‘Why I Don’t Want Yogi To Become Chief Minister Again’

Mohammed Ahmed Ansari, a lawyer in Allahabad High Court and a social worker, spells out why it is dangerous to elect leaders like Yogi Adityanath

A couple of days back, Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi was addressing a public meeting in Bulandshahr, western UP where he made a reference to his political opponents. He said: ‘10 March ke baad inki saari garmi shaant kar denge’ (Will bring all their energy down after poll results). Does this kind of foul language suit the office of a chief minister? The video clips of this speech is in public domain and widely circulated.

There are other speeches where he refers the Muslim population of his state as “those who speak abbajaan (father in Urdu)” and slyly uses 80-versus-20 slogan in an indirect reference to the national percentage of Hindus and Muslims. How can a person who is openly divisive and communal in his conduct and speeches deserve to be the head of a state?

Article 21 of the Constitution gives everyone the protection of life and personal liberty. Now see what Yogi Ji is saying through public platforms: ‘Earlier government used to give funds for kabristaan, we are building shamshan ghats.’ This is as barefaced as our chief minister can get to polarise its people.

Ansari lists out inflammatory speeches made by Yogi Adityanath

The people of Uttar Pradesh take pride in its Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (an inclusive ethos). In Allahabad, every year I lead a small team of volunteers to put up tents and eateries near the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna for the pilgrims who come for a holy dip at Kumbh. We celebrate each other’s festivals with equal zeal. Hardliners are not happy with this, they are always trying to create rift and tension.

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There are many examples where the current ruling dispensation has tried to target Muslims. Take, for example, the National Register of Citizens. In various public speeches, BJP leaders have said that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis need not worry about it, implying that only Muslims should. The message is all those who cannot find a place in the NRC would be considered refugees under the new citizenship law and get to stay in India, all except Muslims in the same position.

When protests erupted on more than 60 university campuses in India against NRC and Citizenship Amendment Act, BJP-ruled states cracked down on them with brutal violence, but none as harshly as in Uttar Pradesh. Should it come as a surprise that the maximum casualties in the protests against CAA-NRC were from Uttar Pradesh?

The Adityanath government sought to blame Muslims for the violence. It has gone to the extent of sending notices to more than 500 Muslim families, seeking to recover damages for loss of public property from them. Recent media reports have disclosed how the officials in UP administration played judge and jury to target innocent families belonging to Muslim community.

Yogi has often called the previous Samajwadi Party government led by Akhilesh Yadav as one of the mafia. He has also attacked Yadav for giving tickets to those with a criminal background. Please go through the list of the BJP candidates; over 100 of them have criminal cases against them. Yogi Ji himself had several criminal cases on him, including those of attempt to murder and instigating riots. He closed down all the cases after becoming the CM.

The election commission should take suo-motto cognizance of his hate speeches. If an elected chief minister is making inflammatory speeches what could you expect from others who are actively want to disturb the peace and harmony of India?

As Told to Rajat Rai

‘Courage Of Narwal-Kalita Gives Anti-CAA Activists Hope’

Salman Ahmad, 30, an advocate at Lucknow Civil Court, says he was amazed at the spirit of Pinjra Tod activists on their release from jail. Khan sees similar resolve in anti-CAA women activists of Lucknow

I am so happy that finally Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha have been released on bail. It was an uphill fight, but I am glad they have come out of jail for now. I am just mesmerised at the courage these people have shown, especially the women.

The moment I saw the news clip of Natasha Narwal laughing after just coming out of jail and not deterred one bit, I was like: Inki himmat me koi kami nahi aayi; chehre pe ab bhi hansi barkarar hai. Aisa lag raha hai ye to Sarkar ko chidha rahi hain (She looks spirited; her smile/laughter is intact and it seems as if she is cocking a snook at the government that they couldn’t break her spirit even in jail.

I have seen similar steely resolve in the women of Lucknow; the women who spearheaded the anti-CAA and anti-NRC movement at Ghantaghar. I had been following the news about CAA-NRC right from the beginning and have been involved with its Lucknow chapter, so to speak, right since its inception.

Lawyer community holds protests against Citizenship Act in Lucknow

I myself was a part of the CAA- NRC protests and have helped a lot of people in getting timely bail when they faced similar police harassment. In fact, the police filed two-three FIRs against me as well but I was undeterred. Even my whole family and the families of friends and colleagues registered their protest. We know these are momentous times and anything can be used against anyone who shows the courage to question the government.

