I have just returned from Bilal Bagh on Tannery Road in north Bengaluru. For a week now, it is here that women, supported by men, are in a sit-in protest against the NPR/NRC/CAA.
However, unlike many other protests I have gone to over the past many years, where we as protesters sense a relief from the solidarity we get with co-protesters, a sense of action through holding up banners, a sense of articulation through joint sloganeering, this time I am neither relieved nor exhausted. In fact, I am knotted up inside. My thoughts and feelings jumbled.
I am restless, tossing and turning in bed. The images and voices from the evening are not switching off in my mind. Those women sitting stoic in their chairs, the children full of energy at even middle of the night. The speakers starting and ending with slogans. A young man carrying a carton in his arms, wading between chairs, collecting wrappers, tissues and used newspaper pages and empty bottles, making a cheerful game out of disposing dry waste to the refrain of ‘NPR bhi kachra’, ‘NRC bhi kachra’, ‘CAA bhi kachra’.
Over the past few years when I have both participated and covered a fair bit of protests I have learnt to not assume that protests are sombre, sullen affairs. When together, humans have a tendency to cast away the miasma of impending doom and seek each other out through smiles. It was on full display this evening.
I had reached when Naseeruddin Shah, in the kids’ version ‘Film Krrish ka villain’ had just finished his brief appearance. He had saluted the women who lead these protests and read out Safdar Hashmi’s iconic poem Auratein Uthi Nahin To – What if the women do not rise?
Source: Aap ki Aawaaz
Before Naseer, the youth leader Jignesh Mewani had come on stage. Bengaluru’s favourite artist Pallavi Arun had come and spoken and sung. Yet, I was troubled.
I do not know if it was about the fact that Bilal Bagh, structured after its more famous cousin Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, was not as big a gathering. Or was it about the simple fact that Bengaluru which has adopted me, embraced me – a migrant - over the last two decades was disproportionately represented at Bilal Bagh. I heard from organisers that they would love to see a greater presence of non-Muslims at Bilal Bagh. I agreed with them.
Since I am the kind who writes to understand what plagues me, middle of night, I tried composing my words. I wondered if this is what the nation has come to that scores of women and tens of children are sitting up through days and nights because they are suddenly under threat of…
a)Losing what small lives they have built until now?
b)Losing their space in society upon an adverse remark by a bureaucrat?
c)Losing their identity and hence dignity at the hands of a state whose every other system is porous like a sieve?
Not only is NPR/NRC/CAA flawed because it is partisan in singling out Muslims but also because it is incomplete even in its definition of which are those neighbouring countries from where persecuted refugees India will accept. But all those arguments are already made.
The core of the whole argument of these draconian processes such as NPR/NRC/CAA is that we are a nation are already hard pressed for resources. Hence we need to keep ‘outsiders’ out. Outsiders are a burden on our society. Not only does this approach violate the spirit of what we consider to be our open and accepting and diverse society envisaged by the founding fathers of the nation and enshrined in the Constitution, it is also patently false.
In India, the top 1% rich people control 73% of total wealth. Who is the government kidding by saying the illegal immigrants are stealing national resources? Have we even assessed what work do marginal economic migrants or religiously persecuted migrants do when they come into any society?
Almost always the migrants pick up work that is shunned by the people of that society. The work that falls outside the margins of that society. For instance, a few weeks back a slum was demolished in Kariyammana Agrahara, Bangalore. The rhetoric was ‘they are Bangladeshis’. The fact was they were mostly economic migrants from upper Karnataka and the North East. The ones from Assam had even cleared the NRC but no one heard them. Their documents were not even examined.
Now the courts have rebuked the police and the Bengaluru municipality, ordered the rehabilitation of the slum-dwellers. But what work were these migrants doing? Many were engaged in waste picking, daily labour, sundry jobs because native Kannadigas now refuse to do those jobs. It is the same pattern everywhere from nurses to software professionals. The real fight in our society should be about inequality of wealth distribution, not about migrants or ‘outsiders’.
Later in the night, theatre director Ramneek Singh and his friend Nawaz read out poems by Amir Aziz Main Inkar Karta Hoon – I Refuse and the famous Rahat Indori Kisi Ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hai – India Does Not Belong To Anyone Alone. The slogans and the chants were electric.
Even later at night, theatre practitioner Nisha Abdulla and I were talking about what the children were deriving from seeing their mothers and fathers protest, from joining in sloganeering and theatre practitioner. Nisha said, 'Who knows, two decades later, the nation's next leader might emerge from them!'
I said, 'If there is a nation left.'
Bangaloreans, it is my request and appeal: go visit Bilal Bagh.
In solidarity, in bonding, in affection, in love.
If each of us goes there for one hour once, we can do wonders in how we understand ourselves.
Please go ... Amplify Bilal Bagh’s voice. Let it ring out loud and clear.So we can ALL sleep easy.
Location: next to Masjid-E-Hazrat Bilal on Tenri Road (that is how Google Maps spells it).
Time: 24/7 Hours
Amandeep Sandhu is a Bengaluru based writer of PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines
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