From Shaheen Bagh to Shanti Bagh, anti-CAA stir spreads

Hundreds of protesters have been sitting on a dharna at the Gaya venue since December 29 to raise their voice against the contentious Act

January 13, 2020 11:24 pm | Updated 11:24 pm IST - Gaya

Women protest against CAA, NRC and NPR on the 16th day of their agitation at Shanti Bagh in Gaya on Monday.

Women protest against CAA, NRC and NPR on the 16th day of their agitation at Shanti Bagh in Gaya on Monday.

As the ongoing protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh against Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens grabs national media attention, a similar dharna at Shanti Bagh in Gaya district of Bihar enters 16th day, with hundreds of protesters from all sections raising their voice against the law and the proposed exercise. Like Shaheen Bagh, the protesters here speak fearlessly, enlivening the bitter winter chill with a spring of dissent.

Under the banner of ‘Samvidhan Bachao Morcha (Save Constitution Forum)’, the protesters have pitched a large tent on an open ground at Katari Hill Road in Shanti Bagh. Huge cut-outs of Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar have been put up on both ends of banners hung at the front and the rear side of the venue. On the right, a wooden platform has been erected and a microphone has been installed on the podium along with a Tricolour. Posters with slogans like “we need humanity, not brutality”, we’re Indians, don’t divide us”, “we reject CAA, NRC and NPR” adorn the venue. A copy of the Constitution and a donation box have been put up near the stage. Red plastic chairs are arranged neatly for those visiting the venue in the evening and at night — all under CCTV surveillance. The cameras have been installed by the protesters to prevent any untoward or uncalled for activities by unidentified troublemakers.

‘Peaceful protest’

“Today is the 16th day of our peaceful protest. It will continue until the government withdraws the CAA, NRC and NPR. On Sundays and Fridays, the crowd crosses 10,000. All are coming voluntarily,” said Omair Khan alias Tikka Khan, the convener of the forum . On January 12, the ground was packed with people, mostly women, he added. Mr. Khan and his friends Wasim Nayear Ansari, Faiyaz Khan, Satish Kumar, Abdul Quadir, Manoj Kumar and Ishtiyaque Ahmed formed the forum on December 14, 2019 to oppose the CAA, NRC and NPR and two weeks later, on December 29, they began their peaceful, indefinite protest at Shanti Bagh.

“On the first day, we were only seven-eight friends here, but as the days passed, the number of participants also rose. Now every day, more than 1,000 people, from children to senior citizens, turn up to express their solidarity,” said Mr. Ansari.

“The CAA, NRC and NPR would divide us along religious lines. We will not stop our peaceful protest until the government rolls back these discriminatory policies,” said Nusrat Hassan, a schoolteacher, and Fatima Khan, a cosmetics businesswoman, who have been sitting on dharna along with others.

Funds from donations

How have they managed the 24X7 protest for so long? “We have put up a donation box and people coming here are giving money. On an average, we collect about ₹6,000 per day but the amount goes over ₹10,000-₹15,000 on Fridays and Sundays. It’s increasing everyday,” said Satish Kumar, a veteran social activist. At night, they recite poems, azadi songs and engage in debates and discussions over CAA, NRC and NPR. Students stage plays to send across their message.

The protesters begin their day by reading the Preamble of the Constitution and end their day at 10 p.m. with the national anthem. “To avoid any inconvenience to the local people, we switch off our mic at 10 p.m.,” they said.

“Several leaders from different parties, except BJP and JD(U), have come to express their solidarity with us. We have also invited former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, political activist Yogendra Yadav and others to address us in the coming days,” said Mr. Khan.

What next? “We have planned to visit remote blocks and areas in a group to make people aware about these discriminatory and divisive policies. We have already visited Imamganj, Sherghati and Mohanpur blocks of the district and will cover Belahanj and Guraru in the coming days,” said Mr. Ansari. “We will not quit,” they asserted.

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