At Shaheen Bagh’s Republic Day celebration: Tricolour, anthem, Constitution
On Sunday morning at Shaheen Bagh, thousands had arrived to celebrate India’s 71st Republic Day. All arrangements were in place. But a group of protesters around the flag-hoisting spot had a conundrum on their hands — how to ensure the flower petals remained in the folded flag.
“We had figured out everything else. But figuring out how to put flower petals inside the flag and folding it accordingly proved to be a challenge since we don’t do this on a regular basis. We hadn’t conducted a rehearsal for this part earlier and were worried if the flag would unfurl properly. But everything went smoothly,” said Hena Ahmed, a resident of Shaheen Bagh, who has been protesting there since December.
Blocked for over a month by those protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, the arterial Road 13A reverberated with the words of the national anthem and Preamble of the Constitution as citizens celebrated a “janta ka Republic Day” while continuing their agitation for the 43rd day.
“It feels like Eid. All of us here were up all night preparing for the celebrations and now that the flag has been unfurled, we will go home and return in another couple of hours for the janta parade,” Ahmed added.
Three elderly protesters, popularly known as “dadis” [grandmothers] of Shaheen Bagh, unfurled the 55-feet high tricolour along with Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika and Ballabhgarh lynching victim Junaid Khan’s mother, Saira Bano, as protesters occupied every inch of the road, chanting slogans.
“It is sad that on a day when we should be celebrating our democracy, we have to fight to save it,” Radhika Vemula said. Addressing the crowd later in the morning, Jignesh Mevani, an independent MLA from Vadgam in Gujarat said, “We celebrated this Republic Day with our sisters, mothers, and dadis from Shaheen Bagh. On the other hand, the government invited a Brazilian president who made objectionable comments on rape.”
Residents who generally prefer to go to India Gate or enjoy the parade from their living rooms on most Republic Days spilled on to the streets of Jamia Nagar and Shaheen Bagh on Sunday to “assert their constitutional rights” and “celebrate their idea of India.” The makeshift tent at Shaheen Bagh saw several women matching their tricolour attire with orange, white, and green bangles and patriotic symbols pinned to their clothes.
“We go to India Gate every year. But this year, since we had to exercise our right to protest, we decided to come here. The atmosphere here is electric. The kind of sloganeering and celebrations I saw here were different from my India Gate experiences,” said Razia Khanam, another resident who came to attend the protests.
A few kilometres away, at Jamia Millia Islamia, protesters read the Preamble in English, Hindi, and Urdu and hoisted the national flag and sang the national anthem. A group of students, artists and locals also collaborated to create at least eight tableaux on themes of unity, women’s rights, patriotism, and freedom, which were paraded from Jamia to Shaheen Bagh on e-rickshaws.
“The idea behind e-rickshaws was to ensure the parade is more accessible to the public, and to convey that people are now thinking differently,” said one of the artists associated with the project who chose not to be named.