Is the growing civil dissent making UP government panic?

Detention of ex-IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan and attempts to intimidate hundreds of women peacefully protesting against CAA-NRC-NPR in Allahabad, just like at Shaheen Bagh, would suggest so

Women protesting at Roshan Bagh in Allahabad
Women protesting at Roshan Bagh in Allahabad

Abbas Muzaffar

Kannan Gopinathan is such a benign personality who can’t even speak Hindi properly; how could he have enraged people in an anti-CAA-NRC-NPR seminar being hosted at the far end of the city? That too in the same premises where a state government program for farmers has been in progress; the administration didn’t even felt the need of any police presence there. The hall at the Patel Sansthan in Alopibagh area of Prayagraj, where Kannan had to speak, barely has place for a few hundred people.

Intimidating headlines in local dailies

The local Hindi dailies have published ‘incognito’ reports highlighting that 279 women and men were booked by local police in unnamed FIRs. The 2 reports that I saw surprisingly has no names of the reporters; social commentators may call them “Godi Media”?

‘The headline of the first report published by Amar Ujala dated 15/1/20 reads Nahi hati mahilayen, police ne shuri ki karyavahi, and the second published by Hindustan same day reads Pradarshan mein 270 per FIR.

Is this an objective or an ethical headline while covering a peaceful civil dissent? Why neither of the 2 reports have the names of any correspondent? These reports are not cited to be a news agency feed, and these are local dailies of Prayagraj/Allahabad. Not surprisingly, 95% of the content in the first report talks only about the police action and the language is visibly intimidating. The report doesn’t mention any other observation on the conduct of the protest, perhaps since it is so peaceful, and there is no error to point out.

It seems that whoever has reported is either oblivious of the ground realities or these reports are furthering an objective for administration. The second report is more intimidating in its headline. It goes incognito in that it’s written by an unnamed senior correspondent. It is completely about the police action initiated upon the protestors.

This newspaper, Hindustan, a local daily, has surprisingly no other coverage on the thousands of women protesting in the thick of the city since it began. Incidentally, BBC, Scroll, Caravan, Huff Post etc have reported it. I wonder what is the reason for a local hindi daily to refuse the acknowledgement of a big event?

Regime taken unaware

The sudden eruption of a completely unplanned and unorganised protest by a bunch of women in Roshan Bagh, and then in Lucknow besides one already going on in Kanpur, is a testimony of the fact that people are just not giving in to the ‘reign of terror’ unleashed by UP government on the earlier protests, where over 20 people are reportedly shot to kill and over a thousand put in jail. As the protest here moves into day 8 today, Mansoor Ali Park in Roshan Bagh area of Allahabad is swelling up to the brims of its premises. More women and men are just pouring in to the park premises with each passing day. Numbers now are in thousands as the men had to vacate the park premises to give space to the unending trails of women trying to squeeze in, with evening seeing a packed house.

Tent houses in vicinity warned with dire consequences

The volunteers who are making tea and putting up mattresses and chairs in the park alleged that the local tent houses were warned by police if they provided any furnishings and fixtures to the protesters. People just overcame that by bringing furnishings and fixtures from their houses, or just purchasing and donating it to the venue. It now looks very evident that they can’t be cowed down by any intimidation by the police and administration, and they will not forego their constitutional entitlement to a peaceful protest over their disagreement with the government.

Reaction to media reports

After seeing the media reports which were circulated by multiple WhatsApp groups to me, I felt that this will have at least some impact and reduce the numbers on ground if not stop it completely. But even women from very conservative families, who are mostly seen as passive observers on normal days, came here on their own without any persuasion. The number of women actually increased substantially from what I saw a day before.

Richa Singh (a former president of Allahabad University students union) named in those FIRs, was seen on the stage vociferously challenging the police and government to arrest her. Another woman in the audience was saying that if police wants we can all give our names voluntarily to be booked. It will be in thousands, she said; tell us a single thing that we are doing which violates the law of the land, she argued.

A scenario akin to Shaheen Bagh

It seems that all that is happening in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh has just spilled over in Roshan Bagh of Prayagraj. Hundreds of women are sitting with photos of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, holding the tri-colour in their hands. There are tricolour bands wrapped around their heads, they are singing the national anthem and other songs of harmony and national unity, shouting slogans against the CAA-NRC-NPR and against the divisive policies of the government.

Above all there is a sense of uncertainty quite visible in their eyes, and a lot of resentment in every one against the government’s divisive acts. There is hardly any fear.

Is it all making the government nervous now?

The protest in Mansoor Ali Park of Prayagraj is visibly not violative of any single point stressed by judiciary in it’s latest verdicts, be it the judgement on Shaheen Bagh or the judgement on Chandrashekhar. Here, hundreds of women are sitting inside the park which usually stays deserted as the slides and swings are all broken, the surface of the park is uneven and there are multiple puddles all over the ground filled with leaking water coming through the pumping station built in the park premises to distribute water supply to the localities around. On a regular day all that I saw happening in this rather defaced park is some neighbouring women drying clothes there, some old folks smoking and some people playing cards or just sleeping under the shades.

There were not even proper steps to get into the park, but the protestors have now made temporary steps with bricks so the women can go easily inside it. The road outside the park is absolutely un-encroached, with the vehicles of the protestors all parked around the park without obstructing the way for regular commuters.

The movement of people inside the park and around is facilitated by the protestors themselves to ensure that no one has any inconvenience whatsoever. Food and water is available in abundance; you see people randomly coming in with boxes of eatables and water bottles, and you don’t see any garbage of that strewn around. It is one of the most disciplined public gathering that I have witnessed.

The protest began by women of Shaheen Bagh has not just spilled over to Roshan Bagh in Prayagraj but also in Kanpur, Lucknow and reportedly in other districts of UP in spite of the most coercive action taken by the police, and it is all actually spreading and building up by every passing day.

It is surely embarrassing the government as these women are saying that they are out to save the core structure of the Constitution from the government itself. All the current indicators of the government’s action to intimidate the peaceful protestors and public speakers makes it apparent that the state is very jittery and nervous, and is unsure of how to deal with this unprecedented situation that pretty much mocks at politicians.

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Published: 19 Jan 2020, 4:52 PM