Kolkata: Anwari Bibi and Dukhni Devi are not aware of today being UN Zero Discrimination Day to renew the global resolve to celebrate people’s right to lead a productive and dignified life in a world that promotes inclusion, compassion, peace for change and oneness of human family. Neither they knew of how Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, thundered about the BJP government’s vow to bulldoze opposition against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that discriminates between Muslim and non-Muslim illegal immigrants, once again at Kolkata’s Shahid Minar area. However, Shah, the second in command of Prime Minister Modi, aka BJP-RSS ‘Goli Maro’ army should listen to these poor three women who live in the shanties lining the boundary of Park Circus Maidan, which is now being called Kolkata’s Shaheen Bagh.
This happens to be the border where the Muslims and Hindus divide dissolve and the beggars and rag-pickers, balloon-sellers and rickshaw-pullers belonging to both the community live together at the margin of both communities and class barriers. The struggle for them remains the same right from facing all kinds of exclusion and discrimination in their daily struggle for survival for decades including periodic displacements, mostly forced. However, the three-prong citizenship matrix of the Saffron regime—CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), has emerged as the mother of all fears for them—denial of their Indian citizenship and being sent to the detention centre for not being able to prove their nationality.
“I have been living here for the past 40 years, ever since my husband died. I have lost everything. How can I prove where I was born, forget about my parents and husband,” rued 80-year-old Anwari Bibi. Sitting beside her, is Dukhni Devi, a lower caste landless, migrant from Bihar’s Samastipur. Devi, in her sixties, had landed in the city years ago with her disabled child Ranjit to eke out a living. “Our area is flood-prone. We lost many things including papers in successive floods. How can I produce the kagaz that the government is asking for,” asks middle-aged Dukhni.
Both the elderly women said they have managed to get Voter Card even Aadhar card with the help of good Samaritans in the neighbourhood. “Lekin Sun Rahi Hu Ke Woh Kagaz Bhi Nahi Chalega. Toh Hum Kaha Jayenge? Kya Karenge? ” a visibly worried Dukhni asked. “I will go nowhere. I was born here and have lived my entire life here and it is here that I will die,’’ her senior neighbour insisted. More stubborn was Razia Bibi, a balloon-seller. “Can Modi provide his own birth certificate or that of his parents? Did he forget his chaiwala days? Why the hell he is tormenting poor people like us? Earlier, he made our lives miserable with note-bandi. The rich people would think twice to buy our balloons or give us alms, since they were cash-short. Wasn’t it enough for Modi?”, she said raising her voice. Will Amit Shah and his followers ever listen to these marginalised people?
While these people were venting out their woes, anti-CAA protesters including those from the Left parties and Congress along with the civil society groups came out on the streets of Kolkata to decry Shah’s visit and demand for his resignation in the wake of Delhi’s communal frenzy. At Ramlila Maidan, a civil society rally was organized under the banner- You Spread Hatred, We Spread Love. Addressing the rally from make-shift podium Shaheena Ashgar, a homemaker made a plea to Shah. “I am the home minister of my family and a mother too. You are the HM of the country; you are supposed to show a motherly concern to all member of the nation. How can you beat up students of your children so mercilessly? How can you unleash your murderous mobs on to the people of Delhi in the name of Ram and Bharat Mata,” she asked in a quivering voice.
Wali Rahmani, a young student leader and orator who had called the rally led the participants as they chanted together, “Hindustan Zindabad, Samvidhan Zindabad, Hindu-Muslim Ekta Zindabad, Inquilab Zindabad.”
Recalling the different generations of martyrs of Indian freedom struggle and friendship among them irrespective of caste, region and religion, Rahmani spoke passionately about the camaraderie between Ramprashad Bismill and Ashfaqullah Khan of Bhagat Singh era. “They fought united and died together. Now, this is our second freedom struggle – Hindu Aur Musalman, Desh Ke Liye Jaan Qurban,” he asserted. As the police blocked the rally’s route to BJP Headquarters, few meters away from the protest venue, he urged all the participants not to break the police cordon and requested the police officials to allow them to send a delegation to the BJP office. “We intend to hand over a bouquet and a packet of sweets to the Union Home Minister, in the spirit of our central slogan, You Spread Hatred, We Spread Love,” he said. With the police refusing to pay heed to their request, apprehending ‘hostile response’ from Shah’s party members, the protesters passed on their ‘gifts’ to policemen deployed, in hope of it being sent to the BJP headquarter in Kolkata.
Soumya Shahin, a young law professor and one of the organizers stated, “Shah being the Union Minister and BJP leader has the democratic right to address his supporters. But did he and his party care for the democratic rights of anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protesters in Delhi— right from Shaheen Bagh to Jafrabad? Who is responsible for the loss of 43 lives so far and the over 300 injured? Being the Home Minister, he was supposed to ensure the freedom and security of protesters. Neither he nor his police took any action to stop the communal frenzy and instigators like Kapil Mishra of his party.”
Meanwhile, Left parties waved black flags to Shah near the airport as well as some other parts of the city. Congress student body members too registered their protest at Esplanade, in the heart of the city. Chanting slogans like “Go Back Amit Shah, Amit Shah Bengal Chhodo”. They even recalled his alleged role during Gujarat 2002 Pogrom under Narendra Modi government. “Gujarat has been repeated in Delhi and now he has come to Bengal to spread the poison of communal polarization,” said one of the protesters. A similar protest was carried a few meters ahead, near Grand Hotel by the Bhagat Singh Sena. They were seen waving black flags-balloons with the national flag, the trans-community gathering was singing ‘Azadi’ songs which has become the signature tune of the citizen’s resistance against CAA along with Vande Mataram and National Anthem Jana Gana Mana. “Aaj Awaz Uthao, Ya Kal Bistar Uthao (raise your voice now or prepare to leave with your bag and baggage tomorrow),” was one of the warnings at many protest sites.
Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kolkata, earlier in January, footfall at protest sites was less in number, today. However, anti-BJP parties, as well as citizen’s groups, said that they kept restraint and did not urge people to come out in large numbers given the communal tension in Delhi. “We did not want the saffron gangs to get an excuse to trigger violence and fan riots in Kolkata. Our resolve to fight against their discriminatory CAA-NRC-NPR is as strong as ever,” said Manzar Jameel, one of the activists.