggest achievement yet of our collective fight back.

Also read: Who represents India’s Muslims? Thanks to CAA protests, we now know the answer

Did our silence help?

For far too long, Muslims have been reduced to a silent vote bank, advised to lie low and let others fight for them. These ‘others’ can be self-proclaimed secularists, liberals and even anti-caste warriors. While many of them are genuine well-wishers of the community, some just wanted to satiate their self-interest at the cost of Muslims and win votes. Muslims should remain silent, they would say, or else it will only end up helping the Hindutva-wadis polarise society. And we listened to their advice for many decades now.

What has this tactic achieved for Muslims or for India? Has their silence checked the polarisation of India? Could the unbridled rise of fascism be contained? Did it save secularism? By avoiding association with Muslims, could the opposition make a dent in the vote count of the BJP? Far from political security, it also did not guarantee social or economic security.

The illiteracy rate is the highest among Muslims (42.7 per cent) compared to any other community – SC, ST or OBC. Muslims have the lowest rate of enrollment in higher education, lower than even other marginalised communities. In an economy where job security is eroding fast, Muslims are perhaps the worst hit. The Sachar Committee, the Ranganath Misra Committee and the Amitabh Kundu Committee – one after the other attested to the profound deprivation of the largest minority in India. Their share in salaried employment, in government jobs, in police, in army or among industrialists are all disproportionately low. The only place we are over-represented are in India’s jails.

So, how did our silence help?

Also read: Amit Shah raises Shaheen Bagh in Delhi election: BJP’s desperation or trump card?

Arm-twisting Muslim politics

Today, through the CAA protests, Muslims are not just speaking, they are also rewriting politics. Contrary to mainstream political thought, Muslims aren’t a vote block or a homogeneous community. But with these protests, many dormant emotions (or forcefully suppressed ones) have been set in motion in the Muslim community. So much so that even those who have occupied centre stage “representing” the community for far too long are being challenged from within. And by whom? The most marginalised Muslim voices – that of the women and the young.

This internal influx is bothering those parties or people who want to deal with Muslims as a monolithic vote bank and then use them again as bait to stereotype the community. This symbiotic relationship between the system and traditional spokespersons has been unsettled. Top-down Muslim politics has been shaken from voices on the ground.

A secular intellectual wrote an article after the Ayodhya judgment, chiding Muslims in the most patronising tone about how they were complicit in the final verdict. According to Javed Anand, by protesting the Shah Bano judgement and getting it reversed, the Muslims were complicit in ‘giving’ an agenda to the Hindu Right. While giving the Muslims his unsolicited advice, he, however, has no words for the Rajiv Gandhi government, which made the All India Muslim Personal Law Board the “sole representative” of the Muslims in India. Would the AIMPLB have overthrown or challenged the Congress government? Far from it. But still the Congress government chose to do what it did, because it always suited power to impose top-down control on Muslims.

The history of Indian politics is replete with instances where the Muslim community has been arm twisted by secular parties into silence. But we won’t be blackmailed any more.

Also read: Tricolour, anthem — India’s Muslims on why they’re using national symbols in protests

A new turn

Yes, we are secular. But our fight for secularism will not be decontextualised, we will not operate within frameworks that obfuscate the inequalities and contradictions faced by Muslims. By fighting against the CAA-NRC-NPR, we have begun a fight not just to safeguard secularism but also to ensure social justice. And we shall not stop at simply safeguarding our citizenship. We have the right to be Muslims and still be equal citizens of India.

This is a moment akin to the Black civil rights movement. We are at the cusp of a possibility. Possibility of being equal again.

The author is an activist and former JNU student. Views are personal.

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  1. Unless the visible and vociferous themes are limited to patriotism, constitutionalism and national unity, the BJP will find one way or another to exploit these protests to its own advantage.

  2. It’s the Muslim religious people that treat other religious minority people as secondary citizens so it’s obvious that they fell themselves treated so when in Minority. Throughout world Muslims have entered countries asked for rights and fought. You don’t get rights by standing out being Muslim it’s not a qualification, you get rights, respect, love and more by integrating and accepting the culture of land you want to live in. No trolls please, better troll yourself and get the answers.

  3. With CAA protests, musleems are again reminding hendus and others that musleems are still a separate group and can never assimilate as Indians with rest of Indians. You are fighting because musleems of pakistan, bangladesh ae not included in CAA list. Showing again ur true religious inclination at the behest of nation. You just reminded the new generation of Indians about partition and ur separatism. The silent majority is watching and they will reply silently.

  4. This Umar Khalid used to stand in JNU and shout, India tere Tudke Tudke honge. Well let Him first explain TUDKE TUDKE planning.The sooner he Faces the Law better will be for Hindus and Muslims both.

  5. ”The only place we are over-represented are in India’s jails.”
    Muslims are over-represented in Australian prisons.
    Although under France’s strict laicity laws it is illegal to count the country’s prisoners by religious affiliation, experts agree on the accuracy of an estimate figure published in 2015 that revealed of the 67,500 people behind bars in France that year, an estimated 70% were Muslim, despite Muslims comprising only 8% of the general French population. The experts also noted that in some prisons, like those near Paris and Marseille, the percentage of Muslim inmates is even higher.
    In the United Kingdom, for instance, the country’s total Muslim population exceeded over 3 million in 2016,though that constituted only around 4.8% of the general UK population. Nevertheless, the proportion of UK prisoners who were Muslims in 2016 was 15%
    In 2011, Pew Research Center data estimated that Muslims made up 9% of the 1,598,780 United States inmates in state and federal prisons despite Muslims being only 0.8% of the general U.S. population in the year prior.

  6. The author and his fellow community members are helping the cause of BJP. If this goe son till the next election, BJP will get at least 350 seats.