Women don’t speak up in the beginning or fight unnecessarily, so if the women are out in the streets and unafraid to go to jail for what they consider right, just and truthful, the government should sit up and take notice. When women put things at stake, it means they are ready to give it their all.

ALSO READ: ‘FIRs, Arrests Can’t Break the Spirit of Dissent’

We can see through the divide and rule policy of the government, but I believe it’s not going to work. Because this time the people also know that they have to take a stand. During January-February last year, many of us took an accommodation near the protest site and did all that was possible in aiding other supporters and we wouldn’t even go home for many days at a stretch. Even at the cost of our own personal safety we have visited police stations after police stations to show our support in the release of common people. As an advocate it is my duty to see that the law is not misused.

CAA-NRC provisions have touched a raw nerve and people have realised that their very existence is at stake. It is the people of India who are holding it together with love, otherwise look at what hatred between communities and a breakdown in communication did to Myanmar. I wouldn’t say that there was no mistrust between communities before this government came in; it was there, but it was a side thing. But with this government it is the main agenda. Many people holding top position in important institutions have been known to have biased views regarding things.

Anti-CAA protest in Lucknow

I hope things get better soon and the government understands the concerns of the people and not just try to put those asking questions in jail. We need to talk to each other. The powers that are need to take people into consideration.

‘We Will Choose Bengal’s Didi Over Muslim Owaisi’

Maulana Shahidul Qadri, 45, from Dhankheti, Metiaburj in Kolkata, says local issues hold key to assembly elections and therefore he will prefer Trinamool candidate than a divisive BJP or AIMIM

At a time when many people around the country have given in to the politics of division and polarity, people in Bengal are still standing united, strongly. We Bengalis form an opinion after a lot of deliberation and in-depth understanding and analysis of a matter, and thus one cannot divide us so easily.

As a Maulana and also as an Imam of the masjid at Dhankheti (Metiaburj), I tell people not to fall prey to the politics of hate; firqakaparasti wali baton me mat aaiye. We also tell people through editorials in various newspapers that we should not forget local issues while state elections are underway.

I wonder why BJP makes every election, right down to even the civic body elections, about national issues. Wasn’t our election system created and upgraded so that issues at every level could find adequate voice and be solved subsequently?

BJP might try bringing in the big guns for the elections, but Mamata Banerjee will once again become the CM. We have chosen to support Didi even over a Muslim candidate, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi. It is not about Hindu-Muslim leaders, but rather on who as a leader has an understanding of local issues.

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The BJP-TMC face-off means everyday there’s some new statement from either side, but the electorate is noticing everything. The pandemic has shown us how important it is to have robust local leadership and we will keep focussing on that.

Bengal was a more peaceful place earlier, but now you hear news of BJP-TMC or BJP-Left clashes. I condemn incidents like attacks on JP Nadda; violence shouldn’t have any place in a democracy. We are Bengalis and Indians too, apart from being Hindus and Muslims.

Sometimes I wonder if like Assam, madarsa education will be banned in West Bengal as well! How will we then understand the basics of the faith we practise? There are many other ways in which the Muslim identity and the country’s Constitution and the institutions are being chipped away by the BJP but we have faith in both Mamata Didi and Allah.

NRC-CAA, Shaheen Bagh, illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, purportedly for whom the bill was brought in… was a burning issue just an year ago, do you hear as much of it during Bengal elections? Why? We can see through everything. The Prime Minister is not the leader of a party alone and not only of a particular party or community. He must take the whole country together and walk.

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The first term of this government was all about sowing seeds of mistrust between communities that had been mostly living peacefully for so long. The second term was all about interpreting law in such a way that that hatred was normalised. Even though we respect the Ram Janmbhoomi verdict, it would have been nice if the bhoomi-poojan had been a calmer affair.

Triple talaq, Delhi riots, NRC and now the love jihad (which the Supreme Court has said doesn’t hold true because relationship between two consenting adults is their choice), I wonder when will all this stop and when will we begin focussing on issues that really matter for us as a country?

No leader is perfect, and Mamata Banerjee gets angered easily, but we feel ke unka dil saf hai aur hausla buland. She has our interests at heart. We hope in the coming years she will mature into a calmer leader and learn to strategize better, Bengal and the country can truly benefit from that.

