How The Shaheen Bagh Library Of 50 Books Became A Symbol Of Public Participation

“Bombs and pistols do not make Revolution. The sword of Revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas.” – Bhagat Singh

We are in the middle of a major health emergency, with the outbreak of the corona pandemic and the country going through a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. With our collective efforts, physical distancing and social solidarity, we hope to win this battle. The Government has been quite pro-active in dealing with this pandemic, and this was quite evident in the early morning of 24th March, when the Delhi Police cleared the Shaheen Bagh and Jamia protest site, which observed protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR for over 100 days. The Delhi Police argued that it was necessary in light of ensuring a successful lockdown for the safety of protesters from the deadly virus. However, with all the wall paintings, graffiti, murals, slogans whitewashed and defaced, only the police can explain how these were enabling the spread of corona!

People were deployed by the police amidst the coronavirus lockdown to remove wall art and graffiti at the Shaheen Bagh protest site. Image source: Twitter

The Shaheen Bagh movement was a women-led historic non-violent satyagraha. The dadis of Shaheen Bagh inspired many to stand for justice and truth, to protect the idea of India they believed was at stake. As reputed scholar Benedict Anderson defined a nation as an “imagined political community”, Shaheen Bagh was a site where a secular, democratic, and sovereign Indian nation was reimagined. People would come and express their solidarity with the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, which drew attention from all around the globe.

People in different capacities participated in the struggle. At the protest site, one such initiative was the setting up of Fatima Sheikh-Savitribai Phule Library on 17th January. The date marked the death anniversary of Rohith Vemula, a research scholar from the Dalit community, and we chose the date to commemorate the memory of Rohith, who fought against institutional discrimination in the Hyderabad Central University and caste oppression.

On 17th January 2016, Rohith Vemula committed suicide with a banner of the ASA, and left behind a searing note talking of unfinished dreams and how he felt his “birth was his fatal accident”.

The idea behind naming the library after Fatima Sheikh and Savitribai Phule was to celebrate the legacy of these women reformers who have played a pivotal role in shaping Indian History. These two feminist social reformers championed the cause of women education and social justice. As the Shaheen Bagh movement was being led by women, we could not think of anything more apt.

The thought of doing something of this kind hit us when many people, including elected representatives from the ruling party, ridiculed the anti-CAA protesters as brainwashed, misguided people who didn’t know what this Act was all about. It was then that we decided to set up the library to give intellectual support to fellow protesters and bust the state-sponsored propaganda.

The library started at the Shaheen Bagh Bus Stand with our personal collection of over 50 books. We soon created social media profiles and appealed for book donations. We didn’t expect a huge public response, but to our surprise, people started calling us from different parts of the country – some from even foreign countries – inquiring about the library and expressing their interest in donating books.

As of now, we have more than 1,500 books, which goes on to speak about public participation that made this library bigger and stronger! Women protesters would come to the library, sit, read books, and talk about events unfolding around the world. This was the success of our initiative, if nothing! The Shaheen Bagh movement is a watershed moment in the history of post-Independence India.

Women came out of their houses to assert their identity and their right to exist. It busted various myths around the idea of poor Muslim women, of which the BJP claimed itself a savior by bringing the Triple Talaq Bill. The women showed that they can fight their battles on their own, and need no custodian. similarly, there are many other takeaways from the movement.

On 17th March, we decided to temporarily shut down the library due to the corona outbreak. The memories are still afresh and during this ongoing lockdown, we are trying to stay connected to readers with storytelling and poetry recitation sessions on our social media handles. The Delhi Police might have cleared the Shaheen Bagh protest site, but it lives in the memories of people who cherish the Indian Constitution and democratic values. Once this lockdown is over and we come out stronger from this healthcare crisis, we will decide on our future endeavors.

Image has been provided by the author.

In words of Bertolt Brecht –“In the dark times. Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”  – we would also like to add, “There will also be reading. In the dark times.”

Featured image has been provided by the author. 

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