Amid the bustle of talk and announcements on stage, there is a surprise at Shaheen Bagh. A young, slim girl student in ankle-length boots, dark pants and shirt is invited to take the podium. She begins her speech by saying that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has put her in a dilemma. She studies in Jharkhand where many of her close friends are members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Their opinions matter to her personally. At the same time, when she comes to Shaheen Bagh she is gripped by the dangers of CAA.
Meanwhile, whether it is because of the doubts that she presents, or since no one can hear her clearly beyond 50 metres or so, the crowd at the back repeatedly breaks out into “Inquilab Zindabad”. At this point, the announcer comes to the microphone and tells the sloganeers — whose voices are predominantly male — to be patient. She tells them that the girl, who is by now tearful, has come to share her conflicts and dilemmas and they must listen to her like they heard everyone else.
This is the surprise: A protest meeting that allows a young girl to declare her friendship with the “enemy” and then express her dilemma between her personal relationships and her political understanding!
It is enough to make this meeting unique in the annals of protest in India. Beyond the exhortations of inquilab zindabad, there is also a public platform that allows one to air doubts. I had, till now, yet to come to a demonstration or protest which had the self-confidence to do so. This goes farther than any other protest movement.
But then Shaheen Bagh is a new kind of satyagraha.