‘CAA, Riots, Love Jihad… Where Will The Hounding Stop?’

Farheen Zaidi, 22, a student of Fine Arts in Delhi, says with millions of livelihoods at stake amid Covid-19, our leaders should redefine their priorities, and not constantly target one community

Where do I even begin? I don’t understand what is going on in our country for the past few years. First, the stalemate over Citizenship Amendment Act- and NRC, then the communal violence in Northeast Delhi and now a law against so called ‘love jihad’, which I do not even think, exists…

Where will this concerted and coordinated effort to target Muslims stop? Till a few years ago, the Hindu-Muslim rivalry was a one-off thing and people used to take extreme steps in the heat of the moment. But now it’s like this rivalry recurring periodically. There’s a constant undercurrent of hatred running in India these days.

Even the November 11 High Court order that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Ji had cited to justify ‘love jihad’ law earlier, has now been overturned. The HC now says that it was ‘bad law’ and two consenting adults have the freedom to choose the way they want to conduct their lives. Love is a matter of the heart, how can it be governed by law?

I wonder if the people who talk about ‘love jihad’ even understand the meaning of love. It takes so much for people to be able to find another person who understands them well and how can they be judged by people who don’t even know them? If conversion has been done forcibly, be they of any religion, then the government can step in, but one can’t assume that people will behave a certain way and take pre-emptive measures.

ALSO READ: ‘Love Jihad Law Kills Beti Bachao Spirit’

Shouldn’t the government be worrying about and working upon handling the pandemic, or soon there will be no people left to fall in love with each other or marry. So many people have lost their jobs and livelihood because of the pandemic, and I feel the government should really give its priorities a rethink.

Farheen believes addressing loss of livelihoods amid Covid-19 must be a priority for leaders

This is not the time for people to feel hatred for each other. We all need each other to see ourselves through the coronavirus crisis. Our faiths should help us become better people and help each other and we need to fight coronavirus together. I sometimes feel sad about how we have changed as a country. When I was in school a few years ago, we had many friends from other faiths, but now just a few years later when I am still in college, our social circle has shrunk considerably. There is this whole ‘Hindu-Muslim’ talk going on always.

Sometimes I feel if the matter of ‘love jihad’ is so serious why doesn’t Modiji talk about it in his ‘Man Ki Baat’? He could give us examples when cases of people marrying someone just for the sake of converting them has come to light and talk about those cases from all angles. That could be the beginning of a serious dialogue on the topic, but in my life I have personally seen no such incident and feel it is a just a bogeyman of an issue.

ALSO READ: ‘Love And Jihad Don’t Go Hand In Hand’

And if the law is brought in, the poor of the poorest will suffer; the rich will take to legal recourse. I hope better sense prevails and more thought is given to social harmony. When people are secure in their own faiths and identities they don’t even try to convert people to their ideas, forget changing their religion.

Whatever decision Yogi Ji and his counterpart in Bihar, Nitish Kumar Ji take in this matter will have far reaching implications for the rest of the country. I am waiting to see what Nitish Ji has to say in this matter as the Chief Minister of a state where there is a large Muslim population.

‘We Were Told To Embrace Islam, Even Spat Upon’

Avtar Singh, 32, an Afghan Sikh, narrates his persecution in Afghanistan and why he left Ghazni, where his family lived for five generations. Singh sees the Citizenship Law as a blessing for people like him

My forefathers settled in Afghanistan five generations ago. We lived in Ghazni, about 170 kilometres from Kabul, the Afghan Capital. We owned multiple garment shops and nearly 40 acres of land. Why we had to leave everything behind and took refuge in Delhi is a tragic story, one of religious persecution and plight of minorities in Afghanistan.

Ever since I was born, I remember being discriminated against in Afghanistan. It started with being made fun of for our attires, our pagris. They would call us kafir, be-iman and by other derogatory terms. Every time we went out we would be taunted with: “Aaj pagri me aloo rakha hai ya pyaz?” (What have you hidden in your turban today – potatoes or onions?).They would tell us to get rid of our hair and look like them. We were constantly asked to convert to Islam.

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Things took a more sinister turn with people spitting at us in public for following Sikhism, at times throwing stones at us randomly. I couldn’t send my children out, or my younger brother to school. Afghanistan was the only home we had known and we were heartbroken by the way things were happening. My mother who had seen better times before 1979 (before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) lamented at what we had come to.

