New Delhi: Days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said at a media event that anybody having any doubts over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) could seek and appointment with his office, speculation was rife in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the epicentre of anti-CAA protests, that a meeting with the Home Minister would take place soon. However, ANI quoted the Home Ministry denying that any such meeting was in the pipeline so far.
The 60-day blockade at Road Number 13A on the Sarita Vihar-Kalindi Kunj-Noida highway near Shaheen Bagh, was in the eye of the storm during the recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attacking the peaceful protesters, mainly women, for causing inconvenience to others. However, after facing a rout in the elections, Home Minister Amit Shah seems to have softened his tone for now, even suggesting that peaceful protest was a right and that he was open to removing all ‘dubst over CAA if an appointment is sought.
“I want to say that they (Shaheen Bagh protestors) should ask for time from my office. I will give time within three days. I have said I will meet anyone, but nobody wants to discuss. A discussion will have to be done on merits,” he had said in an event hosted by a top media house.
Responding to the Shah’s offer for a dialogue, some protesters said they wouldn’t accept anything other than a roll-back of the discriminatory CAA.
“We will put forward our grievances and want redressal. The CAA, NPR and NRC (National Register of Citizens) are not acceptable to us. Therefore, we want to make it clear that we are not going to meet the Home Minister to learn CAA from him, but to seek a roll-back or an amendment in the black law,” a woman protestor told Newsclick.
However, some other protesters said they were open for a dialogue and discussion. “It’s good that the minister has agreed to talk to us….We also hope that good sense prevails on both sides so that we end our protest and return to our normal routines,” said one of the dadis, who are in the forefront of the sit-in protest.
Valentine’s Day: Protestors Seek ‘Date’ With PM, Send Teddy Bear
Meanwhile, unfazed by a series of smear campaigns, especially during the election campaign, pegged on ‘biryani’, money and hate speeches by top BJP leaders, women protestors invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a “date” with them and sent him a teddy bear as a “surprise” Valentine’s Day gift. A group of musicians performed a “love song”.
Posters at the protest site read, “PM Modi, please come to Shaheen Bagh, collect your gift and talk to us.”
“We will end our protest right away if the Prime Minister, the Home Minister or anyone else convinces us that amendment the amended citizenship legislation is not discriminatory and against the Constitution,” said a young girl, who has participated in any protest for the first time.
She said that “a popular narrative is being set that the CAA is only aimed awarding citizenship and not taking away someone’s citizenship, but nobody explained how is it going to help the country”.
“We want an explanation of how it is going to solve problems like poverty, a crumbling economy, unemployment and the inequality that the country is facing these days,” she asked.
Asked why are they inviting the Prime Minister for Valentine’s Day, she said it is considered a day to express love and mentioned that the protesters want to share the love and affection with the Prime Minister and the country as the atmosphere is “polluted with hate”.
Ninety-year-old Bilqis said: “Modi is like my son. I am not his biological mother but someone like me gave birth to him. I want to give him a hug and advise him to shun the politics of hate. Love has a lot of strength. We want to exchange love and talk about how to plan a better future of the country.”
A resident of Shaheen Bagh for over five decades, she refuses to understand why the Prime Minister would bring in a law that could make her homeless.
A band performed a song – the catchy tune and its message seemed to have struck a chord with its audience as they too joined the chorus with chants of “Modi, Tum Kab Aaoge (Modi, when will you come)”. After the song ended, the crowd chanted ‘once more’ and the band performed again.
The ‘Dadis of Shaheen Bagh’, as the elderly women are popularly called on social media were seen tapping their feet as the band performed the song for the second time on popular demand. The song performance was followed by the unveiling of a giant teddy on stage — a symbolic gesture of love from the women of Shaheen Bagh towards Modi.
The teddy was also a part of the ‘Tum Kab Aaoge’ campaign and aims to invite the government to Shaheen Bagh to initiate a dialogue with the protesters. The teddy was unveiled by the ‘dadis’.
The anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protest touches upon many themes such as identity politics, Islamophobia, women empowerment, economic inequality, human rights and the constitutional rights of Indian citizens. But, before all this, the larger issue at hand is government’s refusal to acknowledge these aspects of the protest and hold a sensible discussion with the protesters around the nation.
Celebrations and Mourning Go Hand in Hand
Aside from celebrating Valentine’s Day, the protestors also mourned the killing of 44 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who were attacked by terrorists on February 14 last year when an explosive-laden SUV drove into a convoy of vehicles carrying troops on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Maintaining silence for two minutes, protestors paid homage to the brave souls. Patriotic songs and the national anthem were sung.
“We want peace, not conflict. The government must work its best to de-escalate tensions on the border so that innocent lives are not lost. Those who have lost their lives belong to us. They were our brothers and sons. Our hearts go out for them and their families,” said the protesters.