New Delhi: As the winter sun sets, making way for a bitterly cold night, Mohd Sadiq and Razi Anwar can be seen standing near the replica of a detention centre installed outside Jamia Millia Islamia University’s gate no. 7.
Despite the dipping temperatures, 20-year-old Sadiq, who joined the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on December 13, has persevered on.
“I am here for my country and my people,” says Sadiq, who is a Class 12 student of the Jamia open board. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Sadiq comes at 10 am and leaves at 6 am – spending almost 20 hours each day at the protest site while wearing a band on his head which states: “I love my India.” He holds a placard which reads, “Tum Delhi police bula loge, ham kaagaz nahi dikhayenge (even if you call Delhi police, we will not show the documents).”
Sadiq clearly states that his protest is not just for the Muslim community, but also for other marginalised communities – such as the Naga Sadhus, he says – and other poor people who are equally concerned about being able to show the appropriate documents required by the government to prove one’s citizenship.
Just a few metres away stands 27-year-old Razi Anwar with his head covered with an Indian flag. Hanging from his neck is a placard with a photo of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the constitution on it. It reads, “Samvidhaan bachao, desh bachao; CAA, NRC, NPR hatao, janta bachao; ped lagao, prithvi bachao (save the constitution, save the country; roll back CAA, NRC, NPR, save people; plant trees, save the Earth).”
Anwar, who is pursuing a PhD in Arabic from JMI, started protesting after the brutal police crackdown on the library on December 15, 2019. Each day, he stands to protest for around 17 hours between 11 am and 4 am, largely silently as silence speaks volumes. Onlookers, locals and other protestors have offered encouragement to the two, and even ask them if they need anything.
Talking about the detention centres that have been sprouting up in various parts of India, he said that it would be better to die standing on the spot he’s been occupying that being taken to a detention centre. “Hamne detention centre ka nazara Jamia library mein dekh liya tha (we have already seen a view of a detention centre in the Jamia library),” added Anwar.
Inspired by the two steadfast protestors, Faraz Khan, 24, who is a member of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI) joined Sadiq and Anwar, armed with a placards that urges citizens to save the constitution and the country,
“Main kisiko saabit kyu karu ki main yahan ka nagrik hun? (why should I prove my citizenship to anyone),” asks Faraz, who installs himself daily at 9 pm and leaves at 4 am. Despite his right leg being injured during the Delhi police’s attack by tear gas shells, Faraz is adamant that he will make his stand.
The three have now become a focal point for locals, and have also attracted the attention of politicians – senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid, who shook their hands and said their actions were “worthy of gratitude” and they they were a “true inspiration”.
“They seem to be the soul of an entire protest because when everyone goes to sleep, tired and concerned about tomorrow, they remain awake, they keep the vigil and don’t let the moment rest even for a bit,” the former Union minister said, as he distributed tea to protestors at Jamia.
More and more young protestors are now joining the three on their nightly vigil, including 22-year-old Mohd Sajid, a mobile repair worker, and 15-year-old Anis. “Aaj nahi to kab, ham nahi to kaun? (if not today, then when? If not us, then who?),” they say unanimously. Anis is supported by his sister Arshi, who stays there in solidarity with her younger brother. They reach the protest site at 10 pm and stay until 7 am.
As thousands and thousands across India flock to protest sites to make there voices heard against the controversial Act, innovative forms of protest have been making their mark.
Despite the pressure of the upcoming board examinations this March, Sadiq pledges to stand there and express his dissent till the prime minister rolls back the NRC, NPR and CAA.
All photos by the authors.