On Sunday, the streets leading to Shaheen Bagh in southeast Delhi were jam-packed with people, heading to support the women protesting against the citizenship law and the National Register of Citizens. The protest, which started nearly a month ago, is only gaining momentum with time.
On Sunday night, both sides of the road were occupied by protesters. Usually, only one side of the road is packed with people.
At the protest site, the people of Shaheen Bagh have erected a structure symbolising India Gate, with the names of the people who have died during the protests against the citizenship law. On the other side of the road, the protesters held an interfaith meeting to counter “divisive forces”. Some had cloaked themselves in the national flag while a few had painted it on their cheeks. Others held placards with slogans.
According to the protesters, between 6 pm and midnight, over two lakh people had gathered in Shaheen Bagh to protest.
Mohammad Wahid works in a bank and is a volunteer for maintaining peace and decorum at the protest.
He said, “Since evening, over two lakh people have come and gone from here. They have witnessed one of the biggest protests in the country so far, only next to the fight for independence.”
Showing a family photograph captured at the protest site, he said, “Not just me, my entire family, my wife and my kids are here. This is a fight for the future. Tomorrow, if my kids ask me where I was while this law was being fought against, I will not have to hide my face in shame.”
Altamash Khan works at a shop in Shaheen Bagh. For a person who doesn’t have any formal education, he constantly uses the word “fascism” in his comments. Asked about it, he says, “Fascivad hi toh hai na ye sabb. Bachchon ko maarna peetna, logon ko mazhab ke naam pe baantna.” All this is nothing but fascism, he says. They are beating up kids, dividing people on the name of religion.
Sheena, a girl of about 16, joined the protest recently with her father. She said, “I saw my father come here everyday. I also wanted to join in.” Her father, a business owner, doesn’t care for the losses he is incurring by participating in the protests. He said, “Business has definitely suffered since our shop has been shut for some days now. Magar ye nuqsan humari pehchan se badhkar nahin hai.” But this loss is not greater than our identity.”
As on other days, Sunday’s demonstration was dominated by women.
Wakeela Parveen, a housewife from Shaheen Bagh area who has been protesting every day, said, “In the front where I was sitting, there were fifteen thousand people. People are coming everyday in huge numbers to protest the wrong things done by Modi and Shah. We are fighting for our rights and we will not back down.”
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor addressed the gathering in the evening, after paying a visit to Jamia Millia Islamia University, where students have been protesting against the citizenship law and last month’s police crackdown.
A rumour had been going around on social media that a UN delegation would be visiting Shaheen Bagh on Sunday. While some people credited the rumour for the huge turnout, many protesters Newslaundry spoke with didn’t know about it and had simply come to extend solidarity.