December is a special month for India. As chill of winters finally settles, everything seems to slow down, schools and colleges close for their winter vacations, homes are lined with colourful razais carefully placed in the sun while knitting yarns and carom board line up the patches of sunshine and the calm only occasionally disturbed by the sound of crunchy chikkis and the whiff of adrak chai – only this time it all changed.
This December protests broke out throughout India against an Act that seeks to amend the meaning of “illegal immigrants” for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation and will be granted fast-track Indian citizenship in six years. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 many believe violates the Constitution by discriminating against the Muslims and goes against the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.
After initial reports of violence, these demonstrations have been peaceful and India, in its harshest winters since independence, ushered in a splendid new year with a celebration of unity at Shaheen Bagh – where the new year came with the sounds of Jana Gana Mana and jaaya hay left everyone teary-eyed and a never before feeling of patriotism was felt. Two weeks later the enthusiasm has refused to die down but now with the Act being notified the question that is being asked is whether these protests gained us anything?
The movement has many firsts, but the most important one is that for the first time in post-independence India a sustained countrywide movement is being led by women.
Women will be the largest group affected by the NRC-CAA and they have given vocal and unwavering support to the movement. From Jamia, JNU to Aligarh women are leading rallies, reciting protest-poems, saving their classmates from lathis, forming chains of resistance and at Shaheen Bagh dadima’s nuskhe are not just for the unwell body but work well for the ailing nation. This engagement of women in the decision-making process is critical for building a democratic society that is progressive and has equal opportunities and gender justice among all citizens.
For the people of India, there is an urgency to learn about the constitution and law. People are signing up for workshops explaining NRC-NPR-CAA, and the Preamble to the constitution of India so far remembered by lawyers and adorning the walls of students preparing for UPSC exams is now on the lips of everyone. People are reading the preamble and parts of the constitution from their mobile phones and putting up videos on social media. Some, empowered with their new knowledge are taking part in door-to-door campaigns to help those without access to such information aware of the required documents. Most such volunteers are students and the senior citizens and they represent the power of our vibrant democracy and have silenced those who thought that the constitution is merely a piece of paper.
This awareness has opened up discussions on government policies and the youth is no longer choosing silence – at home and on family WhatsApp groups.
At times veiled in the good morning messages was a reluctance to talk about problems that ailed the country. A lot of people are also sharing how their parents had a change of heart or are realizing that they cannot be associated with those that are silently supporters or enablers of fascism. The people of India no longer want to justify or normalize but be active citizens of an energetic democracy. Students have formed groups where reading material is being collected so that anyone can access it and dismantle propaganda or the narrative of the relative feigning ignorance.
The youth have organized not just reading clubs but with their quirky posters and slogans have made inquilab “cool” Jamia has become the new inquilab chowk and Shaheen Bagh resembles our very own Tahrir Square. The slogans of azaadi that were once used as a trap in JNU have become the ringing cry of the movement – azaadi has an earthly and appealing flavor to it and can be suffixed with any evil. Artists across the spectrum are risking it all to ensure that the secular ethos of the constitution is maintained and police brutality is condemned. Many parties that voted in favor of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have now openly opposed it. Those in favor are desperately trying to look for ways to increase support through various campaigns. The country’s largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress has favored the demonstrations. Some of the states have even announced that there will be no NRC in their states.
Two weeks back when Chandrashekhar Azaad ‘Raavan’ the firebrand leader of Bheem Army joined the protests against CAA-NRC-NPR he chose the stairs of Jama Masjid and emerged from the crowd, not holding the Quran or the Bhagwad Gita but the Constitution, reminding us all that it is the Constitution that binds us together, it is the Constitution that protects the vulnerable and eventually, it will be the Constitution that will liberate us from all prevailing fascist forces. The picture of Chandrashekhar who by the association of his caste was denied entry into temples, surrounded by Muslims holding Constitution in hand and a seething Bukhari looking on from the turrets of Jama masjid signified a greater change that is coming. Shahi Imam Bukhari who had given his support to CAA was made irrelevant on the stairs of that very mosque that he managed as his personal ancestral property. This also ushers in the change in the Muslim community where they were ready to follow Chandrashekhar instead of Bukhari. This incident has a lot many positives for India.
For the Muslims of post-partition-India, this is a historic moment. It is a movement for their self-respect and dignity and a moment of assertion because for long they have been made to denounce their identity both in politics and public life.
Their peaceful rallies are interspersed with an assertion of Muslim identity through jaalidar topis, hijabs, the chants La Illahah Illalah, with the colors of the tiranga and from Delhi’s Jama Masjid have emerged the videos of the singing of the national anthem, reciting the constitution and the tiranga flying high, shattering the narrative of those who like to spread hate and enmity. Those in solidarity are standing with the Muslims and for my generation, this is the visual coming together the oft-heard Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai Apas Mein Sab Bhai Bhai and in a filmi nation a throwback to Amar Akbar Anthony who assert their identity and in the end find unity in diversity proclaiming ‘we three are one’ The film closes with the song ‘Anhoni Ko Honi Kar De which is a reminder of co-operation celebration and unity in diversity and making the impossible, possible.
While it might still not be the time to celebrate, a bonfire with hum dekhenge might warm the soul, for when winter comes can spring be far away.
(The views expressed above are the author’s own. Newsd neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)