End the protest at Shaheen Bagh | HT Editorial
It will go down as historic. Now, find other ways to dissent
Shaheen Bagh in Delhi has emerged as an iconic site of resistance against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and a possible (NRC) National Register of Citizens (which, the government has clarified, isn’t in the works for now). Over the past two months, women — particularly Muslim women — have led the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh. The protest has given the issue of CAA-NRC significant space in the national consciousness. This is also among the most successful Occupy movements anywhere globally. It speaks of the agency and power of Muslim women, who have exercised their democratic rights, and broken several stereotypes in the process. The movement has also been non-violent, despite attempts to inflame the situation. It has brought alive questions of citizen rights, the place of Muslims in modern India, and constitutional values. And it is a reminder to the government about the need to win the trust of India’s minorities.
But it is important for any movement to take into account changing circumstances. The government has shown no indications that it will withdraw the CAA or even engage on the issue — and, therefore, a key objective of the protest is not likely to be met. The protest has caused inconvenience to residents of Delhi, leading to a degree of local resentment. The Supreme Court has observed that protests must happen in designated areas and cannot be indefinite — this prompted some protesters to say that they are open to shifting to another area.
The electoral outcome in Delhi has been a resounding mandate for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which walked a fine line on the protest, neither embracing it nor rejecting it, and a defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was sharply critical of the protest. But this should not be read as an endorsement of the Shaheen Bagh protest, for several other issues went into making the AAP the winner. Still, after the protest became a key issue in the polls, it was reasonable for the organisers not to withdraw — for it may have seemed as a surrender in the face of a political onslaught. Now that the polls are over, the protesters have the political room to take a decision on its own independent merit. They must also consider the fact that the situation, due to elements which want to undermine the protest, can turn violent, and, possibly, cause communal unrest.
A movement has to be tactically agile. Go back to how Mahatma Gandhi led the freedom movement — launching agitations when the time was ripe and withdrawing them when they began yielding diminishing returns. Shaheen Bagh will go down as a historic protest. But organisers must now look back at their achievements, call off the sit-in, and find other ways to dissent.