My father, Shaheed Harbans Singh Khalsa, a Member of Parliament in Afghanistan, was killed in an accident in 2003. We later got to know it was all pre-planned. Mysterious papers would be thrown at our house with threats to life and ransom money. Over the years, I paid nearly ₹80-90 lakh to keep my family safe.

After a decade of living in uncertainty, constant suffering and blackmailing, we reached the breaking point and decided to flee to India. We were helped by a few people to buy tickets amounting to ₹90, 000 for seven people for the Kabul-Delhi flight.

Singh now works as a Granthi at a Gurdwara in New Delhi

That was in 2014. I lived a lifetime on that flight. I had only ₹20,000 to start a new life in India and a family of seven to feed. However, we were happy that at least we came out of Afghanistan alive.

We live on meagre resources in India. I work as a Granthi at a Gurdwara in Delhi. My brother who is in his teens also has to work to support the family. I am greatly surprised how well-behaved Indian Muslims are. They always address us as Bhaijaan and Sardar Ji and make us feel welcome in every aspect of life.

ALSO READ: ‘CAA Will Help Sikh Refugees’

We have to extend our visas every two to three years. I have heard of the new Citizenship Law that would give refugees like us permanent citizenship of India, and we are glad about the same. Even though I understand the sentiments of several people who have been protesting against CAA, I feel they should know why citizenship in India is so important, no less than a blessing for people like us. We can finally call India our home.

After being on the receiving end of persecution, I have become a better person, not bitter and feel no one should be persecuted on the basis of religion. Our Guru Granth Sahib teaches us: Koi Bole Ram Ram, Koi Khudaye, Koi Sewe Gosaiya, Koi Alahe (God is one, people know it by different names).

Tragic Times For Afghan Sikhs

Last Sunday’s arrival in New Delhi of 11 Sikhs from Afghanistan marks the beginning of the end of a centuries-old historic process of Hindus and Sikhs moving to and from this India’s extended neighbourhood.

It may be a matter of time – perhaps a few months – before all of them, estimated at between 600 and 1,000, a microscopic minority in an overwhelmingly Islamic nation, may leave Afghanistan for good and seek new lives in India that one of them on arrival gratefully called “our motherland.”

This small but epochal event sadly reduces to a mere debate what is steeped in history. Can an Afghan be a Hindu or a Sikh? History says yes, asserts Inderjeet Singh in his book Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of A Thousand Years published in April last year.

There is no reliable information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan that once had Hindu rulers, and when Buddhism thrived. But historians suggest that the territory south of the Hindu Kush was culturally connected with the Indus Valley Civilization (5500–2000 BC) in ancient times.

As for the Sikh, records show that its founder Guru Nanak Dev had visited Kabul in the early 16th century and laid the faith’s foundation.

ALSO READ: ‘CAA Will Help Sikh Refugees From Afghanistan’

Islam arrived in Afghanistan only in the seventh century. “The Hindu Shahi rulers of Kabulistan were replaced only by the end of the 10th century by the Ghaznavides, who maintained Hindu forces,” Inderjeet Singh asserts in his book.

Contemporary records show that Maharaja Ranjit Singh also ruled parts of Afghanistan. About 250,000 Hindus and Sikhs had thriving trade and lived in relative peace and harmony and travelled to and from British India. Father of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to trade with Afghanistan, carrying consignments of asafoetida (heeng).

11 Sikhs arrived in New Delhi from Afghanistan on Sunday, July 26, 2020.

Recorded or otherwise, this account must make a grim present-day note of the end of the presence of religious minorities – at least the Hindus and the Sikhs – in Afghanistan. A small minority in an overwhelmingly Islamic nation, they survived the violent civil war conditions that have prevailed since last King Zahir Shah was deposed in 1973. Last 47 years have seen a decade of communist rule backed by the erstwhile Soviet Union, a “jihad” supported by the Western nations, faction-ridden and violent rule by the Mujahideen five years of Taliban and since the US-led “global war against terrorism” that followed 9/11, eighteen years of the present government backed by the United States.

The US is keen to quit its longest war, whether or not President Trump gets re-elected. Its iffy pact with the Taliban is not working and the way is opened for the Taliban, with their sordid record of suppressing women and minorities, backed by Pakistan that has its own sordid record, returning to power. That makes the status of Afghan religious minorities more uncertain than ever. That makes India’s move, with American blessings, timely.

