Octogenarian Azha Khatoon’s voice quivers as she slowly makes her way to the protest site. “I was born in this country and nobody is sending me out anywhere,” she asserts.
“I was born here. When the country became Independent, I was 10 years old. Now a conspiracy is being hatched to snatch our citizenship. Where will we go? We do not want NRC,” she squeaks.
Shadab alias Babloo adds, “Thousands of poor people in Patna do not have a house to live in. They sleep on the pavement and sidewalks. From where will these people bring documents to prove their citizenship?”
Ever since the agitation started here in the first week of January, inspired by the women of Shaheen Bagh, Azha Apa has been a regular. She makes her way to the site every afternoon and remains there till late in the evening. “I abhor the idea of people questioning my citizenship. I do not want NRC or NPR. I come here to register my protest,” she says with a glint in her eyes.
Sabzibagh adjacent to the busy Ashok Rajpath is among the oldest and busiest localities in Patna city. But protests have spread to Haroon Nagar in Phulwari and closer to the gate of Patna University.
Women outnumber the men here as well. The site is littered with anti-NRC, CAA and NPR posters. CAA and NPR.
Former local councillor Shehzadi Begum is also a regular. “We want CAA-NPR-NRIC to be withdrawn. The day the government takes them back, we will end the protest,” she said.
Some of the protestors vent their ire at Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. “We had elected more than a dozen JDU MPs to the Lok Sabha to raise our concerns. How dare Nitish Kumar support CAA in Parliament? He will have to answer to us,” they declare.
During the peak hours in the evening, between 6 and 10 pm, some five thousand people throng the place. The protestors switch off the mike at 10 pm and a group of young men take up the vigil while the women return home, returning in the morning after their household chores.
Protestors are also careful to avoid causing any inconvenience to commuters or shopkeepers in the area. One side of the road has been kept open to allow vehicles to pass while the make-shift stage is shifted from one side of the road to the other every second day so that shopkeepers do not suffer on one side.
A shopkeeper confirms that the agitation has not affected the business much and compliments the protestors for their discipline.
Local residents and some college students have formed a committee to raise money for tea and water.
Social activist Anees Ankur says that unlike most other mass movements in recent decades, the number of women protesting in public is strikingly high. And there is no sign of the movement receiving any support from political parties yet.
Organisers are yet to receive any ultimatum from the Police to withdraw but a handful of policemen have been deployed to keep a watch.
(Umesh Kumar Ray is a Patna-based freelance journalist)