Tea, biryani, national anthem: How anti-CAA protesters in Shaheen Bagh welcomed 2020
Few minutes before midnight on Wednesday, the road outside Jamia Millia Islamia was reverberating with cheers from the audience as performers on stage sang parody songs criticising government policies. The scene changed as the clock struck 12.
Phones went up in the air to record the moment, a person who was unfurling the tricolour near Jamia’s main gate took a pause, hijab-clad women holding their babies adjusted themselves, and soon they began singing the national anthem. As soon as the national anthem ended, they erupted into chants of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Inquilaab Zindabaad’.
Class 8 student Aliza Haider was among the protesters who had come to attend the New Year Revolution programme organised by Jamia students on Tuesday night. With a candle in one hand and a placard in another, she stood a few steps away from the large poster of BR Ambedkar hung near the varsity’s gate number 7.
“Generally, we go to the New Friends Colony community centre for New Year celebrations. But this year, we came here because this is more important. It took a lot of effort to prepare our Constitution, we cannot let it go in vain or let anybody change it,” said Haider.
Hundreds of others like Haider have been participating in the demonstrations outside the varsity against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which began on December 15 after a violent clash between protesters and police injured dozens.
“They entered the campus and beat up the students who were studying. If our children are not safe where they study, what should we celebrate? We are here to make our dissent known,” said Maria Shaikh, a local resident.
The programme at Jamia, comprised of musical performances based on the theme of revolution, ended a little after midnight with protesters giving a call to move to Shaheen Bagh - where locals have engaged in an indefinite sit-in, blocking the arterial GD Birla Marg for 17 days now. Around 200 shops in the area, including major factory outlets, have been shut for over two weeks incurring huge losses. The protesters, however, have one thing to say: We won’t budge unless the CAA is repealed. Last week, the Delhi Police had written to the protesters urging them to clear the road because the sit-in protest has blocked an important road - Number 13A - that connects Delhi and Noida. For the last 17 days, the traffic police have diverted the traffic from 13A to other roads leading to traffic jams in many parts of south Delhi.
Like Jamia, Shaheen Bagh too welcomed the new year with the national anthem followed by a night full of revolutionary songs and poems interspersed with tea, biryani, and ice-cream breaks for all who thronged the spot. The crowds started swelling around midnight as people from different parts of the city reached Shaheen Bagh to show their solidarity including activists like Harsh Mander, Kafeel Khan, Yogendra Yadav, and actor Zeeshan Ayyub. Protesters were also collecting messages in a cardboard box which they plan to send to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office.
Natasha, a PhD scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was among those who said she had ditched house party to welcome the new year at Shaheen Bagh. “I was not in Delhi when these protests started. I reached Delhi on Monday and knew I had to come here. The energy here is exploding. People are exposing their kids here to the things happening in our lives which is extremely important. The protests here give me hope as they bring a discourse on resistance,” she said.
With tricolour painted on her cheeks, Sumaiya Khan, 18, was among the protesters who regularly came to Shaheen Bagh. “One of the most significant things is that women of Shaheen Bagh are out to protest. Earlier, our mothers wouldn’t allow us to step out of our houses so late. But now, they ask us to wait till they finish our chores and join us,” she said while heading home at 2 am.
Her cousin Shaba Naaz, 17, from Jharkhand added that generally they go home by 11 pm but decided to stay till late past midnight on Tuesday. “New Year celebration is not just about dancing and going out. Coming here to save our Constitution is more important. We are medical aspirants. Conversations in our house have drifted towards what would happen if the National Register of Citizens (NRC) happens just before my exams in May. That is why these protests are crucial for everyone,” she said.
While speaking about the women protesters at the spot who have been sitting there for days, the sisters said, “There have been negative perceptions about those who wear hijab. This is why the protests are empowering for us. We all get to assert our voices here,” she said.