It was a lazy Saturday afternoon and my second day after landing in India. I was on my way to Shaheen Bagh which was by now not just the ground zero of anti CAA/NRC protests in India but also a symbol of resistance against the unconstitutional acts of BJP and its leaders to destroy the secular fiber of the nation and to move forward in their dream of carving out an autocratic Hindu nation out of a secular, democratic republic.
Their at Shaheen Bagh a group of elderly women, fondly called the ‘Daler Dadis’ or the brave grandmothers awaited me and thousands like me who were taking their necessary pilgrimage from far and wide.
While I trudged towards the local Metro, a few voices echoed in my ears, desperately trying to stop me from taking the next step forward.
“You will be immediately targeted by the central forces including their intelligence staff as they are tracking everyone who is visiting there or any other place where protests are happening.”
“This is all a stunt and nothing but business for the participating women as they are getting paid Rs.500 per shift.”
“That is a dirty, Muslim slum and the protesters are Muslims and it is not a safe place for you to go to. If you want to protest, why don’t you do through your columns or talk shows or in safe spaces where no physical harm is possible? ”
And then a friend’s recent thought whispered softly in my heart and reminded me the very basis of revolution and resistance- “Inquilab cannot occur sitting inside the four walls of a safe space and eating samosa and sipping tea.”
I took the next step ahead as I knew that it was important not just to be there in letter and spirit but to BE there.
Voices now desperate, shouted again-
“Modi says that CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) has nothing to do with Indians and empathizes with persecuted minorities of India’s three neighbors. Only the anti-national, Paki agents, sickulars, libtards and as he rightfully says, Urban-Naxals, are protesting against it. They will be taught a lesson and so will you if you go.”
“India should have become a Hindu Rashtra (nation) long time back and RSS the planner, Modi the implementer and Shah the executioner are bringing various measures like abolition of Article 370/35 in Kashmir, implementation of NRC in Assam, CAA and the upcoming NPR/NRC to set right the wrongful past. In India the Hindu majority believes in this. Minorities and Dalits have been pampered for decades and now is the time for Hindus to rise. Who are you or people like you to stand against the belief of a majority?”
“Don’t you have a family or any family member in India? Don’t you have things to lose? Don’t you fear for your life? Stop hallucinating of a secular India and fall in the line as millions others. THEY have all kinds of power right down to the supporting mob to silence you, even physically harm you. If not for yourself, think of us.”
Voices built up a crescendo inside and fear roared. I paused.
And then I thought of my grandfather and how he did not fear for his life at the time of partition while taking the grave risk of leaving a safe zone in India and returning to Lahore for the cause of a secular India and paying for that vision with his life. Was it fear or belief that stroked in heart? He died and so did thousands like him but was not a great, secular nation born?
I thought about the thousands of thousands of young boys and girls standing up to this black law and the upcoming darker NRC/NPR in universities and colleges who have everything to lose and yet are readily taking up that risk.
I thought about the celebrities and leaders speaking out, risking all that they have created and receiving constant slander.
I thought about the millions who will suffer when the true colors of this dark law comes into real force.
Above all, I thought about myself and how I will look back at myself if I do not stand up for the voiceless and meek when I should have.
I took the next step forward and never looked back.
And Shaheen bagh was divine. The real temple of humanity where Indian tricolor fluttered with pride and the national spirit was truly alive.
People who look at others with lenses of religion would see refraction of various communities including people with flowing beards serving langars, people with normal clothes as India’s Prime Minister will fondly call them, serving biscuits, water, even milk to visitors and protesters. But I could only see Indians and India lovers standing with each and standing for each each other, chanting slogans to protect and safeguard the constitution of India. And it’s secular fabric.
I offered financial support to many people but they did not accept even when I tried to convey to them a genuine desire from people to help their cause financially. They simply would not take a penny. There were also posters and banners stating clearly that no financial support will be accepted. In a country where ordinary citizens become a part of a heinous mob and even resort to lynching and killing for a few hundred rupees, I could understand now how the right wing was desperately to malign the campaign for obvious reasons.
I met womenfolk who had sparkling eyes as they knew that they were winning this battle of public perception worldwide. I met groups of men and women who had come from various parts of India, from a village in Haryana, from West Bengal, even from Tamil Nadu as if this was a national monument which had to be visited to pay their homage. And they were right. It was.
I saw Shaheen- the bird that flies freely high in the sky in all of them.
Even though I wish that Shaheen Bagh becomes immortal, all good things will end and perhaps one day, the protesters will disperse or will be made to disperse from here. It looks as if the federal government is waiting for the Delhi elections to end before planning any direct action. Anyhow someday all protests end whether justice is delivered or delayed.
However today Shaheen Bagh has emerged everywhere! Not just in all corners of India but among the Indian community all over the world.
Shaheen Bagh may end but a Shaheen now lives in all our hearts.
And our hearts will flutter and fly high and beyond the skies and will ensure that secularism, liberalism, acceptance and love continue to be the North values which will guide humanity for eternity.
I know of that day and that day will come.
This Republic day, step up for your brethren, raise your voice and set free the Shaheen inside.
I am Shaheen. We are Shaheen. Amen.
An edited version appeared in Times of India on 27th January 2020. Link below-