Just a handful of weeks ago, it was the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests that was an everyone’s minds – protests that were a tipping point for many students who realised it was no longer possible to stay neutral.
A side had to be taken, the government had to be questioned and voices had to be raised.
As a student at Delhi University, it was the first time for me and many others – who had come from all over the country – to witness such a large display of public solidarity first hand. I was particularly curious about what happens at a protest. What do people do at a protest? How are people mobilised and the crowd managed? Protesting is an expression of public opinion, an act entertained only in democratic countries.
My experience tells me that they are places of learning. They are places which provide you a platform to speak out and listen to others without any restrictions or judgement. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join. These are places where meaningful discussions take place.
At Shaheen Bagh, women protestors were telling their mothers, friends and children about legislation, teaching them and making them aware of their rights. At Hauz Rani too, one could see people from sangathans (collectives) like Karwan-e-Mohabbat interacting with the women explaining the nuances of legislations in an easy language. The Fathima Sheikh Savitribai Phule Library at both the locations had books about freedom fighters and constitution makers, symbolising the ocean of knowledge, the heart of the country – the Indian constitution.
Expressions of patriotism, solidarity and freedom to speak one’s mind took vivid forms: speeches, poetry, musical performances, posters, banners, sloganeering, langars, graffitis, secular hawans and numerous other things. Above all, these protest sites became a place for women where they could stand and finally speak for themselves. It enabled them to break away from the shackles of the family gaze and domestic confinement.
Now that the pandemic demands that we stay in for our own benefit, the spirit of the protests which we all attended or followed closely could be still kept alive. The lighting of candles on March 24, sticking posters on the window and seeing others shouting inquilab zindabad from their balconies made me realise how the relevance of the protests had transcended its physical form and was still alive in people who were physically distancing but were politically in solidarity.
All in all, the protests preached solidarity, and the importance of expressing one’s own opinion. They showed us that it’s important to raise questions, which can only happen if we stand together. These protests are an example of the power and wisdom of the masses. Every city, street, house and person could be Shaheen Bagh if we continue to stand by the values of fighting for our due rights.
We should never forget to ask the government questions and demand answers. Demand daily wages and health benefits for essential workers. Demand Personal Protective Equipments for health workers. Demand policy accountability in cases of brutality. Demand food security. Demand transparency in the operation of PM-CARES fund.
Even if we are at home alone, it shouldn’t make us apathetic towards each other’s struggle. The circumstances have pushed us back into our homes. There is fear, uncertainty, anxiety, hunger, unemployment and we must continue to look out for not only ourselves, but for others. We must continue to raise our voices.
Nishtha Gupta is a student at Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi
Featured image credit: Jyoti Mishra/Unsplash