The Afghan minorities have already felt the heat. Twenty-five Sikhs were killed at a Gurdwara in Paktia province in March this year. They were targeted by an Afghan group owing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). Indeed, the IS’ spread has been the reason for the US, Russia, Iran and China coming on the same page, leaving Pakistan as a key factor and India, an ‘outsider’, yet again. History is repeating itself.

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The 11 Afghan Sikhs have been granted short-term Indian visas. They include Nidan Singh Sachdeva, who was abducted from Paktia’s gurudwara in June. The rest are families of those who were killed in the Kabul Gurudwara terror attack earlier this year. Twenty-five Afghan Sikhs and one Indian Sikh were killed on the March 25 terror attack in Kabul by a heavily armed ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) suicide bomber. The group includes Salmeet Kaur who was reportedly kidnapped in Kabul but later came back.

An emotional reunion upon arrival of Sikh delegation from Afghanistan on July 26

This Sikh group hopes that India would give them long-term visas and eventually grant citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last year. It gives citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from three countries –Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan with a cut-off date of 31st December 2014.

While that may happen, for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, the decision to come to India poses an agonizing dilemma. In Afghanistan, they have livelihoods — shops and businesses passed down through generations — but spend their days dreading the next attack. Making a new start in India would most likely mean living in poverty, they said, particularly during an economic slump exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lala Sher Singh, 63, who was attacked in March, told The New York Times that the community had shrunk so much that his thoughts were occupied “day and night” by a fear that “the next assault might not leave enough people who can perform the final rituals for the dead.”

“I may get killed here because of these threats to Hindus and Sikhs, but in India I will die from poverty. I have spent my whole life in Afghanistan. In this neighbourhood close to the temple, if I run out of money and stand in front of a shop and ask for two eggs and some bread, they will give it to me for free. But who will help me in India?”

The New York Times reported that there was no official reaction from the Afghan government to India’s offer. “A senior Afghan official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the news media, said that ‘violence affected all Afghans’,” and that an offer of safety only to Hindus and Sikhs put religious diversity in Afghanistan in doubt.

The Afghan official, ostensibly making no excuse about the poor security available to the religious minorities in his country, attributed the Indian government’s move to being “aimed at a domestic audience in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to move the country away from its secular, multicultural foundations and give it a more overtly Hindu identity, while projecting itself as a champion of persecuted Hindu minorities elsewhere.” The beleaguered Afghan authorities fighting for their own survival amidst civil war of their own, would likely stay silent and not mind the minorities leaving.

Truth be told, the Tibetan refugees took years to settle in India and thousands of Hindus from Pakistan have yet to get their citizenship documents, leave alone facilities and opportunities to settle, earn livelihood and send their children to school. By contrast, those who come in illegally, do manage to get their ration cards, citizenship certificates and even voter’s cards from the grey market on payment. Despite the sentiments of those who support this “ghar wapasi”, this is the harsh reality.

Even if necessary, this is a thankless, unending task. “Mother India” must pay a price for embracing back its sons and daughters troubled in their chosen homes.

‘Bleeding From Gunshot Wound, I Was Taken To Hospital On A Bike’

Bhavya Gautam, a 27-year-old lawyer, in Brahmpuri, northeast Delhi was hit by a bullet when he along with local youth tried to stop a mob from attacking a local temple

I lost my mother at a young age and was raised by my maternal uncle, Shankar Lal Gautam. My uncle tells me that our family shifted from Haryana to Brahmpuri in 1962. I was born here and have always considered Brahmpuri as home. Even the bullet that I received in my stomach on February 25 during communal riots is not going to change that.

Till a few weeks ago everything in Brahmpuri was normal. Peaceful life, friendly neighbours and life as usual. Then we heard about protesters occupying the area near Jaffrabad Metro station to create a Shaheen Bagh-style demonstration (on February 23). Brahmpuri is less than a kilometre from the protest site and as traffic issues cropped up due to the protest, the ripples reached our area too.

Things flared up on February 24 around 10 am and by the night, things had taken a scary turn. What started as a fight between pro- and anti CAA protesters soon took a communal colour. Our mohalla also became tense after news of a fight near Maujpur Metro station reached us. We were already taking preventive measures like guarding the entry points to our colony and keeping an eye on outsiders since morning. However, a mob still managed to reach a temple near my house and started throwing stones at it.

