Women at Delhi’s Khureji Protest Slam Police Highhandedness During Midnight Raid

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RSS pressure on cops to end sit-in inspired by Shaheen Bagh; Protestors vow to continue their fight against CAA-NRC

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

KHUREJI, NEW DELHI — It was the dead of the night, around 2:45am. A few old men, clutching the blankets spread over them, were huddled in a corner. Loudspeakers were shut into silence.

There were over two dozen women at the center of the tent, singing Sare Jahan se Acha … a patriotic song. A police party arrived and began enquiring, “Who owns this land?” Another police officer asked, “Have you sought permission to sit here?” The women responded in unison: “Our protest is peaceful and we haven’t blocked the road. It is our right to protest.”

Taking a cue from the iconic Shaheen Bagh sit-in, a few hundred women started an indefinite protest at a small piece of land by the roadside in Khureji — a middle class locality dominated by Muslims in east Delhi. The women are protesting against the recently passed citizenship law which critics say is divisive, anti-secular and discriminates against Muslims.

Just like Shaheen Bagh, most women at the Khureji sit-in are Muslim homemakers, and they covered their faces by veils. One among them is Nargis Saifi, mother of three. She spends most part of her day at the sit-in. Her role is to assist the group of young and educated women manage the stage. “We are holding this protest because it’s matter of our existence,” she says and adds that the sit-in will continue unless the government revoked the CAA.

It’s evident from the hustle and bustle at the sit-in that the women are ready for a long-drawn fight. At the back stage, they have set up a make-shift store where pots, sheets and tarpaulins have been stored for later use.

Some male volunteers work on logistics while others keep a vigil at the gate. “We are here to ward off the communal elements,” said a volunteer who notes down the names of the media persons who come to cover the protest. For crowd control, a passage has been created, guarded by volunteers who guide those coming in to join the protest.

Protest rallies and sit-in have been going on for a month, with protesters, mostly Muslims, saying they will withdraw only after the law is revoked. In many instances, police has been accused of using excessive force, especially in BJP-ruled states, to quell the protests which have been largely peaceful.

A protestor holding a placard at Khureji in New Delhi. — Photo: Caravan Daily

On Wednesday, the Khureji women held a press conference to share the details of the late night police action. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bushan also joined them to provide legal guidance . “Everyone has the right to hold peaceful protests,”Bhushan pronounced during his address of the sit-in. “The court has made it clear that people have a right to protest and the Delhi Police has now started realizing this.”

The police wanted them to wind up the protest and came in with “full force”. There were over 200 cops, a bunch of armed men in civvies too, besides a few buses waiting outside the tent, the witnesses suspected, “to break up the sit in”.

‘MASKED GOONS’

“They are masked goons carrying sticks and rods,” Sara Javed Chawla, 25, a protester-cum-volunteer guiding media said about men in civvies. “When we asked them to show badges, they quietly walked out.”

They said the police is under pressure from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) to force the protesters vacate the spot. According to the protesters, police told them that the RSS also insisted on holding a counter sit-in here if the women don’t wind up and go.

Women protestors addressed a press conference on Wednesday against police highhandedness in Khureji, New Delhi. Photo:  Caravan Daily

During this back and forth, there was a power cut and darkness enveloped the tent made of tarpaulins and bamboo sticks. The women felt vulnerable, but the police officers continued making enquiries. “I asked the officer I can’t see his face but he responded saying, Sunayee to de raha hai, kaafi hai (You are able to hear me that is enough),” recounted Sadaf Khan, another volunteer at the sit-in.

When the women asked the officer to help get the power supply restored, he shrugged his shoulders, saying, “I am not responsible for this.” The untimely power cut, the protesters suspect, was at the behest of the police “to scare us”.

“The police tore apart the posters and sheets of tarpaulins covering the tent,” protesters and volunteers said at the press conference at the protest site. “The police behavior was shameless.”

Sensing a crackdown, a group of women went out hurriedly and began making frantic calls to their families. They also banged a few doors of the nearby houses in a bid to gather a crowd to protest against police presence. Eventually, a mixed crowd of as many as 400 women, men and children gathered at the spot. Upon this, the police made a hasty retreat.

Women say that they are ready for long drawn fight against the new citizenship law that has been termed divisive and discriminatory– Photo: Caravan Daily

In fact, the police and the local administration had held a meeting with the locality’s elders, asking them to persuade the women end the sit-in. According to Saifi, a women protester, her husband was asked to make an announcement urging them to vacate the spot. “But he told them categorically that the women are on their own,” Saifi said, and added that their families were hugely supportive of the protests.

Another protester Farzana, also a homemaker, too said their families encourage them to take part in protests knowing the consequences of of the law. “Everyone here understands that the protest is about our rights and about our existence in the country that got independence with the blood of our ancestors.”

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