Kolkata: The number of women participants at the Park Circus Maidan on Sunday was much stronger than what it had witnessed during the weekdays. A similar turnover was witnessed at Shireen Bagh (Raja Bazar Tram Depot), Nawab Ali Park and other sit-in protest sites in Kolkata, amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) scare.
The protesters, present at the dharna sites, at a time when the number of people infected by the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) rose to 107 in India, following which the schools have issued notices to parents announcing that the schools will remain closed till March 31, feel that the scare of being affected by the pandemic is not going to stop them from assembling at the protest sites.
PROTEST AGAINST DISCRIMINATORY LAW
India is witnessing a pre-independence era with protests erupting across the country, since the Government of India (GoI) announced its intention of conducting a National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India, immediately after NRC exercise was conducted in the northeastern state of Assam. Around 19 lakh individuals in Assam could not make it to the final list of NRC and are facing threat of becoming stateless, if they cannot prove their citizenship before the Foreign Tribunal. However, activists working at the ground level claim that most of these people are poor migrant labourers from other parts of the country and not Bangladeshis.
The NRC exercise in Assam has cost INR 1600 crores, but that has not stopped India’s Home Minister Amit Shah from announcing that NRIC would be conducted across India, including Assam. GoI, in a bid to appease a huge number of Hindus left out during the NRC exercise in Assam, has amended India’s Citizenship Act, which openly discriminates applicants on the basis of religion while giving citizenship. CAA clearly states that Hindus, Christians, Jains, Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh will be given citizenship, thereby providing people belonging to the mentioned religion an entry point if they get excluded during NRC exercise. The GoI also plans to conduct National Population Register (NPR) from April 1, which in one of the government gazette clearly mentions that NPR is the first step of NRC. Despite Amit Shah mentioning in the Rajya Sabha that no doubtful voter will be marked during NPR exercise, not many are buying his explanation.
CORONAVIRUS NOT SCARY FOR PROTESTERS
To oppose these proposed exercise, across several Indian cities including the national capital, sit-in protests spearheaded by women are being staged. Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, has been well emulated by Kolkata’s Park Circus, Ranchi’s Kadro and Lukhnow’s Ghanta Ghar and many more Shaheen Baghs have been staging Gandhian-style protests against CAA-NRC-NPR for over three months now. Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, did not end the protest during the Assembly polls and Delhi pogrom. And are continuing even now amid the fear of Coronavirus.
“Governments- both centre and state, have issued advisories that refrain people from going to crowded places like malls, cinema halls among others. But that is not going to make us run back to the safety of our home,” declared Asmat Jamil, the lady who played a pivotal role in starting the sit-in at Park Circus Maidan.
Jamil had undergone a kidney transplant but did not hesitate to lead the sit-in at Park Circus Maidan which went on to become a movement like Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. It has complete 70 days so far.
PROTEST CONTINUES BUT WITH PRECAUTION
She claims that nothing is going to stop people from dropping in at the protest site. However, Jamil maintained that she has advised the participants to keep themselves well equipped with masks, sanitizers and hand wash to fight the deadly virus.
“We have asked each participant to be careful and to follow the dos and don’ts for their better health. As we all know that this is a public movement and that we don’t take funds from anyone, so we are asking the well off participants to bring in their masks and sanitizers. However, for those who can’t afford these things, we will be making some arrangements for them,” said Jamil.
CORONA SCARE TO DISMANTLE PROTEST?
Meanwhile, Manzar Jameel, a Kolkata-based member of Joint Forum Against NRC felt that the common man in no way is willing to listen to the government advisories. Speaking to eNewsroom, he told, “ I am at Shaheen Bagh today, and let me share the mood of the people here – they are in no mood to rush back to their homes. They are concerned about this pandemic and are taking the necessary precautions, but they don’t want to go back to their homes.”
When asked about the health advisories issued by the state and central government, asking people to avoid crowded places and how it would impact this movement he replied, “The government seems to be keen on using the COVID-19 scare to dismantle this movement. But we will not yield to the pressure. NPR, NRC and CAA are much more dangerous than COVID-19, so we are going to keep protesting until the government pays heed to our demands.”
“If the government is so bothered about our health and lives then why have they not approached the protester and arrive at a solution?”, he added.
DETENTION CENTRE MORE SCARY THAN CORONA
Echoing a similar sentiment was Shafqat Rahim, a final year law student, and a regular at several anti-(CAA-NRC-NPR) protests. She said, “Protesters are well aware of the perils of these laws. They also realise that these laws are more harmful than COVID-19, as a person infected with this virus, can expect to bounce back if he is provided with the right treatment at the right time. But those marked D during NPR exercise will eventually land at the detention centre. Dying of COVID-19 seems like a better choice than dying as a stateless person at the detention centre.”
Adding to that Ehtesham Ahmed, one of the organisers of the Nawab Ali Park sit-in mentioned, “This is a people’s movement. We can’t call this off, as people are coming in to mark their resistance to these proposed laws, which are discriminatory. However, we are asking people to follow the precautions listed by the government.”
While Md Javed Alam of Shireen Bagh, said, “We are not against our government. We are on the streets as these proposed laws are discriminatory. We understand the health risk involved but then is the government willing to have a discussion with us and oblige us by revoking or amending them to be more inclusive?” On being asked if they would call off the sit-in, following the COVID-19 scare, he said, “We haven’t discussed the same.”
As the implementation of NPR is approaching, Shireen Bagh (Raja Bazar) protesters have even started a relay hunger strike to stop it. Protesters across Kolkata and Bengal are in no mood to go back to their houses, despite understanding the health risks involved.