People were out in large numbers, some taking selfies, some reading books at the makeshift library, children learning painting, people waving national flags, one speaker after another coming on the stage to express solidarity with the protestors. Committed women of every age sat under the pandal in chilling cold.
This was the picture of Shaheen Bagh for last two and a half months.
The protestors were hoping against hope that government will send an emissary to hear their grievance and address their issue. No one came, and the protest is still going on.
Protests are basically lifeline of any democracy. There was a time when protests or rallies used to shake the government. In Delhi itself, the famous BJP trio of Madan Lal Khurana, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Kedar Nath Sahni were the face of opposition and there were times when every Monday there used to be a call of Delhi or Bharat Bandh in Delhi. There was a time when Left used to bring labourers to the city and the Centre not only used to get worried but also addressed the issues raised by them.
The culture of protest continued till 2013 when Anna Hazare, Kejriwal and Ramdev came together under the banner of ‘India Against Corruption’. The government of the day upheld the tradition of talking to protestors or people raising their voice. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh send the senior most Cabinet colleague Prananb Mukherji to meet the protestors.
Then came 2014, and everything changed. The NDA under the leadership of Modi came to power with absolute majority and the tally of the Congress party, for the first time in history, went below 50 seats in the Lok Sabha. The number game changed the whole scenario and from day one Modi started giving a message that he is the Supreme Leader. Despite internal and external strife, Modi continued to take steps in the name of nationalism.
On November 16, 2016, he announced Demonetisation, which created social mayhem, in the name of nationalism. When people sensed that something was terribly wrong in the name of nationalism, the Pulwama incident happened and brought back nationalism to the fore again. The Balakot strike helped Modi and BJP return to power in 2019.
Modi in his second innings not only became more powerful but his close confidante Amit Shah also became the Union Home Minister. Amit Shah wasted no time in conveying that he is the person in command in this inning. He became the ‘Shah’ of BJP, ensuring the passage of Triple Talaq bill, abrogation of Article 370 and passage of CAA.
People felt suffocated as they could not express their true sentiments openly. With the passage of CAA and Shah hinting at conducting of NPR/NRC, people decided that enough was enough and hit the streets. This time the students and women came out and within days Jamia was in news, following which Shaheen Bagh became the focus of international attention.
In many cities, women started coming out in large numbers, creating their own ‘Shaheen Baghs’.
Shaheen Bagh revived the hope for the protest culture and people started feeling strengthening of democracy, but right wing forces had other plans. They triggered their communal agenda. The ‘game’ began on the night of February 22 and reached its peak when the whole North East Delhi started burning, with scores of people dying. The government and the police acted as mute spectators.
After completing last rites of their loved ones, people are busy collecting themselves and their remains. Thousands have been displaced, hundreds of houses and shops have been burnt down, about 48 people have died and hundreds of injured are still in hospitals. These things are not acceptable in any civilised society but with this we have lost hope of revival of protest culture.
It is difficult to say that how many more days or months these peaceful protestors will continue their struggle but the government of the day is adamant not to talk to protestors and address their grievances. This is the real and slow death of democracy.
Shaheen Bagh revived the hope for democracy but now the situation sugg-ests that nationalism and communalism are here to swallow real democracy.