EXCLUSIVE | CITIZENSHIP PROTESTS
Meet the other ‘sheroes’ of the valiant Jamia Millia Islamia protests against the increasingly unpopular and controversial Citizenship Amendment Act this week. Along with the feisty Ayesha Rehana and Ladeeda Slakhoon, seen in those viral videos of Jamia protests, Akhtarista Ansari and Chandna Yadav fought pitched battles with Delhi Police to protect their friend and journalism student Shaheen Abdullah. Zafar Aafaq meets the other two prominent faces of the Jamia protests to know their side of the story
Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — The five women who shielded Shaheen Abdullah from the rain of baton blows by cops of Delhi Police at Jamia Millia Islamia have come to epitomize bravery after a video of the act went viral.
Two among them, Ayesha Rehana and Ladeeda Slakhoon, have become the icons for students protesting against the controversial citizenship law after photographs showing them at the apex of the protests on Jamia Milia campus on Thursday evening were widely shared online. On Sunday, the students of Jamia were out in the street, protesting against the new law when things took an ugly turn.
Two buses were set on fire while police cane-charged protesters and shot teargas shells, stun sells and rubber bullets at them. It’s as yet unclear who set the buses on fire. During the crackdown, the police barged into the library at the university campus and thrashed students inside. The action evoked sharp reactions from the Opposition, activists and even some celebrities from the showbiz industry.
Caravan Daily spoke to two women students — Akhtarista Ansari and Chandna Yadav — who alongside Ayesha and Ladeeda Slakhoon circled their male counterpart Shaheen, confronted the police and forced it to stop thrashing him.
The police pounced on protesters near New Friends Colony, a posh neighborhood set in the campus environs. “The male cops attacked the women protesters,” Akhtarista recounts. “They used sexist slangs against us.”
As the police went berserk, Akhtarista and her friends made their entry into the yard of a random house in the colony near the Mata Mandir Road. Police chased them up inside the yard and snatched their male friend while they were shouting at police to leave them and go away, as is visible in the video. The cops, some in civvies, pulled him down on the footpath and started thrashing him.
The police did not listen to him even as he told them he was a journalist and that he carried with him a press card, said Akhtarista.
Abdullah is a journalism student in the university and works as a reporter with Maktoob media, a news portal. “When we saw the police indulging in this brutality, we could not stop ourselves from giving him protection,” Akhtarista said
“The police threatened even the family that gave us shelter,” she said, adding, “The family was helpful and offered us shelter, but after police threatened them, they closed the gate.”
“After seeing that video, I must say I am proud of these women and I am proud of myself for this act,” said Akhtarista, 22, in a raspy voice due to vocal strain caused by constant sloganeering. “It is our right to protest and the state does not have any right to not let us do that.”
Towards the end, Akhtarista can be seen shouting slogans at the cops: “BJP ke dalaulun ko. joota maro salun ko (the puppets of BJP. Throw shoes at these bastards).”
She is studying sociology in Jamia and hails from Deogarh, a tribal district in Jharkhand. She has studied Marx and Lenin. Her choice of Sociology emanated from her thinking that “it empowers one think against social inequalities.”
She has been part of almost every protest march by students since the agitation began. She sees it as her duty to speak against the citizenship law which is “unconstitutional” and “anti-Muslim,” as she put it.
I have no words to even say anything about this video. I am so proud of these women who bravely have showed that they are not scared of the Police. Delhi Police is exposed.
— Nabiya Khan | نبیہ خان (@NabiyaKhan11) December 15, 2019
The legislation cleared by President Ramnath Kovind after its smooth passage in Parliament last week has India on edge. It caused furious protests, mainly by Muslims who feel they are the direct target of the new law. The protests coursed through the length and breadth of the country on Friday.
Since then, the scale of the protests has grown, coupled with bouts of violence here and there.
The educational institutions of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi as also Aligarh Muslims University, both predominantly Muslim, have taken the center-stage in the battle against the legislation. “As much as this country belongs to me as a Hindu,” said Chanda Yadav, 20, one of the girls in the viral video, “it belongs to my friends who are Muslim.”
She is a student of Hindi literature who comes from a family in Chandoli district of Uttar Pradesh. “The beauty of this country lies in its plurality and diversity,” Yadav asserts, and adds, “The government cannot tell us that only one kind of people should live here.”
The decision of Chanda to choose Jamia Millia Islamia for higher education was a matter of dispute in her family. “I had to convince my family to let me go as they thought this was a Muslim university.”
When she arrived at Jamia, Yadav found it perfectly secular. “My Muslim friends have never made me feel I am different, and my professors at the Hindi department are supportive. They are always ready to help me out.”
Following the Sunday violence, the worries of Yadav’s family have grown. “My parents have been calling and asking me to return home,” she said. “I used to think that campus is the safest place for students, but what I saw on Sunday made me think I have been proven wrong.”