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You forced us to come to the streets, women tell Yogi Adityanath

Protesters raise slogans against the CAA, the NCR in Lucknow.

Protesters raise slogans against the CAA, the NCR in Lucknow.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Protesters in Lucknow bristle at Chief Minister’s remark that Oppn. is using women as proxies to protest against CAA

Loud chants of ‘CAA ko wapis lo,’ ‘Nari shakti zindabad’ and ‘Awaaz do hum ek hain,’ fill the air at the Hussainabad clock tower, located in the heart of Lucknow’s old city. The park at the foot of the 221-feet high clock tower, the tallest in the country, is packed with people, most of them women, girls and children.

Since January 17, the protesters have been staging a sit-in at the clock tower against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens. Despite the police crackdown, including four FIRs and charges of harassment, the protests have only grown stronger, both in numbers and resolve.

“You forced us [women] to come out to the streets by bringing this law,” said Tabassum Raza, a home maker, referring to the BJP government. After the protests against the CAA turned violent in Lucknow on December 19, police allegedly broke into Ms. Raza’s house in Muftiganj, climbing in through the terrace, and vandalized the property and the cars parked outside. They were searching for the men in the house and allegedly misbehaved with the women and even hit them.

“When we are not safe at home, when police are coming to our homes, misbehaving and hitting us, what will we do,” asked Ms. Raza.

Azadi slogans

Her comments come in the context of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath controversially accusing the Opposition parties of using women as proxies to protest against the CAA.

At a recent rally in Kanpur, Mr. Adityanath claimed that women were told to gather in the streets by the men in their families, while they themselves preferred to “sleep in their quilts” at home. “Ab inhone ne apne ghar ki mahilaon ko chaurahe chaurahe par bithana prarambh kar diya hai (Now they have started to place their women at every crossroads),” Mr. Adityanath had said.

The women protesters condemned the Chief Minister’s remarks and slammed him for underestimating women and reducing their agency.

“On December 19, when our men jumped into the field, what did you do to them? They were dumped inside jails. But now men are protesting along with us,” said Uzma Parveen, another protester. Wearing a hijab, a seven-month old baby straddled to her chest and the tricolour painted on her cheeks and forehead, Ms. Parveen has become one of the most recognizable faces of the Lucknow sit-in.

Ms. Parveen advised Mr. Adityanath to “not consider women weak” and referring to the legacies of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal reminded him that leadership and initiative have no gender.

“During the freedom struggle, Rani Lakshmi Bai stood up against the British... she didn't budge,” Ms. Parveen said. “His [Mr. Adityanath’s] comments show what his mentality towards women is. But we consider it our duty to come here daily,” she said.

The protesters also took exception to Mr. Adityanath warning of action against those who chant Azadi (freedom) slogans. He had said it amounted to sedition.

They explained that by Azadi they meant freedom from unemployment, hunger and poverty and not secession from the country. “We are living in a democratic country and we have the right to ask for improvement and jobs. It’s not anti-national,” said Varisha Salim (17), a biology student. Since January 17, Ms. Salim has been spending at least 3-4 hours at the protest site daily after school, only taking breaks for her coaching classes. Like her, a motley crowd of youngsters and the elderly attend the protest daily, between work, study and other daily chores.

Ms. Salim is agitated by reports that members of the ruling BJP accuse women protesters, especially in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, of being motivated by cash incentives. “If we are being paid to come here, why has the BJP not tried to buy us yet?” said Ms. Salim. “Truth is, we [protesters] are not for sale. We are here to protect our Constitution. It is our duty as citizens of this country. Our Constitution is in danger.”

Huda Khalid, a science student, and the same age as Ms. Salim, is opposed to the CAA-NRC because they “divide” the nation on the basis of religion. “Our government should listen to us. Remove the law or bring in equality for all religions,” suggested Ms. Khalid.

Constitutional right

Among the regulars at the protest site are Tarannum and and her husband Waseem, both wheelchair-bound. Placards in their hands, they speak of the need to raise our voice as a citizen. “Samvidhan Bachana Mera Samvidhanik Adhikar hai (It is my constitutional right to save the Constitution),” reads one of them.

Mr. Waseem feels the NRC and CAA go against the values of the Constitution and hurt the composite culture of the country. There is also an overwhelming feeling among the protesters that the CAA will be followed up by the nationwide NRC.

“If we don’t save the Constitution today, we won’t have any answers for the questions the coming generations ask us,” said Mr. Waseem, when asked what motivates him to attend the protest daily. “Please come out of your homes,” he pleads. “If you don’t come out today, then maybe tomorrow you may have to leave this country.”

Several women protesters, especially those with families and children to take care of, said they had to make adjustments to their daily routine to to find time to come here. “No woman will abandon her house and work and bring her child out in this cold for ₹500, as they are saying,” said Fatima Sahab. She invites Mr. Adityanath to attend the protest and clarify the doubts of the protesters.

Uroosa Rana, daughter of well-known Urdu poet Munawwar Rana, is helping the protesters with food, medicine, water and other emergency supplies, through her volunteers. The protesters are also being guided to use approved slogans to avoid controversies and police harassment. “We are holding the protest in a peaceful manner. We don’t want to give the police any opportunity to take action,” said Ms. Rana.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 6:04:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/you-forced-us-to-come-to-the-streets-women-tell-yogi-adityanath/article30686716.ece

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