Saturday, February 4, 2023
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Shaheen Bagh protest must end now. Its returns are diminishing and COVID-19 is a real risk

As coronavirus spreads and 12 states reject NPR and NRC, Shaheen Bagh’s women must count their gains, cut their losses and leave.

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Shaheen Bagh’s women must disband. No, not for the reasons Home Minister Amit Shah or BJP’s Kapil Mishra want. The novel coronavirus pandemic is a good reason for the protesting Muslim women at New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh to end their 91-day sit-in. But that is not the only reason. Now that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has passed a resolution rejecting the new NPR format and the NRC exercise, joining 12 states and union territories, it is a fine moment for the women to declare a near-victory.

But the Left and the ‘progressive’ activists who keep fuelling the Shaheen Bagh protests don’t have a tendency to focus on tactical deliverables. For them, the idea of lambi ladai or the long struggle is a goal in itself. It’s like campus politics – impressive slogans, Instagrammable posts, speeches and loads of idealism. This is important and energises any movement, but at some point, hard-nosed recalibration must set in. 

Sit-ins can’t be endless, movements are.

And so, I have been asking anti-CAA and anti-NRC activists one question since February: What is a realistic endgame for Shaheen Bagh? But I found no good answers. What’s the goal? What’s the face-saver? Of course, in an ideal world, protests can go on endlessly. But in the real world, every smart protester must have an exit strategy. Of course, no protester begins with an exit strategy. When you begin, you want nothing less than Total Revolution. But mid-course, some strategic thinking must and often does come into play.

So, February was a good time to ask this question. But the activists were quite clueless. They hadn’t thought through. Mainly because there was no one group spearheading these protests. There were many disparate groups pooling in their resources. Not everyone agreed on the endgame. Also, Shaheen Bagh had by now prompted other protests in Lucknow, Patna, Bengaluru and Kolkata. So ‘scaling up’ across India became the goal for many.

Shaheen Bagh’s women protested undeterred through the most vitriolic election in Delhi and the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in years. They have been branded as ‘jihadis’ and traitors. Now, the women must count their gains – both tangibles and intangibles – cut their losses, and leave. And leaving must not be perceived as retreat or defeat.

Also read: Do Shaheen Bagh protesters run risk of waning interest or should stay put for CAA endgame?

Real and symbolic

People praised ‘Shaheen Bagh ki dadis’ — the old Muslim women who have been protesting non-stop since December. But this is precisely the demographic that is now extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of coronavirus positive cases has already climbed to 108 in India. In Italy, the average age of 105 people who died of COVID-19 was 81. In China, “the average fatality rate is 2.3%, but it changes significantly with age — rising to nearly 15% among those over 80 years old,” reported the World Economic Forum.

In India, cinema screenings, IPL cricket matches, weddings and large gatherings are being cancelled or postponed. The continuing presence of so many people – and the elderly — under the Shaheen Bagh tent in Delhi is now a looming health hazard. In December and January, it may have been heady to share videos of the old, determined women saying “kagaz nahin dikhayenge” to protest NRC and CAA paperwork, but the Ides of March is here now. People are circulating coronavirus fatalities’ videos now.

The protesters will not find a better ‘get out’ moment.

I am not saying Shaheen Bagh’s women must go back home. Protests are hugely empowering for all women – whether they are rural, urban, middle class, poor. It releases important ideas of agency and autonomy and they can never really retreat from that. The image of Shaheen Bagh and similar protests helped many Indians re-imagine a kind and positive image of politics. People should not wait for it to be undone slowly by religious groups and other negative elements. 

With an especially unresponsive and obstinate BJP government in power – one that won’t engage with citizen protesters and at the same time, diminish them with remarks about their clothes and veiled threats of violence — there was never a real prospect of a negotiated rollback. This isn’t a government that gives in.

Even the UPA government under Manmohan Singh had called Anna Hazare protesters for talks after a few days of sit-in. But Shaheen Bagh women had to return without meeting Amit Shah when they tried to march to his residence to talk, after the Delhi election.

But second-wave feminism gave an important mantra. Take what you get and build on it.

Also read: On NPR, should states trust Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated assurances?

Real and ideal

The foot soldiers of any protest must be given two options — the ideal goal and the realistic takeaway. There must be a conversation about the latter between the organisers and the foot soldiers.

