By Sandeep Pandey*
Before the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register dharna at Ghanta Ghar, Lucknow, was symbolically withdrawn on March 23 morning, I happened to visit the dharna site on March 21 evening with the purpose of sitting there with my spinning wheel or Charkha in support of the women.
Immediately the police arrived and wanted me to leave the site citing that it was a women’s protest. I’ve been here earlier and have spun a couple of times outside the area marked for women protesters. By that time some women also arrived from the main dharna site. I informed them of my intention to spin on my Charkha and sought their permission.
I told the police that if the women would tell me not to spin then I’ll go away. The women were in a fix and meanwhile the police was building pressure on me to leave. One of the women advised me to leave after which I got up. By that time police had spoken to their higher officials and decision was taken to detain me. Police asked me to accompany them.
When we were heading towards the police jeep some women who knew me well but were unaware of the developments came to know about my presence there. They came rushing towards the police, with a crowd of them following, and asked the police how could they arrest me? They literally snatched me from the police and two women grabbed my two hands and took me right inside the main dharna site.
I was offered a chair and drinking water pouch. My grey hair and beard gives an impression that I’m older than my age. Some of them began advising that I should leave from the rear of the dharna site so that the police wouldn’t be able to arrest me. I told them that my purpose to come there was to spin and if they would permit me I would like to spin on my Charkha at the place I had chosen earlier.
They were apprehensive of the police detaining me again. I told them not to worry about it as even if they did they would take me to the police station and leave me after some time or register a case against me in some lighter sections which would require me to take a bail.
After this I sat down to spin on my Charkha. The police had surrounded me and wanted me to wind up. This time they did not make an attempt to detain me because of the alert women present there. I told them that if they allowed me to spin for some time I would go away on my own. Then they cited the threat of coronavirus and asked me to stop spinning.
I told them that if they were not surrounding me it would not attract so much attention and crowd. Then some journalists also requested me to wind up because of the corona threat. This time I complied with their request but told the Station Officer of Thakurganj Police Station that I would be back after the ‘janata curfew,’ the next day, and then police should not interfere, to which he agreed.
Two days before this on March 19 the administration asked the women to reduce their strength in the wake of threat of coronavirus. However, when their numbers went below 50, the administration tried to forcibly remove the dharna.
At that point the number of police and security personnel was more than the protesters but as soon as the word spread that police was trying to commit atrocity, the numbers of protesters swelled. Because of the scuffle some women got injured and had to be admitted to hospital.
|Protest at Ghanta Ghar, Lucknow|
But the women stood their ground so stoutly that, in spite of policemen entering the main dharna area of women to terrorise them, they were not able to move the women. I had just heard of this courage and seen it from a distance. But I directly experienced it on March 21 to my welcome surprise.
Swami Vivekanand had said that a true Indian is one who possesses the depth of Vedanta, courage of Islam, spirit of service of Christianity and compassion of Buddhism. Even he identified Islam with valour. I saw this spirit in Muslim women on March 21.
Swami Vivekanand said a true Indian possesses depth of Vedanta, courage of Islam, spirit of Christianity, compassion of Buddhism. I saw this spirit in Muslim women
Who can defeat such brave women? Now I’m convinced that this movement will succeed and government will have to withdraw in spite of the fact that it has used the excuse of coronavirus to wind up the dharnas with a vengeance. It is shameful that when the protesters had taken a decision at Jamia Millia and Shaheen Bagh in Delhi to reduce their protests to only symbolic ones, the police has used high handed methods like lodging First Information Reports, detaining and painting over the graffiti on walls to forcibly remove all symbols of dissent.
The intention of the government is clear, it was not to protect people from coronavirus but to completely wind up the protests. It took them an international crisis to be able to do that. Once the corona threat subsides the government will have to either remove the discrimination in the name of religion and country from CAA or take back the amendment itself. If democracy and Constitution survives in this country we’ll have to thank the Muslim women for waging the fight.
It is a matter of shame that the former Secretary General of United Nations Ban Ki-Moon has written in an article:
“There is no way that India can overcome its development challenges by pitting one religious group against another and turning some Indians into second class citizens….If India were to go further down this path of nationalist and religious discrimination, it would be a political and social catastrophe that could set back the country’s development for generations.”
He further suggests that the vision of founding fathers of India should remain at the heart of our future to achieve lasting peace, justice and prosperity. What can be more scathing indictment of our present leadership than this.
In another article the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, has written that coronavirus reminds us how for nature we are all equal and how this little virus has erased all human created differences in the society. If he sincerely believes in this then he should recommend to the government to withdraw the CAA which discriminates among human being on the basis of their religion and nationality.
* Magsaysay award winning social activist; vice-president, Socialist Party (India)