KOLKATA (IANS) — They clap in rhythm, shout “Azadi” slogans, cry “Halla Bol”, clench their fists in solidarity and display high spirits. The tri-colour is omnipresent, as are the faces covered with hijabs — this is City of Joy’s own version of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh in Park Circus Maidan in south Kolkata, where primarily Muslim women have been on a sit-in against the CAA, NRC and NPR for 11 days now.
On January 7, taking a page out of the Shaheen Bagh protests that has been going on for over a month now, some women from the largely muslim-dominated neighbourhood of Park Circus descended on the local park expressing their anxiety, disappointment and anger over the goings on in the country.
They started the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, as also the “state repression on anti-CAA protesters in Uttar Pradesh”.
Their stock grew as the days passed. First their friends, families and acquaintances came, followed by women belonging to all societal strata from various areas of the city — be it Topsia, Ripon Street, Khiddirpore, Metiaburuz or Prinice Anwar Shah Road.
Top professionals like medicos, lawyers, teachers, professors, to those earning a living by cooking or washing utensils in others’ homes — everybody is joining in, and the numbers continue to go up every day.
“Tumhari lathi se tez hamari awaz hai” (our voice is stronger than your batons) says a poster, as the participants shout “Halla Bol, Halla Bol”.
There are hundreds of women wearing the hijab, who have come from conservative Muslim households, and are participating in a protest for the first time in their lives. They sit on spread out matresses, plastic sheets, blankets, durries and simple clothes they brought from their houses or offered to them by the volunteers.
NGOs, social groups and solitary individuals also arrive at the spot every day, bringing in tea, coffee, drinking water and even ‘haleem’, to keep the protesters going amid the dwindling temperature.
Asmat Jamil, a resident of Ripon Street who runs the NGO Azzumar, is considered the pivot of the protests. “It is a movement to claim our rights as citizens. It is a movement to show the power of people’s voices to the powers that be in Delhi,” she said.
Some of the demonstrators sleep under the open sky every night, while others make their daily trips to the venue after completing their household work or meeting their professional commitments. While a group of women have stayed put since the start of the protests, most faces change every couple of days, as people take turns in gathering for the protests.
“We have left our homes, schools, kids. Thousands of women have followed us. They have come out of their homes for their freedom,” said a burqa-clad woman in her 70s, pointing to the chants of “Azadi” (freedom).
“Look, not only do we demand scrapping of the CAA, NRC and NPR, we are also looking at the larger picture. Women here are also voicing their demand for freedom to move freely and fearlessly, the liberty to study, freedom to pursue their vocation and profession of choice and even the freedom to choose whom to marry,” she said.
A young woman — a teacher — joined in.
“Most of the people in this gathering are poor. Majority of them don’t have any papers to show. I am a teacher. I have seen the mothers of my students cry.
“I support my country, I support India. We don’t want to go on a troubled way, right? That’s why we should all come together,” she said.
Apart from the huge number of women, men are also there in strength, chanting slogans, singing songs of protests, waving the tri-colour and reading the Constitution. But they are not allowed into the main protest area, which is encircled by a plastic rope.
The Park Circus protests, after Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, has emerged a rallying point for the dissenters and the fiery young turks. From former student leader Umar Khalid, to Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, and city’s very own balladeer Kabir Suman — the venue is drawing famous names daily.
But sitting around pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, the young and the old commoners are the soul of the Park Circus protests — determined to soldier on till at least January 22, when the court will hear the petitions moved against the CAA from all around India.