The blatantly communal remarks of a taxi driver at Byculla was an acrid reminder of just how far the politics of hate have gone, with the nation’s top leaders making it perfectly legitimate for others to say the most obnoxious things. Choosing to stop and get out of the taxi, I opted for a bus that crawled along Nagpada until I got to Arabia restaurant. I then got off and stepped into the lane that has shot into the news.
The sides of this lane have been barricaded, not by protesters, but by the ubiquitous yellow boards that mark the Mumbai municipality’s road development works.I note with irony how bits of concrete pipes have “NO NRC” scribbled across, and of how this landscape of open cables, rubble, bricks and the debris of Mumbai have been used to build an arena of protest. I cannot miss the painting on the wall of a woman in burqa holding a poster saying, “You killed our dreams.”
The walls too are an eclectic melange of messages. A drawing of a man with a sinister finger on the lips saying “Everything is fine.” The slogan of Azadi isscrawled in bright red. A detailed poster chronicles the number of years Gandhi was arrested and spent time in imprisonment. Another poster spread horizontally across the walls proclaims: #MumbaiBagh Take Back CAA. It is one that highlights six reasons why protest is important for democracy and fundamental for human rights? The six reasons are a summing up by Richard Norman, Professor of Moral Philosophyat the University of Kent and Vice President of the British Humanist Association.
There are drawings and paintings of Rani Laxmibai, Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad and of course Dr BabasahebAmbedkar whose figure stands tall against a tree. Educate, Organize and Agitate. This lane called Mumbai Bagh has been doing just that and in an age when optics are important there is evidence of a hugely creative outburst.
I realize just how desperately we need such spaces where insaniyatexists, where marginalized communities aspire to true education and where we can learn lessons again in resilience and common decency.
In the centre of the road on the raised concrete portion are some women. When I approach them they inquire, “Have you had lunch?” “Please have some water.” “Take a seat,” or “Would you like to address the women?”
Only after all the courtesies have been fully extended does a young woman came up to answer my questions.
Safoora, lab technician and cupping therapist explains that Mumbai Bagh was born on January 25 to extend solidarity to Delhi’s ShaheenBagh. Clearly the idea of womensitting in continuously 24X7 had caught people’s imagination and it was sought to be replicated. The local communities of this area were supplemented by women from Jogeshwari, from Santa Cruz, from Mohammed Ali road. Women from Jogeshwari sat in from 7 am to 8 pm. There have been some groups who sat in for almost 23 hours.
In charge of the activities,Safoora explained that there had been a candle light march, kites flown with messages of “No NRC, No CAA and No NPR,” a silent march, sloganeering and so on.
The events on Tuesday February 18 were to commemorate 63 days of ShaheenBagh’s 24×7 sit in and to remember babyJaan, whose mother used to attend faithfully even in bitter cold.
Whilst ShaheenBagh has been singled out for vitriolic attacks during an election campaign and it has been embroiled in controversy for “hampering” traffic movement, the venue of Mumbai Bagh was deliberately chosen because this strip has been closed to traffic and is under repair for the past three months.
However, the police van at the head of the street and the notices under 149 by the police to some women has had an intimidating effect.The numbers have fallen but the struggle still continues. A woman tells me she sits in during the day and goes home in the evening when her sister arrives. Another woman is coaxed into reciting four poems before she leaves to fetch her children from school.
Significantly, women have expanded these sit-in spaces to spread awareness on human rights, to send out messages on crucial role of education and on women’s power that can be devolved in their own individualistic way without subscribing to any fixed notions or stereotypes.
Anyone is encouraged to come up and begin the sloganeering and there is a keen sense of the political.
One young woman who has been an enthusiastic round of slogans stops in the middle so that the women can finish drinking buttermilk brought in by a volunteer.
“You know these television channels and their anchors. One of them claimed ShaheenBagh was on a picnic spree because he caught sight of someone eating. We have to remain aware. Finish your drink. Then we will shout with vigour.”
Indeed when a television crew does turn up and asks the women to start sloganeering some of them are astute and bold enough to question him. “Have you actually been showing footage?” He says that he is willing to provide proof.
The television crew asks the question that is bandied again and again: Why is there a protest against CAA? What harm does the law do?
It was a question that Safoora and some other women had already elaborated upon to me in a small discussion. “There is an Act that by itself is not harmful. But, there is also a language that has been hurled which is definitely harmful. There is an intent that began with mob lynching. When you have language and an Act then it is definitely harmful.”
There are concerns about NPR, seen as the first step towards NRC and CAA. The women are aware of how the law has scope for definite gender concerns. “It is women who change their names after marriage, who change their place of residence. When a simple discrepancy in how a name has been spelt can become a vital issue to raise questions on citizenship it is extremely disturbing.
The women point out that these concerns are not restricted to just the Muslim community but, include several marginalized people. They seek solidarity for inclusiveness.
When I leave the slogans are still reverberating:
“Azad deshmeinmahillakyamaange… kissankyamaange, mazdoorkyamaange.
And the note of hope from a Mumbai rap that has gone famous.
Apna time ayega.