  7. Ed has said this was a sponsored protest paid by Pakistani ISI. So much for the protest. As far as being Muslims are concerned, Muslims have identity problems wherever they are specially in non-Muslim countries.

  8. Pretensions of a leftist have long dropped. Pretensions of fighting for “social justice” and “secularism” are soon to go. The real Umar reveals himself – a muslim who advocates for muslims. This is an old story though. Many Jinnahs are emerging out of the CAA protests.

  9. Just a lot of hot air. Shaheen Bagh protests are seriously disrupting the livelihoods of citizens besides blocking public roads, which is unacceptable! They are not agitating against a foreign power occupying the capital Of India, this is a democracy and they should vote in the next election- if they don’t like the policies of this government. Protests are acceptable but not to the extent vital access roads in the Capital are shut down indefinitely. I support their removal using non lethal force, as I do in all cases of protesters blocking the public from going about their daily lives. Agent provocateurs abound in this great land. Spurred on inside their echo chamber they actually imagine they’re changing the Govt Policy on CAA but please keep your ear to the ground and listen closely- the presently silent majority support providing refuge to those who have fled persecution. This is India. You better believe it Mr Khalid.

  10. If you are Indian welcome, if you are follower of green virus than move to the country on West with green flag representing that green virus

  11. If you want to be an equal citizen of India then first surrender the reservation priority given to you on the basis of religion as minority.
    You are portraying Muslims as marginalised!!! Even after so many schemes to give you priority in education, jobs, tax benefits….
    Yes you are right now is the time when everyone should be EQUAL.

  12. Very nicely put. For me, Shaheen bag and all that it stands for, is suffragette and civil-rights rolled into one. Not just Muslim brothers but also sisters of all faiths and none are breaking their silence. We are indeed at the cusp of a possibility and women are leading it. In freeing ourselves, we shall also demonstrate the truism that “democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected”. The suffragettes used civil disobedience even before the Mahatma and women of India are reclaiming this inheritance even if many are not consciously aware of the historic significance; civil disobedience is a tool apt for a woman and we are going to wield it to reclaim space for ourselves and our brothers.

  13. The protest against CAA are clearly communal and for promoting communal agenda of minorities as they have lost kind” Hand” of Congress on their heads.. It is not spontaneous protest but is per-planned and they were waiting for any issue on which to start their show of strength. If no CAA any other issue would have brought them on roads as most of the protesting minorities are / were feeling let down as their darling Congress was rejected second time in a row by the voters of India. When time and again it has been made clear that no legitimate citizen of India is going to lose its citizen then what is rational of protests. ?? For immigrant every country has its own criteria to allow right to residence,citizenship, work-permits etc, and so has India. These rules are never permanent and have changed , will be changed , depending upon nations requirements and priorities. Most of the protestors are/maybe not anti India, but as their platform is used by some anti-India forces and they are getting lame for this . By misusing their platform anti -Indian elements are being exposed .But whole community stands to lose its image. Who is to /will stop this ? The sane elements of minority community should give thought to it.

  14. Fine column by Professor Ashutosh Varshney in IE. Use of lethal force, especially against women, when the protests are peaceful would be a grave error of judgment.

  15. Umar Khalid has foolishly walked into the BJP trap. He has reduced this to Muslim protests thereby helping the BJP strategy of polarising Delhi elections. Don’t t know if this will help BJP win Delhi elections, but the Congress is going to suffer the worst in the triangular contests. Umar Khalid is a former JNU student. He has discarded his leftist credentials and stuck to his Muslim identity. This is sad as defies his assertion that he is secular.

  16. ” … Tahrir Square in Egypt, Taksim Square in Turkey, and Wall Street in New York … ”

    One would have thought the author could have chosen better examples. All of the above failed. Tahrir brought in the Muslim Brotherhood, but they were ousted after their supporters were disillusioned.

    Taksim, made Erdogan stronger, and the Wall Street protesters were basically sold out by Anonymous working for the FBI .. it remains to be seen if Warren, Sanders, or even AOC have any affect in 2020, almost a decade after the protests ended.

    It’s a pity one can’t point to the successful collective action movements; they were funded by external non profits.

    The author however is right in one sense. Indian Muslims should self – identify with whomever they choose. This is what freedom is all about.

  17. “We Muslims shall not stop at just safeguarding our citizenship…” A shockingly retrograde line from the columnist. Is Shaheen Bagh about the Muslims, or about ALL INDIANS, especially the poor, who are unable to look after their interests, and not articulate enough to voice their excruciating worries? Is this man a BJP agent or what? What does he mean by this opening line of his article – – that, “We the Muslims don’t care if the Hindus and Sikhs and other Indians are not supporting the protests, we the Muslims are enough? That well might be true, and I wish them good luck, but this is exactly the kind of attitude the BJP would love to see. That, all other communities should step aside, so they can directly pitch their Hindutva brigade against the Muslims. And by the way, who has given this man the authority to speak for, WE MUSLIMS? Has he been elected the latest caliph of the Muslim ummah? Shocking, really.

  18. I want to ask The Print: Do you think all the Muslims in India are opposed to CAA. Do you think, only the Muslims who oppose CAA would be given right to express their views on your portal? If you can give opportunity to Umar Khalid, the best known face of Tukde tukde gang, why don’t you give similar chance to Akhtar, the muslim sanskrit teacher from Bengal, about whom you have a published a story today?

  19. Fine column. A country of India’s potential and promise needs to make a better accommodation with its largest minority. What has happened in recent times is unsustainable. Not a template for creating a revised social and economic order where 200 million people become fearful, insecure, second class citizens. It is good that that project is being countered peacefully, constitutionally, with self confidence by the people who would be most affected by it. Absent a wise, mature response, things could veer off into troubled territory.

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