Protests and sit-ins often end after police crackdown and violence – like with the Hong Kong demonstrations, Occupy Wall Street protests or Ramdev gathering at Ramlila Maidan in 2011.

Or, if they are smartly planned, the protest ends with some face-saving Plan B takeaway – like with at least the promise of Jan Lokpal Bill.

That moment of pragmatic realism has come for Shaheen Bagh women. States, including JD(U)-BJP-ruled Bihar, are pushing back, and Amit Shah has said there will be no “Doubtful” category of citizens in NPR (however unconvincingly and reluctantly). Coronavirus with no known cure isn’t going to help. 

Shaheen Bagh has now become an exercise with diminishing returns.

Views are personal.

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  1. Any developed or developing nation serious about its citizens needs to have an equivalent of NRC. Even Pakistan has one – this should satisfy the liberal curious ones. Shaheen Bagh protests are completely illegal.
    Those claiming that they will not show any papers -will they not drive, not register to vote., not get a passport, not buy a house, not travel, not educate their children – anything which requires documentary evidence. If you are planning to do any of the above then stay away from – jobless Bollywood, politicians and Press journalists. They are not doing anything for you but using you and your platform to get back in business.

  2. Questions of dropping the sit in protest at Saheen Bag cannot arise. More and more people opposing CAA etc. should come and join the protesters. The police and rest of the public must keep safe distance from them.

  3. Had it been an issue in China, they would have been shepherded out at gun-point. Something is brewing up for legal accountability and recovery. The worst is yet to happen.

  4. Mother and Sisters, You have proven your love and passion towards saving our great constitution.

    Now the world knows, who you are..!
    It’s time to take care of yourself. Stay safe, stay healthy.
    Humanity rocks.! Jai hind.!

  5. Though I am a staunch supporter of the cause(s) espoused by Shaheen Bagh, I fully agree with the caption of this article.

  6. I want this Shaheen Bagh jihad to continue.

    This will wake the nation and its citizens about the threat radical Islam and jihad which is now at the door step.

    They will not protest against triple talaq and nikah halala but protesting against granting citizenship to religiously persecuted.

    Their agenda is clear, the more they protest the more people will see their true colors.

    Next on agenda is uniform civil code. If the followers of pieceful religion protest then give them sharia as practiced in Saudi Arabia.

    This will help control the population we won’t need two child policy.

  7. Muslims are alienating themselves by opposing CAA which protect the rights of minorities against oppression in our surrounding islamic countries by giving them citizenship here in India. Is that a crime ?
    Indian muslims who are scared of this parliament passed law, must ask themselves that if they as minorities in India were harassed, oppressed, forcibly converted to another religion, their daughters kidnapped and raped or forcibly married to non muslims , like it is being done in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, to their non muslim minorities, then, would these Islamic countries accept the Indian muslims and give them citizenship and equal rights as their own people in their country ??
    They would NOT !! Because their leaders and their people are barbaric and heartless.
    But our leaders are not like them. This is not a country ruled by corrupt Congress who only tried to appease the muslims for their votes.
    This is a changed country ruled by Hindu majority who are proud of their religion and not ashamed of saying it loud and clear.
    Let these old ladies continue their anti caa protest, no one cares anymore.
    Jai Hind !

  8. The coronavirus is a God-send fig leaf for the Shaheen Bagh-wallahs. They should use it to cover their netherlands and run before they become a laughing stock.

  9. It has become evident that this was a case of using shoulders(by political parties) of innocent to fire. Here innocents have too shown they are not only fools but cruel too.

  10. Its too early to refer the Shaheen Bagh Protesters asking to end. This is a similar fight against the Tyrant British colonial rule who surpassed the basics of Democracy to command their own rule of governance. the protesters are peacefully maintaining the whole sit in with representative from various think tanks contributing to their daily needs. If at all Corona virus could be a threat, still few people should be allowed till the critical phase moves away. In any sense lakhs of Indian died for a sustainable democracy like India. If few succumbs here doesn’t matter for a bigger cause. The robust Chinese and ultra hygienic Italian society could not stop corona from taking its toll. The Govt. of India can maintain the required infra at the protest site with a medical team to convey the world how it has been protecting the rights of its Citizens. In turn i suspect the Govt. will move the Supreme Court in taking a final call to remove the protester from the site seeking the Virus dangers. In any sense this virus may turn out be become a great reprieve for the Govt. facing international condemnation towards the Delhi riots and Anti NRC agitations. Still little may come out from the Govt. to occupy the protesters.

