More than a year ago, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in the country. In the wake of its arrival, new lines of contention were drawn within the Indian landscape. While the ruling BJP believed it fulfilled a long due demand of its voter base, many others considered it an act that opposed the constitution. In response, students, civil society groups and particularly the women of a small, densely populated area in Delhi — Shaheen Bagh — began to flood the streets in protests.
While the protests in totality left a lasting image of resistance in India, they were also targeted by spates of violence. Whether it was the brutal lathi-charges by police officials at Jamia Millia Islamia on 15 December, 2019, or the individual attackers who opened fire at students on one instance and the women protesters of Shaheen Bagh in another, there always seemed to exist an attempt to curtail dissenting voices by the end of a baton or the barrel of a gun.
Today, as thousands of farmers protest at New Delhi’s borders, the memory of Shaheen Bagh can be evoked. The two movements, both resonating with the voices of communities demanding their rights, are intertwined. In many ways, the similarities in their functioning and responses they have drawn paint a clear picture of how the central government intends to handle mass dissent.
The Anti-CAA protests started when the government passed the CAA-NRC bills without consulting the citizens it was going to affect.
The protest took its pace when they were denied their right to dissent provided by the Indian constitution. In the case of the farmer’s protest, they alleged that the government did not discuss the farm bills with the concerned citizens before giving it the green light. The farm bills were imposed on the farmers, questioning the very existence of democracy.
In both cases, the bills were forced upon people.
The anti-CAA protests started with women blocking the road at Shaheen bagh against CAA and police brutality towards students from Jamia Milia Islamia. Within days the protests spread over the different areas of the capital and then across the entire nation.
The farmers protest against the farm bills also started with a small number of farmers primarily drawn from Punjab and Haryana, but soon farmers from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh joined the protests.
The women of anti-CAA protest had sworn for an indefinite sit-in in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. They sat for months until they were forced to leave due to the Covid-19 hike in Delhi and the other parts of the country. The necessary supplies were provided to the protesters by various volunteer groups.
The farmers squatting at the borders of Delhi against the farm bills came prepared with their own food and necessary supplies. According to reports, they have more than enough stock that could last for more than six months. In both cases, protestors ensured and promised to defy the government through non-violence.
Though the protestors at Shaheen Bagh had gotten the Congress and other opposition parties’ support, they refused to sit under any political banner.
It was the same in case of farmers protesting against the farm bills, Congress, the left and other opposition parties had extended their support, but they disapproved that their agitation and struggle will not be held under any political banner. Even at the conference of negotiation held with the government’s officials, political leaders were absent.
Despite being born in this country and feeding the entire nation, farmers were defamed and called terrorists and Khalistanis. However, farmers made sure that their strike and movement had nothing to do with the country but rather their concern that they would become vulnerable to exploitation once these bills were executed.
It is now a fact that questioning the power and demanding the rights will give you a one-way ticket of being called an anti-national. The case was the same with the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, who were called terrorists because they disagreed with the CAA’s terms and conditions.
In both the cases of anti-CAA protestors at Shaheen Bagh and farmers protesting against the three farm bills, the government responded in the same manner by justifying that the bills passed would solve the problems ignored for decades.
The government chose the distress of people over consultation. However, a ministerial panel was held to negotiate with the farmers’ leaders, but no such discussions took place with the anti-CAA protestors. In the case of anti-CAA protests, the government got away with an excuse that the protestors at Shaheen Bagh had no representative leaders that could hold talks with the government.
The government faced criticism over anti-CAA protests from many countries. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed their concern and urged the Indian government to ensure the safety of the Muslim minority. The UNHRC (United Nations Commission on Human Rights) stated that the CAA was “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”.
In the other case of farmers’ protest, various similar gatherings were seen in Australia and New Zealand. Canada had the most vociferous response to the farmer’s protest. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, expressed his support for the farmers’ peaceful protest.
On 26 January, when India celebrated 71 years of its constitution, the farmers organised a massive tractor rally to express their dissent, but as the protestors reached the red fort, clashes broke out resulting in violence across different well-known places in Delhi. The farmer union leaders blamed Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu for inciting violence in the rally. The Aam Admi Party purported that Deep Sidhu was the BJP sent tool to create conflict in farmers parade.
This incident brought back memories of a woman disguised in burqa named Gunja Kapoor, detained at the Shaheen Bagh protest site. Gunja Kapoor, who Prime Minister Narendra Modi follows on Twitter, was caught recording videos of the protestors at Shaheen Bagh.
Despite all the uncanny similarities between the two protests, it remains to be seen whether the farmers’ protest against the farm bills will meet the same fate as the anti-CAA protests did with the Indian government patiently waiting for the storm to disappear by itself.