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As local gathered to counter the mob, they took out firearms and shot at us multiple time to scare us away. Several of those trying to protect the temple go injured. I was also hit in my stomach. Thankfully, unlike as reported by other riot-hit areas, police reached our colony within 10-15 minutes of our making a distress call.

My friends were worried at my condition and one of them rushed me to Jag Pravesh Hospital (Shashtri Park, East Delhi) on a bike. I was bleeding during the journey but held on. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any mob or obstructions on the way. After initial treatment, I was referred to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital at Dilshad Garden.


Shankar Lal Gautam (left) is thankful that his nephew Bhavya Gautam is safe

The hospital was already reeling under a rush of injured. Each of the bed was shared by two, even three victims for treatment. I was writhing in pain but there was not enough space to even turn on the bed. I kept on pleading with doctors to either discharge me or give me a proper bed as I had a bullet injury. Irked they discharged me but tagged my status as an “absconder”. Since I am an advocate myself I know how serious this charge can be and I have put in an RTI application to know why this happened.

ALSO READ: 1984 To 2020: State Riot Machine At Work

It has been nine days and I am just about beginning to put back the pieces of my life together. Let’s hope my ordeal gets over soon and life gets back to normal for everyone.

(At the time of this copy being uploaded, Bhavya’s uncle Shankar Lal Gautam who has access to the CCTVs in the area has been watching the footage minutely to observe if they can identify anyone from the attackers. The residents are weary and hurt but not scared. Gautam feels it will take a long time before life gets back to normal again in the area but he has faith in God.)

‘CAA Protesters Are Ill-Informed, Govt Must Talk To Them’

Aashi Sanjaya, an IT professional in Delhi-NCR, feels anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh do not fully understand what NRC and CAA are all about. The government must initiate dialogue with them to allay their fears

I wholeheartedly support the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). For a country as huge and populous as ours we surely need to be in the know about the people living here, so that our safety and security isn’t compromised. First, we should remove illegal immigrants with the help of NRC and later, with the help of CAA, give relief and refuge to those who have come to India after being persecuted in the neighbourhood on the basis of their religion. We have suffered for far too long when it comes to security concerns and we can’t afford to be lax anymore.

As for people who are opposing it, I think they need to inform themselves better. On the government’s part, it should open communication channel at multiple levels (right from the ground level authorities to the ministers) to alleviate the fears of people.

ALSO READ: ‘CAA Will Give Citizenship, Not Take It Away’

The logic behind CAA is simple. If Muslims are being persecuted in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, they have many Islamic countries (more than 50 I believe), but if Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists etc. are being persecuted on the basis of religion, which country do they turn to except India?

I think people need to understand this very clearly that the Home Minister Amit Shah isn’t going to take away the citizenship of Indian Muslims through NRC or CAA. Indian Muslims are safe here.

ALSO READ: ‘If Amit Shah Can’t Budge, Shaheen Bagh Won’t Either’

I don’t understand what the protests are all about. Sometimes, I feel people are protesting just for the sake of protesting. I belong to Lucknow where Hindus and Muslims have coexisted peacefully with each other for long. Believe me the ground situation is pretty difficult than what is portrayed in the media.

If people are scared, why are they sitting on the roads and making the lives of ordinary citizens difficult? Take a leaf out of a corporate setting. If, for example, I fear that something wrong might happen with me in future jobwise, shouldn’t I try to talk to my seniors or should I just go out on the road and start telling everyone that I am being treated unfairly? A public protest should probably happen after every other peaceful option to talk to the senior managers have failed.

ALSO WATCH: Modi Has Woken UP A Sleeping Tiger

Similarly I feel people from Shaheen Bagh should have formed a committee/group and taken the matter up with local representatives first and then to the higher authorities. Then if the authorities didn’t take any steps, the ball would be in their court. That might actually bring about some real change as well.

Do these protesters realise the hardships being caused to daily commuters and road users because of their protests?

My father has been keeping unwell since last year and I travel every weekend from Gurgaon to Noida to meet him, many a times alone. Due to the Shaheen Bagh protests I have to take a longer route (which goes through deserted stretches in some places), plus I am able to spend less time with my parents. I wonder how other people with family members who are unwell are managing, or women who have travel on this stretch everyday are managing. Proper communication from both the sides is the need of the hour.

