New Delhi: Getting high on the spirit of equality and relishing the taste of justice, anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia celebrated the beginning of a new year in a unique way. As the clock stuck 12, they rose to sing national anthem, which was concluded with the revolutionary chants of 'Inquilab, Zindabad (long live the revolution)’.
The agitation at Shaheen Bagh began when the residents of the locality in southeast Delhi came out to protest against the Delhi Police action in Jamia Millia Islamia campus. The sit-in, spearheaded predominantly by women, still continues. The demonstrators have blocked NH24—which connects the city to Noida in Uttar Pradeah—on one side. Their demand is that the government roll back the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the exercise of preparing a National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC).
"The CAA violates Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution, which guarantee equal treatment to all religions. It is against the principle of secularism, equality and justice. We are not opposed to the idea of granting citizenship to refugees from neighbouring nations. We have problems with keeping Muslims out. A secular country can never allow any legislation based on religion. The new law violates the country's secular ethos," Saba, who is preparing for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), told NewsClick.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre has pushed through the CAA, which seeks to give Indian citizenship to undocumented migrants of all major faiths except Islam from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Another woman, not wishing to be named, said that she, along with her two young children, has been coming to the protest site in the evening for the past 16 days to spend time with the fellow protesters and to get educated about the CAA, NPR and NRIC.
"All I can say is that the new law is part of the Modi government's larger agenda against the Muslim community. It's high time to fight. Abhi nahin to kabhi nahin (never if not now). We kept silent when Triple Talaq Bill was passed; we preferred to remain tight lipped when the Babri Masjid verdict came; but now it's a question of existence. It's a fight to save the Constitution, which is under threat. It's an attack on the idea of India. And therefore, we are on the streets and fighting back with full force. They are using all tactics to scare us, but we are resilient. We won't go back. The fight will go on till the black law is rolled back," she said.
Addressing the mammoth crowd, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said tha if someone asks him in the future as where he was when the country was being "destroyed", he would proudly say that he was in Shaheen Bagh where women, men and children were agitating, braving Delhi winters against the "communal onslaught".
A team of volunteers was taking care of the protesters with food packets and medical assistance. The crowd didn't comprise only locals but a large number of people from different regions of the national capital who helped the protesters in whichever ways they could.
In a show of unity, politicians cutting across party lines were seen on the stage addressing protesters and assuring them that they are with them in this "testing times".
Similarly, at Jamia Millia Islamia, thousands of protesters comprising students and locals thronged varsity's gate number 7 to participate in 'The Azadi Night' (the freedom night), a special programme organised by the Jamia Coordination Committee to welcome 2020 with revolutionary songs, speeches, street plays and charged slogans and to register protest against the controversial law.
At the stroke of midnight, when many people were bursting crackers and dancing to the different tunes in the pubs, restaurants and on the roads, the demonstrators present sang the national anthem.
"How the times have changed! Who would have thought we will be beginning the new year with protests," said Nazia, a student of the university.
Students, their parents and even elderly men and women, beating by biting cold, were seen shaking legs to the tunes of revolutionary songs such as 'Hum Dekhenge, Lazim Hai Ki Hum Bhi Dekhenge' (we will see, we will see for sure).
Majority of the protesters NewsClick spoke to were well aware about the CAA, NPR, the proposed NRIC, and their implications.
"We are not here to enjoy but the issue is very important for the country as it is directly connected to our Constitution. History is being scripted and we, as a nation, are doing our bit to contribute to it," said a protester.
"This year, the new year", said Aftab Alam, a teacher at the Delhi University, "is not a moment of celebration for us. Rather, it has become a moment when it’s necessary to take the pledge to protect the Constitution from the right-wing onslaught".
"And therefore, I am spending the night here, standing in solidarity with Jamia students and protesting women at Shaheen Bagh," he added.
Also read: Looking Back: The Strength of Movements and United Struggle in 2019