  11. The CAA is carefully & deliberately crafted amendment with sharpness on both sides. If you accept or deney it makes no difference as it’s designed to project for limited purpose.SC also cannot deney. Once ruled in favour of it will become a bench mark because it’s not sending immigration from other Muslim countries like even from turkey, Iran & malesia etc.
    So the opposed got no chance logically.And Muslims getting prosecution in Muslim countries under laws relevant to Islamic faither are not easily tenable and they should claims under other categories.
    So far CAA amendment for Muslims are concerned they can apply under other immigration category but not possible under religious prosecution.
    That’s why central government is unbudging and other parties washed off their hands by passing resolutions thus dumping all. They tried to fish in troubled waters created by them.
    All used the gullible people including Muslims but price initially paid by commoners. In democracy people shall not get carried away. If educated don’t take proper stand it will also effect them sooner or later.
    Hope wisdom will prevail

  12. The authority has said many times caa is non issue for indians .Kapil sibbal lawyer in opposition has accepted caa will not harm muslims of this country ,it is not meant to take away citizenship.It is beyond common sense why they are so bent on inconveniencing whole country .Looks like there is another agenda other than caa.Caa is just a garb.

  13. Saheen Bagh protesters have said day before yesterday that they would continue dharna till the revocation of the law. So, dear author, mind your own business please.

  14. Waiting for his highness Sri Sri Shivan Vij to declare that coronavirus is created by modi-shah to destabilize shaheen bagh 🙂

  15. Even the print acknowledges that these protests are fuelled by leftists and these so called progressive activists and has nothing to do with common man. Leftists are the real problem, always complaining but no solutions in real life.

  16. The brave women of Shaheen Bagh have made their point. I would symbolically place a little dust from this sacred space on my forehead.

    • Muslim women are always at a disadvantage but they never protest against social evils perpetrating Muslim women. Triple talaq and nikah halala are very insulting to any human beings but there are no sane voices against them.

  17. Shaheen Bagh is a failure. It has resulted in more and more Hindus waking up to the reality of the “True Islam” – which is violence, riots, and Hindu massacre. Thank you, Shaheen Bagh.

    • Useless comment by a useless fellow, you don’t know anything and commenting about Islam, just shut you stupid

      • The issue that comes up time and time again is terrorism. I was astonished to see how deep this had gone in this country in an opinion poll recently. This said 51 percent of people questioned said when they heard the word “Muslim” the first thought that came into their mind was “terrorist”. These polls are never reliable but not completely wrong either. TARIQ ALI

    • 😂😂😂 are you kidding me? Your kind of hindus always hate other communities Mr bhakt di you really think you are Hindu??

  18. It is sit in but part of a countrywide movement for a cause–roll back of CAA nothing less.So no question of counting gains or cutting losses and winding up.Morover it is only the 1st stage of an expected long drawn battle with an arrogant govt. that thinks can bulldoze arbitrary laws on strength of brute majority but not based on constitutional propriety.

  19. Corona virus is going to evict these laggards. Virus does what the supreme court’s interlocuters and the central government could not do. Wasn’t it supposed to be Maut tak ki ladai?

  20. Now both the Constitution of India and Honourable Supreme Court are on stake by this Shaheen Bagh prostesters. Wait and watch. Our PM has claimed of many rules and laws abolished and this will be also decided.

  21. Any agitation which starts with the public inconvenience and with faceless people in deciding positions can never succeed in the long run. It became a primary cause for Delhi riots. Whether they continue or not, it is irrelevant. Please do not take the excuse of Arvind Kejriwal not accepting NPR in Delhi. Central govt has got overriding powers in all these issues. If Indian Muslims feel that they will lose their citizenship, it is a wrong notion because it is not going to happen and if they assume that foreign infiltrators will be given Indian citizenship, that is also a wrong notion. The only worry of mine is that Indian Muslims should not make themselves irrelevant through Shaheen Baghs.


  22. Shaheen bagh Protesters Protesting against what? Everyone knows Muslim people rights as Indian Citizen is protected. Do they want Citizenship for Pakistan & Bangladeshi Muslims? The all knowing Print must answer.

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