‘Shaheen Bagh Inspired Kadru Bagh In Ranchi’

Khushboo Khan, 32, explains how she used her HR skills to recreate a Shaheen Bagh-like site in Ranchi’s Kadru area where women have been holding sit-in protests since January 19

Ranchi is a small city when compared to Delhi or Kolkata. Women here are also a little inhibited in coming out on street to protest. However, people have realised that this is a momentous time when one needs to show the courage to speak up. Ab nahi bolenge, to kab bolenge? (If not now, then when will we speak up?)

Therefore, inspired by the brave women from Shaheen Bagh, our committee, named Hum Bharat Ke Log (We, the people of India) started to come out and register our protest against Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizen. Our protest began on January 19, at a small ground near Haj House in Kadru area. As we are growing in strength, we have named it Kadru Bagh, so that people know our resolve is as strong as that of our sisters from Shaheen Bagh.

ALSO READ: Cops Bully Us… But Ghanta Ghar Protest Is On

We are protesting against CAA-NRC not only on the grounds that it is discriminatory, but also because we believe that our country isn’t equipped to take on any more people from outside and be able to give them job opportunities, health benefits etc. For, our own countrymen are not getting jobs, access to good health, transport facilities etc. We have slid down as a country on various indices, right from economic growth to women’s safety (a huge issue in Jharkhand), to food safety etc., but the government is busy trying to create a rift between communities to hide their failures.

I worked as a human resource professional for many years before I decided to quit and launch an NGO called ‘She’ that imparts vocational training to women. I must admit that my HR skills came handy in leading this protest against the divisive CAA-NRC. I have been coming here every day for 12 hours and with each passing day people are attending in huge numbers. We are braving 4-5 degree Celsius temperature and some of the protesters are having health issues too but we are ready to risk everything to be heard.

ALSO READ: With CAA, Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger

Ever since this (BJP) government came to power, we as Muslims have been at the receiving end of communal taunts, snide remarks and insulting messages. We remained silent at many instances when our community was directly targeted: the Triple Talaq law, abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the court verdict on Ayodhya. But we decided to break our silence when Citizenship Bill was passed because we saw this an attack on the Constitution and constitutional rights of the people.

It is heartening to see common people from all religions protesting against CAA-NRC, because frankly everyone can read between the lines when it comes to this government.  Human beings are losing precious lives and peace in this situation. This government knows only raj (to rule) and not neeti (policies). It must learn to engage with people sincerely. The media must also help the government in its engagement with the people. For now, Shaheen Bagh has shown us the way, and we are going to follow the path of truth sincerely and tirelessly.

ALSO READ: Mothers Are At Shaheen Bagh For Their Children

Kashmir Lockdown, Azadi Slogan Echoes Across India

Kashmir – It’s been more than five months since the Army occupation, armed siege and total lockdown of the Valley of Kashmir. Ladakh, Jammu and Kargil were exceptions and life seemed to be reasonably normal out there, with both Jammu and Ladakh welcoming the scrapping of Article 370 while Kargil strongly resented its new found status of a Union Territory under the direct control of the ruling regime in Delhi.

However, the scrapping of Article 35A remained a bone of contention in all the three regions because there has been widespread fear that powerful ‘outsiders’, industrialists, businessmen and real estate Mafiosi, with connections with the ruling party in Delhi, might enter these areas and buy of huge chunks of residential, commercial, agricultural and forest land, thereby pushing the people out of their own geographical time and space, including their original and inherited homeland. This would, thereby, defeat the very purpose of the exclusive status of the original birth and legitimacy of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, where outsiders were not allowed to buy or usurp land or local property. This was in tune with the inner line permit and similar laws of autonomy as it prevails in most of the North-east states in India.

The resentment was deep even in Jammu and Ladakh which had otherwise celebrated the loss of statehood, the end of dominance of the Kashmir Valley in regional politics and in the legislative assembly, the scrapping of Article 370 and the declaration of the state as a Union territory under the direct command and control of the government in Delhi. The predominantly pro-BJP sections in the Jammu region, which also shares its neighbourhood with Poonch, Doda and Rajouri, which are largely Muslim-dominated, did not care a damn about the concerns of the Muslim population in that region, or in the Valley, nor in the Shia-dominated sensitive border zone of Kargil. Their views were dismissed with contempt and the ‘Hindutva’ card of the central government was celebrated by traders and locals in Jammu with overwhelming pro-BJP sympathies.

