The Shaheen Bagh protest against the Narendra Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act has entered its third month. Supreme Court-appointed mediators met protesters this week and may meet them again at a different location. The Supreme Court also upheld the right to protest, but expressed concern over the sit-in causing public inconvenience.
ThePrint asks: Do Shaheen Bagh protesters run risk of waning interest or should stay put for CAA endgame?
Shaheen Bagh is now the name of an aspiration for equality, which can never be crushed or defamed
Activist and former JNU student
The protest at Shaheen Bagh is not beholden to media. A lot of people did not even pay attention to Shaheen Bagh for the first 15-20 days. But since this movement began in mid-December 2019, the women of Shaheen Bagh are convinced about what they are doing. They know that what they are fighting against – the infamous ‘chronology’ – impacts their very existence.
Despite being repeatedly defamed by a section of the media and BJP leaders leading to threats of violence, especially after the shooting episode, the Shaheen Bagh protesters have brazen it out. I strongly believe that they should continue and they will.
The inconvenience caused by the protests is exaggerated. Delhi Police has barricaded more roads than those blocked by protesters. Every protest causes some inconvenience. When people came out on the streets to fight for our independence, it must have caused some inconvenience too. Does that mean M.K. Gandhi and other freedom fighters were wrong in giving a call for civil disobedience? And what about the inconvenience faced by the protesters? They have been out on the streets the entire winter. Don’t their lives matter?
The protesters should fight till the end because now there’s not just one Shaheen Bagh in India; there are hundreds more in different cities. Shaheen Bagh is now the name of an aspiration for equality, which can never be crushed or defamed.
Modi govt can withstand Shaheen Bagh for as long as it goes. Only the political consequences are debatable
Hindi columnist & professor of political science, NCERT
Shaheen Bagh protesters have already won to a great extent. They have become an international focal point for an unjust cause, shown the ruling executive and judicial class as unfit at engaging the minority community, and bolstered the confidence of Muslim leaders. Thus, they have added a new page in India’s Muslim politics.
How it moves forward is an open question. It’s a tug of war like situation with a lot of uncertainty because the party in power behaves erratically on Hindu-Muslim issues. Moreover, Muslim activists also act very differently, but they have an identical objective. So, any miscalculation could bring opposite results. In such circumstances, predicting the endgame is hazardous.
As things stand, the government can withstand the protest for as long as it goes because the CAA is constitutional. Only the political consequences of such a protracted protest are debatable. The anti-CAA protest created more troubles for the common people than it did for the intended political group. The leaders may benefit in the long run. The same cannot be said about Hindu-Muslim relations, something the protesters and their handlers hardly care about.
Don’t think Modi govt will budge an inch. It would be wise for protesters to give their campaign a new shape
The purpose of Shaheen Bagh protests and other such demonstrations all over India has been served. They wanted to highlight the issues concerning CAA-NRC and the apprehensions of Muslims regarding these two moves by the Modi government. The protesters have succeeded in drawing the attention of the nation as well as that of the world.
However, I don’t think the Modi government will budge an inch. So, it would be wise for protesters to give their campaign a new shape so that it can go on without causing inconvenience to people. However, it does seem that the road blockage is more a making of Delhi Police.
If people want the CAA to be withdrawn, a larger mass movement will be required, because currently protests are being organised mostly in Muslim-dominated areas. And this is giving the BJP and other parties an opportunity to paint these protests with a communal colour. We have to avoid giving it any sectarian colour because it is a secular movement. The anti-CAA protests should evolve into a larger movement supported by the opposition.
The Shaheen Bagh movement should be reinvented and more organised. It has so far been a leader-less movement that, after a while, can also turn into a radar-less movement.
Modi govt’s resolve to not dilute the law has certainly broken the hopes and zeal of Shaheen Bagh protesters
Professor of political science, Delhi University
The protesters claim that they want to save the Constitution by protesting against the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Amendment Act. But it is still predominantly a Muslim protest intended to secure the stay of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan infiltrators who have changed the religious demographic profiles of several Indian states.
The anti-CAA protesters fear that the identification of the Muslim infiltrators and their subsequent deregistration from the national electoral roll would reduce the leverage of the Muslim population in these states. Protesters used the rumours of denationalisation of Muslims to bring people on to the streets.
The place, people, slogans and presence of Left-leaning organisations at Shaheen Bagh speak loud and clear that the protests are manufactured at best to provoke Muslim masses against the Modi government. They had thought that the chain of protests would force the government to blink. But they failed to anticipate the resolve of the Modi government, which made it clear that it won’t dilute the law under any pressure and refused to approach the protesters.
This has certainly broken the initial hopes and zeal of the protesters, which is evident from the dwindling presence of people at protest sites. The slogans have also dissuaded political parties from coming out in full support of the protesters.
Shaheen Bagh sit-in must continue and be transformed into a national movement for India’s political awakening
Associate Professor, CSDS
The Shaheen Bagh sit-in should not merely be seen as a protest against a particular law, in this case, the CAA. It has become a movement, which raises three most fundamental commitments associated with our political existence as citizens of India.
It underlines the everyday life of the Indian Constitution as a living document; it illustrates the popular meanings of the often-quoted phrase — unity in diversity; and finally, it reclaims the India-specific form of nationalism.
These political expressions have posed serious challenges for the entire political class. The so-called champions of Hindutva-driven nationalism find it very difficult to deal with it; while other political parties do not know how to appropriate it.
This people-centric uniqueness of Shaheen Bagh sit-in transforms it into a symbol of those grassroots non-party political movements, which are always ignored by mainstream media.
The Supreme Court, it appears, has recognised this political symbolism of the Shaheen Bagh movement. That may be the reason why the right to protest and peaceful negotiation are emphasised by the court.
This wider acceptability of the Shaheen Bagh movement must pave the way for its gradual transformation into a national movement for political awakening. This can only be done if the Shaheen Bagh movement is transformed into a wider coalition of people’s movement.
By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint