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Home / Editorials / How Shaheen Bagh lost the plot | HT Editorial

How Shaheen Bagh lost the plot | HT Editorial

Protesters didn’t adapt to the changing context, ceding the moral high ground

editorials Updated: Mar 24, 2020 17:37 IST
Police remove posters and boards from the anti-CAA protest site at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, March 24, 2020
Police remove posters and boards from the anti-CAA protest site at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, March 24, 2020(PTI)

The Delhi Police cleared Shaheen Bagh of protesters on Tuesday. Since mid-December, those opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a possible National Register of Citizens congregated at Shaheen Bagh — an otherwise inconspicuous corner in south Delhi. Shaheen Bagh was distinctive — the protest was led by Muslim women; it became a model for movements elsewhere in the country; it ended up becoming the longest, and arguably, one of the most successful occupy movements globally in terms of drawing attention to its cause; and it established the fact that a large segment of society was uncomfortable with the government’s law.

But Shaheen Bagh lost the plot. This newspaper had appealed to the protesters to withdraw the movement soon after the Delhi elections — and adopt other modes of struggle. The protest had made its point. And like any other civil society movement, it needed to judge when the dividends had begun diminishing. The protest was only deepening the communal divide after a point; it was causing inconvenience to a large segment of Delhi’s residents; and it had become a potential site of violence.

The protesters decided to continue. That was their prerogative. But they exhibited great irresponsibility when they continued even after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), and the government’s clear advisory to maintain social distancing and avoid large crowds. Shaheen Bagh protesters, at this time of a national crisis, should have, on their own, called off the movement — for their own well-being, and for society at large. While most protesters had left the site, some women remained, violating government protocols. Eventually, the Delhi Police had to step in. In the process, protesters ceded their moral high ground, came across as insular, and lost the support and sympathy they had earned. Shaheen Bagh will go down as a lesson in how a movement should be waged — but also a lesson in when a movement needs to end.