New Delhi: The contentious Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests sweeping across the country have gripped Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, despite the city witnessing the worst ever crackdown.
In the wake of widespread protests and ahead of the Republic Day on January 26, the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party government has imposed Section 144 in the capital, prohibiting a gathering over more than four people.
This is the second time in a month that Section 144 has been imposed in Lucknow. On December 19, 2019, Section 144 was imposed across Uttar Pradesh as protests against CAA-NRC escalated, which left at least 23 people dead and thousands arrested.
As many as 3,000 people were reportedly arrested from several districts of Uttar Pradesh -- Sambhal, Kanpur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Varanasi, Aligarh, Prayagraj, Lucknow and Mau -- under preventive custody after the alleged violent protests.
Meanwhile, inspired by the iconic Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi, the women of Lucknow are staging a peaceful protest, beating icy winds, in front of the 220-foot tall Husainabad Clock Tower since Friday, (January 17) afternoon.
On Sunday, the sit-in protest drew huge support, as residents from across the city turned up to express solidarity with thousands of women, some of them carrying children in their laps. Carrying anti-CAA, anti-NRC banners and the tricolour, the women sang "Hum Dekhenge" and “Saare Jahan Se Achcha”.
"The women of this country have come to forefront and are leading the protest everywhere and will not stop until the government rolls back this black law even though the police have been doing everything to prevent people from protesting. They are asking justice for 23 people killed during ongoing protest in the state," said Mohammad Shoaib, an advocate and president of Rihai Manch, who was arrested by the UP Police, and later released. On Sunday, he, along with his wife, joined the protesting women.
Along with several other activists, including former inspector general of police, SR Darapauri, activist Deepak Kabir, Shoaib has also been charged by the police for incitement of violence, intent to murder, damage to public property during the protests against CAA in Lucknow.
Much before Lucknow, women in large numbers hit the road in Kanpur and started a sit-in protest in Mohammad Ali Park since January 7. A similar protest began in Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad, on January 12.
“We have no leader. Volunteers are managing the crowd. Some are taking care of security, others are taking note of speeches being made. We are making sure the protest remains peaceful. We are not Muslim women, but just women,” said activist Naheed Aqeel. She claimed that on Sunday “more than 10,000 women had gathered here and now the footfall has crossed 50,000.”
“We have clearly announced women associated with any political party should stay away from the stage. We want to make this protest a 'political free protest'. If any political party women want to protest against CAA-NRC, they should start their protest under their political banner. We will not allow hijacking of our protest by any political leader, even if it is Priyanka Gandhi," said Aqeel.
Drawing a parallel with Delhi Shaheen Bagh, Shahrukh Ahamad, an activist based in Lucknow, told NewsClick, "The protest has entered the third day and like Shaheen Bagh, women here too are leading the protest. Over 4,000-5,000 women gather here and none of these belong to any political party. Ironically, UP police not allowing men to participate in the protest as they have arrested around eight men and sent them to Thakurganj and Chauk jail. But, these women won't end the protest until CAA repealed."
UP POLICE ‘SNATCHED’ BLANKETS, FOOD
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh police received a lot of flak after they allegedly snatched blankets and food from the protesting women at Clock Tower, leaving them shivering through the night. As this news spread on social media platforms, more people, including members of the Sikh community, stepped out of their homes with blankets and foods to express their solidarity with the protesting women.
“If the police think that they can force us to call off this protest by snatching away with our blankets and quilts, then they are mistaken. They can take our blankets and food away but cannot dent our courage," Areeba, another protester, told NewsClick.
The women also accused the police for having stopped men from lighting a bonfire to beat the cold. Some local residents tried to arrange for carpets and quilts but police did not allow that too. The women then went to their homes and brought their own quilts and blankets.