“Thank You, Women of Shaheen Bagh”: Anti-CAA Supporters Take a Bow as Protest Site Cleared Amid Coronavirus Scare


“Thank You, Women of Shaheen Bagh”: Anti-CAA Supporters Take a Bow as Protest Site Cleared Amid Coronavirus Scare

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

As hard as it might be to imagine now, but there was a time when the coronavirus wasn’t the most pressing and urgent issue facing India. Before the country started to go into lockdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak, widespread opposition against the Citizenship Amendment Act had seen massive public protests across the country. Of these protests, the peaceful sit-in led by the women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh became emblematic of the anti-CAA movement as whole. But the pandemic has called for drastic measures, and after 101 days of continuous public protest, the site at Shaheen Bagh has been cleared in accordance with the lockdown measures put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19.

This marks the first time the protest site has been empty since it began 101 days ago. However, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh had already taken note of the impact the COVID-19 outbreak would have on their movement, and already begun scaling back the protest in keeping with the norms of social distancing last week.

On March 22, the day of the all-India Janata Curfew, the site bore a deserted look, which actually made the supposedly “anti-national” protesters of Shaheen Bagh look more conscientious than the apparently patriotic Indians getting out on the streets to bang on utensils in large crowds on the same day.

While the women of Shaheen Bagh respected the Janata Curfew, even as they symbolically continued their protest, a few troublemakers decided to violate the curfew just to attack the peaceful protest site. A petrol bomb was lobbed at the demonstrators.

Today, the clearing of the site means it will no longer be the physical epicentre of the popular resistance movement against the CAA, but the struggle will go on. Though the authorities seem keen on eliminating the memory of this historic protest, it will not be easily forgotten. Hours after Shaheen Bagh was evacuated, workers were seen white-washing protest-related graffiti outside Jamia Millia Islamia.

While trolls celebrating the end of the protest were to be expected, there has also been an outpouring of solidarity. Supporters of Shaheen Bagh have been congratulating the women who continued their movement, and have promised to not give up the fight once the threat of the coronavirus has passed.

Journalist Rana Ayub tweeted, “Once this is all over and we are back to our normal lives, it will be our moral responsibility to rebuild Shaheen Bagh and stand by the brave women protestors. The women of Shaheen Bagh have taught us to fight the good fight. My salam to each one of you.”

Though Shaheen Bagh may lie empty today, this does not yet look like the final chapter of the anti-CAA movement.