How would Mahatma Gandhi have reacted to Shaheen Bagh?
When the Union Home Minister declared that the Government would not go back an inch on CAA, the women of Shaheen Bagh declared they would not move a ‘milimeter’.The Mahatma would have been proud
As we are in the 150th anniversary year of Mahatma Gandhi there can be no better time than this, to ask a few important questions like, how would have Mahatma Gandhi responded to the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register?
How would Gandhi have dealt with the brute force which the Indian state is unleashing on its people? How would have Gandhi dealt with the growing atmosphere of hate and mistrust?
The answer to all this perhaps lies in Shaheen Bagh, a non-descript Muslim locality in the National Capital Region with narrow congested lanes wedged between the river Yamuna and its drain-like ‘tributary’ which has emerged as the centre of anti-CAA protests.
Walking through the lanes you can feel that the air of Shaheen Bagh is different. For what used to be a busy road with huge traffic, flying dust and cranky horns has now turned into space with a different kind of sound; a mix of mechanical sounds from loudspeakers with human commotion but overflowing with warmth, emotions and the spirit of struggle.
You can see a variety of protests going on in the ‘protest area’; there is the tent area where almost 300 women have been sitting- some with their children; then there are different groups of young men and women raising slogans of ‘Azaadi’; then there are children and teenagers humming different protest songs; some youngsters are holding lit candles in their hands.
There are people painting the tricolour on face of protesters; there is a replica of a ‘detention centre’; there is a replica of India Gate with names of people who have died until now in anti-CAA protests. Today Shaheen Bagh has become a living organism whose heartbeats are echoing across the nation.
The brave women of Shaheen Bagh, who have been peacefully protesting against CAA, braving the coldest Delhi winter in a century, have grabbed the imagination of people not only across the country but also across the world and have inspired similar kind of protests in different parts of India.
If Gandhi had been alive today, he would have called the Shaheen Bagh protest as satyagraha and the participating people as satyagrahis. In Shaheen Bagh, we can find all the elements of Gandhian satyagraha: namely fight for truth, ahimsa, and suffering. Shaheen Bagh is indeed Gandhian theory translated into practice.
Gandhi’s Satyagraha means the determination to pursue the truth and resist injustice, for which he did not shy away from staking his own life. Today the women of Shaheen Bagh are continuing this Gandhian ideal.
Gandhi’s satyagraha, in the words of Bhiku Parekh, is aimed to 'penetrate the barriers of prejudice, ill-will, dogmatism, self-righteousness, and selfishness, and to reach out to and activate the soul of the opponent'. The women of Shaheen Bagh are not only putting up a strong resistance to the dangerous triad of CAA-NPR-NRC; they are not only fighting the injustice perpetuated by the Hindutva worldview and machinery but are also posing an important question to the wider public on basic humane values.
Their struggle is also directed towards the agents of state’s brute force and also in the course of their struggle they are giving a chance to the wider public-who by and large have kept quiet over the demonisation of Muslims and legitimisation of lynchings in the last six years of BJP regime- to reclaim their voice and humane essence.
When the Union Home minister Amit Shah said that “the government would not go back an inch to revoke the legislation”, the women of Shaheen Bagh who have been protesting over CAA for over a month now, declared they wouldn’t fall back even a millimeter’.
This was a classic example of Gandhian militant nonviolence, which means making the passive act of being nonviolent into assertive action. When Delhi police unleashed its ‘brute force’ upon students of Jamia Millia Islamia, the women and residents of Shaheenbagh responded with its ‘soul force’ or ‘truth-force’.
Gandhian satyagraha is an extraordinary and innovative way to resist injustice and evil. It is a combination of Ahimsa and Non-Cooperation. Ahimsa did not only mean non-violence, but it means non-violence with love. For Gandhi, building Hindu-Muslim trust was his primary goal and represented nonviolence to him, while non-cooperation in the words of Gandhi ‘is an attempt to awaken the masses to a sense of their dignity and power’, which can only be realised when people stop fearing brute force and start believing in themselves.
The women of Shaheen Bagh, by deciding to occupy a busy street and showing non-corporation with authorities have realised the strength of their inner soul. They are determined to stay there in spite of the clear and present danger from police as well as supporters of the ruling party.
The CAA and the crackdown in which Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police unleashed violence upon anti- CAA protesters and the harsh measures undertaken by Uttar Pradesh administration are not two separate things, but are reflections of each other.
In the wake of massive anti-CAA protests, the Uttar Pradesh administration decided to take away the fundamental right to freedom granted by the Indian Constitution by making at least 100 Muslim men to sign bonds saying that they would not get involved in anti-CAA protests; they also confiscated property of suspected Muslim arsonists without following any due process.
This extreme brutality of the police and state government represent the very essence of the CAA. The CAA-NPR-NRC together, in their essence, is the application of the vision of the second Chief of RSS M.S. Golwalkar who writing in 1939 on the Muslim question said that "…the foreign races in Hindustan […] should either merge [themselves] in the Hindu race or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment -not even citizen's rights".
The dangerous combo not only challenges their civil rights but is also an attack on their political rights and dignity; it questions their history, their ancestors, their beliefs and practices and their patriotism.
How would have Gandhi reacted to the CAA? We can find an answer to this in an article written by Gandhi in his magazine Harijan in 1942. Gandhi would have said what he wrote in an article in the context of RSS raising the slogan "Hindustan belongs to Hindus and nobody else". Gandhi writes…
“Hindustan belongs to all those who are born and bred here and who have no other country to look to. Therefore, it belongs to Parsis, Beni Israels, to Indian Christians, Muslims, and other non-Hindus as much as to Hindus. Free India will be no Hindu Raj, it will be Indian Raj based not on the majority of any religious sect or community but the representatives of the whole people without distinction of religion".
In essence, the battle today, in the context of CAA is a battle between Gandhi and Golwalkar. It's a battle between Gandhian ideal of inclusivity against Golwalkar's idea of exclusivity. And in this battle, the brave women and residents of Shaheenbagh have proved to be the true heirs of Gandhian legacy in these turbulent and violent times.
As someone wrote on social media, "The Women of Shaheen Bagh are fighting for Gandhi's India with Ambedkar’s Constitution”.
And this captures the very essence of Shaheen Bagh Satyagraha.