“This is not the time to sit at home and watch TV,” exhorted Amna Faheem on the mic, urging more people to come out and protest. “They want to break us. Scare us. But it won’t work. We will carry on peacefully.”
Faheem was speaking at the protest site in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area where women have occupied a road for more than two months to protest the Modi government’s plans to bring in a religious element to Indian citizenship. Shaheen Bagh has acted as a template for scores of protests all over India, inspiring women to conduct sit-ins demanding the Modi government withdraw the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Population Register and disavow any plans to draw up a National Register of Citizens.
The mood at Shaheen Bagh was a mixture of anxiety and anger on Wednesday. Since Sunday, large-scale rioting, arson and vandalism have broken out in North East Delhi, 20 km from Shaheen Bagh, which is in the South East of the city. Most of the attacks have been directed at Muslim neighbourhoods.
Till 8 pm on Wednesday, 27 deaths have been confirmed. In Shaheen Bagh, in the midst of apprehension of more violence is the feeling that the protest must not be abandoned – otherwise Muslims would find themselves in an even deeper morass.
“It is shameful what has happened over the past three days. Delhi is the capital. And here the government is sleeping?” said Mehrunnissa, a woman protestor. “If someone is protesting peacefully how can they be attacked. It is our right [to protest]. How can Kapil Mishra call for violence?”
On Sunday, Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Kapil Mishra, threatened to take the law into his own hands, issuing an “ultimatum” to the Delhi police to clear anti-NRC protests in three days. “We will be peaceful till [Donald] Trump leaves,” he told a crowd, with a senior police officer standing right next to him. “After that, we won’t listen to even you [the police] if the roads are not cleared.”
Reports and visuals of violence circulating frantically on social media have inflamed fears. “Today if our husband or son leaves the house in the morning, we don’t know if they’ll make it back,” said Faheem.
NRC fears reinforced
This anxiety played out on Tuesday night with widespread calls in the neighbourhoods bordering Shaheen Bagh to gather at the protest site to support the women. “There were false rumours of violence in Jaitpur, close to Shaheen Bagh,” one resident of Shaheen Bagh told Scroll.in. “We later confirmed these were false. But fears of violence made people head to the protest site in large numbers and keep vigil.”
These fears are reflected on a much wider scale for Muslims in Delhi and India. In some areas of Delhi, Muslims have vacated their homes anticipating even more violence. One family Scroll.in spoke to in the violence-hit Jaffrabad neighbourhood said they will be going back to their village till peace returns to Delhi.
Given that the protests have, till now, been driven by anxiety over BJP announcements that it would carry out an NRC that would target only Muslims, this violence has further reinforced those fears.
“This government is clear that it hates Muslims. From NRC to these riots,” said Tarannum Begum. “We have no hope from it.”
This sequence of events is driving the sentiment that even in face of this violence, the protest at Shaheen Bagh must continue.
“This is a conspiracy to get us to move. But if they are not listening to us now [when we are occupying the road], why will they [the Modi government] listen to us when we are sitting in a corner?” argued Begum. “We have only one option: to keep on protesting.”