With Shaheen Bagh talked about so much and a wide spectrum of opinions, I set out to see for myself, what it is all about.
It was the 11th of February, 2020 and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had just been declared the victors after months of campaigning leading up to the Delhi State Elections. Armed with my camera and a head full of questions I embarked on an hour-long metro ride from the Delhi University North Campus to Shaheen Bagh, the site of a continuous protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registry for Citizens (NRC), and National Population Register (NPR).
I take the liberty to assume that everyone has at least heard of Shaheen Bagh considering the comical number of times it has been referred to by Politicians. It was as if the entire Delhi State Elections was fought on the matter of Shaheen Bagh, with promises to clear out the entire protest site within minutes if they were to come in power because of course there aren’t any other paramount issues. From a hotbed of Pakistan-sympathizing anti-nationals to a shrine of dissent and the freedom of speech and expression, the opinions on Shaheen Bagh vary wildly. However, the question still remains; Has Shaheen Bagh outlived its purpose? What drives the people who protest there, day and night? Amid accusations of being a part of the ‘tukre-tukre narrative’ or being funded by political parties or other organizations, what is the ground reality?
Upon arriving at Shaheen Bagh, it was a short walk to the protest site. I noticed “Reject CAA, NRC, NPR” posters put up on every building and shop with one restaurant even offering 10 percent off if you showed them your ‘inked’ finger, indicating you had voted, with the accompanying message ‘Not voting is not a protest, it is a surrender’. Arriving at the protest site, I was greeted by droves of protesters chanting slogans and banners criticizing the CAA, NRC, and NPR. Walking around with a camera and tripod did stir a few apprehensive looks, with many people asking me what news agency or newspaper I belonged too. Shaheen Bagh is definitely wary of journalists, and understandably so. The media hasn’t exactly been fair in its coverage of Shaheen Bagh.
Walking about the area, I stopped by a group of older men seated and enjoying a kebab roll. They struck a conversation and told me that they have been coming there on a daily basis and distributing food and water. On being asked about the accusations that the protesters are being paid or funded, they laughed and said they have been scraping together whatever little they have and raising money from people in their localities, saying it is a small sacrifice in comparison to the people out there on the road, day and night. After wishing me the best in my studies and giving me their blessings, they headed off.
Protesters camped out in tents warmly welcomed me and talked about their disappointment with the ‘fake news’ that ‘brainwashed’ people and told me that no organization or political party, but rather a spontaneous out-pour of support had kept the movement alive. They assured me that the kindness of people has kept them fed and well and joked that they have all the biryani they want. I was told the model India Gate erected there would bear the name the names of all those who lost their lives protesting against the government. One of them, who had left his job in a different city said, “Many have died for this cause, and many more will. I know that I will die first, but I hope our effort will save our country”.
One constant was an immense feeling of nationalism, political awareness and a desire to start a conversation to educate people on the issues that our county faces. Shaheen Bagh definitely won me over with its warmth and resolve to keep dissent and political discourse alive and I hope to be back soon. Inqilab Zindabad!
Featured Image Credits: Tashi Dorjay Sherpa
Tashi Dorjay Sherpa
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