Mumbai

COVID-19: Better to die here than in detention centres, say Mumbai Bagh protesters

No fear: A child sleeps on her mother’s shoulder, while she attends a sit-in against CAA, NRC and NPR at Mumbai Bagh on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

As the situation due to spread of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic continues to be fluid, women protesters at Mumbai Bagh said they would comply with all safety precautions, but won’t call off their protest, which has now entered its 51st day.

Despite thinner crowds, the older women are firm on remaining at the site and continuing their protest until the Assembly listens and passes a resolution against the CAA, NRC, and NPR in the State.

Mariam, a regular protester who also manages activities at Mumbai Bagh, said “We are following all the necessary precautions here. We have made sanitisation mandatory. All of us offer prayers five times a day and we have to wash our hands before that as well. People are being provided with masks, women’s faces are ordinarily also covered by burqa and we are requesting people with any sign of illness to not come to the protests, specially young children and elderly women,” she said.

A visit to the spot on Tuesday showed that efforts have also been taken to space out the women. A disinfectant was being sprayed, and a team of paramedics, made up of protesters who are also practising doctors, is routinely briefing the crowd on sanitisation and the importance of maintaining cleanliness. “If anyone reports a fever or signs of sickness, they can go and get themselves checked,” Dr. Vasika Seliya, a nearby resident and member of the medical teams, said.

Dr. Seliya also shared how as a doctor and protester, she sensed the anxiety and restlessness building in the crowds, specially since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Keeping their mental health in mind, the protesters have started different activities to channelise the energy in the form of creative expressive arts, such as poster making for children, conducting team-building workshops for young girls, and knitting for women to keep them occupied.

“If we have to go, the coronavirus can find us even at home. We are not so scared. If not here, we will anyway be put in detention centres to die,” was a common feeling among the elderly women, whose resolve to not leave Mumbai Bagh has only gained strength, a protest coordinator said.

Aimed at being a headless, all-women collaborative protest movement, Mumbai Bagh has had its issues with some male members claiming to be organisers. To address this, the women have now formed a core committee of about 25 women, who ensure the protesters are consulted with, informed about changes and coordinate all activities at the site.

After a delegation of about 30 protesters and activists met the Nagpada Police on Monday, including Additional Commissioner of Police Veeresh Prabhu, Deputy Commissioner of Police Dr. Vinay Tripathi and Assistant Commissioner of Police Vinay Gadgil, the protesters have been more careful in ensuring that there is no mass gathering and that the number of people at the protest site reduces.

“We are looking at online protests as well, through groups on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We can approach and mobilise people online, conduct conference calls, and make sure there are fewer people sitting at the site while maintaining distance from each other, as a symbol of our protest,” said Ali Bhojani, who attended the meeting.

Ms. Mariam said the government and people probably thought this would stop soon and protesters would want to go back home. “We want the attention of the police and the State. They have been promising us that CAA will not be implemented here, but there has been no resolution passed on it yet. That is what we want, and if they agree, Mumbai Bagh will be emptied in one hour,” she said with others agreeing in unison.

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Printable version | Oct 2, 2020 4:00:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/covid-19-better-to-die-here-than-in-detention-centres-say-mumbai-bagh-protesters/article31094760.ece

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