Our Prime Minister, during his first Delhi Assembly election rally, said that the ongoing protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the national capital is a ‘political experiment’ and not a ‘coincidence’. And I somehow agree with him.
The anti-CAA protest is an experiment, a political and social experiment by the ‘citizens’ in and of democratic India. And the citizens include the Shaheen Bagh gentry, especially the women and students of Jamia Millia Islamia, who are protesting since December 15 last year.
Democracy itself means the government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’. The citizens, or protestors, take democracy for guaranteed because it is theirs, personal, beloved, and hard-earned. They have created it together by participating in the democratic process, not just through voting but also by participating in a general discussion of public matters (Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India).
The government of the day is not the government of the few but the government of all. So, whenever, the people (irrespective of their numbers they all have equal right, that is, the right to be heard) feel that the government is diverging from its constitutional values or ignoring their concern and issues, they are left with the only option to resort to the various democratic tools available to them to assert their legitimate political dominance or claim, in which protest is one. And, also our constitution provides its citizen with the right to protest—Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression; Article 19(1)(b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and ‘without arms’.
Protests are a means to restore the power temporarily in the hands of the people to make the government realise from where its power had come.
Yes, Shaheen Bagh is also not a coincidence. What was the government expecting when there is an atmosphere of distrust, lie and hatred in society and political landscape? Protesting or practising democratic rights, whether you support CAA or not is not without the context. That context was explained in the chronology by our big politicians; it includes the anxiety, the feeling of frustration of the common people, minorities, women, students, unemployed and the farmers.
It is not a coincidence when in Shaheen Bagh, women of all ages, working or housewives, with or without their children in their jackets and mufflers, carried handmade signs, are sitting under the blankets in Delhi’s winter on the road under temporary tents, unprepared, unrehearsed to voice their feelings.
Yes, they are.
When mainstream media have a privilege to decide what’s important or what’s worth telecasting and ignore the voices of the people protesting on the streets against the injustice or issues, then the Shaheen Bagh protest becomes the spark of light in the darkness. It teaches the people to learn to protest democratically without hurting anyone physically.
It helps the people to connect, infuse the confidence in their bodies numbed from time immemorial that they are alive. It’s a classroom where children, students and people are interacting, conversing and experimenting with democracy through creative arts, drama, songs, dialogue and slogans. It opens the prospect of a new era of social activism in India which have no leader, no high command, anti-organisation.
One of the most pertinent existential points the protest re-affirmed to the political consciousness of the people and also send message to those who are feeling discomfort because of this protest, is that the Shaheen Bagh uphold the “WE” invoked in the preamble of the constitution. It is different from the “WE” of complainers who are basically those people who have been reduced by this materialistic world to the mere existence of consumers, who were invoking “WE” out of their inconvenience to reach their material needs or comfort. (Reference: “Citizenship as Participation Muslim Women Protestors of Shaheen Bagh” by Irfanullah Farooqi Economic & Political Weekly JANUARY 25, 2020 vol lV no 4).
In this case, the question of comfort is of those who are not feeling any discomfort on the context created by the politicians or the government. They are totally detached from the sense of the ‘FRATERNITY,’ that is, caring of their fellow citizens; inquiring their questions or anxiety which has forced them to come on the street and protest in uncomfortable conditions.
It is not or should not be an indefinite protest. But the torch lit by the movement will not get dim; it will learn, adapt and amend itself for the next action. If you read about the Indian freedom struggle maneuvered by Gandhi, he was also experimenting with his idea of non-violence in mass protests. Gandhi knew when, where and how to start a protest without bothering about its outcome.
Though he knew his opponent well and sometimes it may look like he knew when and how the protest should take rest (not stop). His basic intention was to prepare the masses for the big moment in their life, that is, Quit India Movement, without resorting to any means to hurt anyone physically. Today, Gandhi and his tactics should be embraced by each one of the protestors.
Shaheen Bagh is an experiment, not a coincidence, which doesn’t, or shouldn’t, bother about the outcome of the protest, whether it will fail or not. Instead, citizens of Shaheen Bagh should be proud of themselves for they are preparing the concerned citizens of India for many future events—for the end of hate politics, ignorance and saving constitutional values.
Otherwise, if our representative fails to understand these protests and continues to ignore the voices of “Indian” citizens who have been insulted by their attempt to reduce their existence and love for the nation to mere a piece of paper and of damaging the ideas enshrined in the preamble, it could lead to the cumulative effect of massive distrust and no-confidence against their style of governance and politics.