That is why it took a while for the bitter realism to sink in that the simultaneous scrapping of Article 35A might indeed spell doom for the locals in the days to come. The assurance of Amit Shah and the Delhi regime that locally owned land will be protected from outsiders seemed as ambivalent as the fact that the loyalist village heads who came for the meeting with the Union home minister in Delhi on September 3, actually were compelled to stay put in sundry Srinagar hotels because they were afraid they will be termed as sold out; they were afraid to face their own angry people back in their villages in the interiors of the Valley.

Amit Shah had then reiterated that “only government land would be used to establish industries, hospitals and educational institutions”. He told a delegation from Jammu and Kashmir, comprising sarpanches and civil society groups that “nobody’s land would be taken away”.

The ambiguity is as stark as the statement made by Amit Shah, pushing the people in these regions into a scenario of dilemma and crisis. What kind of land is he referring to? Government land, agricultural land, commercial land, residential land, forest land? Indeed, only Amit Shah knows what he meant and the people continued to remain on tenterhooks, trapped in a twilight zone.

This promise seemed as vague and meaningless, as the fake claim dished out the government and its propaganda machinery in Srinagar and Delhi that all is normal and hunky dory in the Valley since August 5 and the people of Kashmir are indeed celebrating their new found freedom and integration with India, the military occupation and lockdown notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, in the frozen expanse of Kashmir, with the Army still posted in the large terrain while some of them have been packed off to Assam and the North-east to counter the CAB/NRC protests, some things have not changed. The schools and colleges remain shut, the digital editions of the media are down, the main newspapers are nothing but ‘His Master’s Voice’, tens of thousands of youngsters remain jobless, internet and pre-paid mobile is still down, there have been no classes since August 5, students who sat in the exams just cannot access their results on the internet, the economy is down in the dumps with unprecedented losses allegedly up to the gigantic sum of Rs 18,000 crore, trade, business and transport has shut, thereby impacting the dependent economies of the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab also, tourism is zero, and a general sense of collective phobia and alienation persists.

The most devastating aspect of the siege has been the social-psychological and emotional impact on children and women – post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become an epidemic among 99 per cent of the population. Depression stalks the frozen landscape.

Despite this abysmally pessimistic scenario, certain events and developments seem to have marked a subtle departure in the Valley. One, the ‘civilian curfew’ has been taken off and the shops have opened. Though the economy is down and employment and trade is zero, people are out on the streets, there is mobility, and the area around the famous Dal Lak is back with people, especially when the sun shines. Children, for instance, can meet their friends, and play outside their homes, though internet is severely missed. Similarly, relatives and friends can visit each other, and patients need not be blocked by barricades and armed check-points.

Second, a group of envoys from other nations have visited Jammu and Kashmir, though, predictably, much of the visit has been stage-managed. For instance, BJP leaders have been introduced to them as civil society leaders, etc. However, it did not seem as farcical as the last visit by certain Right-wing European Union leaders organised by certain fly-by-night operators with dubious credentials. The presence of the American ambassador in the latest delegation and the statement from Washington which followed decrying the continued imprisonment of several politicians, including three former chief ministers, has yet again sent a signal which might seem a shift for the restoration of authentic normalcy.

Third, Amit Shah has said in the past that statehood will be restored to Jammu and Kashmir once the situation becomes ‘normal’. Indeed, only he knows when the situation will become normal according to his own genius. However, a recent meeting of the current Lt Governor with former legislators who demanded that statehood should be restored has sent a signal that perhaps the Narendra Modi regime is moving towards a face-saving solution, having been found caught in a Catch-22 scenario of no return. Time will tell if statesmanship and moderation will be used in the Valley, or it will be back to masculine arrogance and the machismo of State repression calling the shots.

The fourth and most significant development is the Supreme Court observing that Internet lockdown should be reviewed and so should the imposition of Section 144, considering that peaceful protest is a fundamental right in India. Indeed, is it a case of case of better late than never, or will it be really be implemented in the days to come outside the rhetoric of national security and the phobia of terrorism, remains a dilemma. Time will tell if Kashmir will really find freedom, peace, justice and democracy in the days to come, even while the nooks and corners of the rest of India is resonating with the slogans of Azadi.