Here today, gone tomorrow: Why Shaheen Bagh is a city story

A two-kilometre stretch in south Delhi’s crowded Shaheen Bagh stays barricaded on both ends. There are tents somewhere on the middle of this stretch. Hundreds of women, some with children on their lap, sit in front of a podium where posters criticising the amended citizenship law are pinned on bright cloth. Some women are in burqa.

The voice of an angry man fills the air. On the podium, waving his hand, he says, “Don’t be afraid. Allah will protect you.” After some time, he asks people if they wanted to go for namaz - it’s Friday. “You can pray behind the tents,” he says. The next speaker introduces herself as a teacher from Jamia Millia Islamia University, whose students faced the Delhi Police’s full might a few weeks ago during a protest.

Except for the tents, the entire stretch at Shaheen Bagh is mostly empty. Some children are playing cricket. Others in white kurta and skull caps are pushing cycles. A large drain clogged with plastic waste cuts the road underneath. The odour stings.

The sit-in led by women at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA has been going on for over three weeks now. The amended law seeks to fast-track the process of giving citizenship to persecuted non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries. The government says the CAA doesn’t affect Indians, including Muslims. But critics say the law divides people on religious lines.

People from across the national capital have been visiting Shaheen Bagh. A large crowd pulled an overnighter to usher in the New Year, with songs and dinner amid the biting cold.

Three days later, some people who are probably directly connected with the protest at Shaheen Bagh tweeted they are folding up so that politicians and goons cannot hijack their cause.

Shaheen Bagh is a city story.

Except for the women - and the local men and children - who have a stake in the cause, Shaheen Bagh is a safe place for the people of Delhi, the visitors from gated colonies, to let off steam and give reality to their fantasy of a protest without getting hurt. Because they know the police will not shoot them here, unlike in small towns and border states, where people go out to protest at great risk to their lives.

Those who died in police firing in the towns of Assam and Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere are proof.

Suggested reading: Manipur's long history of protests led by women

Follow journey basket on Mastodon, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook