Women at Ghanta Ghar, Lucknow offer lessons in civil resistance

The protest against CAA and NRC has defeated every trick to disperse or discredit them so far. They took in their stride plainclothesmen, former journalists and agents provocateur

Rihai Manch chairman advocate Muhammad Shoaib at Ghanta Ghar, Lucknow
Rihai Manch chairman advocate Muhammad Shoaib at Ghanta Ghar, Lucknow

Sunita Shahi

The message is loud enough for even the deaf--this garden that is India is mine and not yours,” says 80-year-old Zabiha Begum.

She takes out her medicine for blood pressure, pops the pill and swallows it. She looks up, beams and repeats “Ye chaman hamara hai, tumhara nahin.”

“I was among the first lot of four women who had arrived here on Friday night and sat on a dharna against the poisonous Act. I would be the last to leave this place if the Act is not repealed by the Centre,” she declares defiantly. She has rechristened the Citizenship (Amendment) Act as Narendra Modi Act.

“Anti-nationalism is ruling the country now-a-days and we cannot let such people believe that they cannot be opposed. I am a post-graduate from Aligarh Muslim University and have the ability to perceive that the country is in the hands to those who are trying to destroy India. We protected India from Mongols in 13th-14th century and we will protect it from the Mongols again in the 21st century,” added Zabiha with an energy and a smile that belied her age, made her look young.

Women and children’s protest against the CAA and National Register of Citizens at Ghanta Ghar in the Heritage Circle of Lucknow has defeated every trick of team-Yogi Adityanath. The UP CM’s coterie had suppressed the protest of the men on December 19 with an iron fist. But they came up against the far more formidable and determined women at the Clock Tower.

The women handed out blankets, biscuits and water to policemen who had taken away a lot of eatables, blankets, a tent and bottled water the previous day. The Police had allegedly doused the bonfires, lit to help keep the women warm and cope with the cold wave.

Vikas Chandra Tripathi, Additional DCP, denied the allegations and claimed that the police took away the blankets because people from adjacent areas had gathered to take them away. He didn’t explain why the blankets were not returned to the women.

The women pounced upon a stray woman who infiltrated into their rank and screamed, ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and quickly handed her over to the police. They later smirked and confided that the police had let off the mystery woman.

The women also identified a group of former journalists, part of the state government’s unofficial media team, and forced them to leave. The men, the women said, had been sent to create mischief.

The number of women and children swelled, among them a large number of non-Muslims. Many of the women, with infants in their laps went back home late at night but returned in the morning with tea and snacks for those who had stayed back.

Recalling what went wrong during the protest in the city on December 19, when a battery-rickshaw driver had sustained bullet injuries and died, Pooja Shukla, one of the protesters said, “The men had committed the mistake and failed to keep the crooks at bay. We still don’t know about those crooks- whether they were criminals or policemen in plain clothes. But we will not let such elements infiltrate our protest at Clock Tower.”

As the number swelled on Sunday, January 19, women formed a human-chain, while requesting men to stay away at a distance, closer to the heritage-road, which was built two years ago with stones to match the historic Imambaras, which according to the Archaeological Survey of India, attract over 6000 tourists from across India every day.

A similar human chain was there on Monday morning as well while groups of girls were continuously on move and asking for the identity of every dubious person seen there.

“Hum aap ke liye bhi lad rahe hain bhaiyya. Please yahan se alag hat ke khare hoiye (Out fight is for you too. Please stand a little away from this place),” a girl was overheard asking a middle-aged man, who some residents identified as a member from the UP Police’s Local Intelligence Unit.

Overhearing the identity of the man, the girl began to chant: “Police bulalo, nahin darenge, goli chala lo, nahin hatenge ( You may call the police but we wouldn’t be scared; you may shoot us but we will not leave this place.)

The historic clock tower was built in 1782 by Nawab Nasiruddin to welcome Sir George Cooper, a British Lieutenant General deputed to the Oudh region by the East India Company. James William Benson, a clock maker of Britain, was hired for this job.

“Nobody ever dared to sit on dharna below this tower. But we felt that since it is at the heart of the city, we should shout from here and try and make the deaf hear our voice,” said a lady who was hailed by protesters as Kashish Apa.

Several teams have been formed, media were informed.

“There is a security team, which ensures that no man comes near the stairs or the courtyard where the protesters are sitting. They ask for the identity of strangers including women before allowing them to linger,” one of them explained.

“Journalists can go inside the human chain but not without showing their identity cards. Some women are assigned to remind old people to take their medicines in time. Then there are others responsible for distributing water and poori-sabji. We pool money and hand over to a team, which makes a list of what should be bought from the market and when. The idea is to develop a mechanism so that we don’t get exhausted if our protest continues for a few weeks or months or years,” said Roohi Rahman.

“Some lawyers met us on Sunday night and offered their free support in case we are booked in false cases by the state government. Some doctors are also in touch with us and are ready to treat us for free if any of us fall ill or get injured in case the police baton-charges or fires bullet,” she added. In sharp contrast to the clearly tense and glum police officers deployed at the site, the protesters exuded calmness and determination.

“Policemen had forcefully taken away our blankets, mattresses and food items on Sunday night. Although I rarely get angry, I did lose my cool and snatched back some of the blankets from them. I scolded them and they just glared at me. I could see hatred in their eyes”, recalls Samaiya Rana. “We are hopefully not going to give an opportunity to the state government to defame us and attack. We raise a slogan only after discussing with each other its merits and demerits”, she added.

Children were given a list of slogans to distribute among all protesters. Some of these slogans were: “Azadi do”, “Ambedkar wali azadi”, “Ashfaq wali azadi”, “Bhagat Singh wali azadi”; “Jinda hain, jinda hain, Gandhi bhi jinda hain”, “Bhagat Singh bhi jinda hain”, “atankwad se azadi”, “Modi-wad se azadi”, “CAA se azadi” and “NRC se azadi.”

There are also slogans for children to chant. They include “Bolo (say) pencil, CAA cancil (sic)” and “Bolo rail, NRC fail.”

Younger women offer roses to the policemen and chant: “Police hamse baat karo, na ki joota-laat karo (Police, debate with us, don’t kick us).”

Following orders, Police have registered cases against unidentified women for rioting and violation of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that prohibit a gathering of more than five people at a place.

How long the protest can be sustained is anybody’s guess. But neither the Centre nor the state appear in any mood to repeal the Act or give a categorical assurance on NPR and NRIC or agree to a dialogue with the protesters.

Who will blink first?

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