Coimbatore’s Shaheen Bagh

February 27, 2020

(9.20 p.m., 26-2-2020)
I am at an anti-CAA protest site in Coimbatore, termed as Coimbatore’s Shaheen Bagh. There could easily be around a couple of thousand people…men, women and children. The crowd kept growing since 5 p.m. when I came in. Most of them are Muslims but there are a few from other communities too – some of them from the Communist party and the DK. It is the 8th day of protest here. It is 9:20 p.m. The crowd is staying intact. I am told many of them are staying for 24 hours. Quite a few women gave fiery speeches fluently and passionately. They are clearly not just a front for the men, as some friends accuse. When entire families and especially women are here, children are bound to be here. Many of the elder children are listening intently. The younger children are playing. The crowd is largely composed, clapping occasionally and never once booing anyone even when they spoke some uncomfortable truths.

There were no ad-hoc slogans. They were raised only at specific timeslots. Not all slogans were to my liking but were by and large unobjectionable.

Some of the Muslim youngsters spoke quite well. A young man spoke of the need for a library at the protest site and dialogues on religion and politics for the future. They were all claiming that their religion might have come from outside but they have been on this land from much before those who have brought this act. This assertion of ownership by Muslims over this land and nation is an unintended positive fallout of this sinister move by the government.

I went there to just participate and not to preach, but I was asked if I would like to speak and I gladly agreed. I spoke for about 20 minutes, covering many points I have been writing here. I spoke about my two favorite prominent Muslims in Pakistan who were persecuted there and had to live in prison/exile but would not fall under the ambit of CAA – Ghaffar Khan and Malala. I spoke of the nonviolence of Kudai Khitmatgars and Garhwal Rifles. I emphasized on the need to continue to keep the protests nonviolent, whatever be the provocation. When I mentioned that an unnamed BJP councillor saved a Muslim family, and even to see one such heart transformed is a victory for their peaceful protests, people welcomed it.

People want peace. And they want to assert their rightful claim over this nation and their citizenship in this nation. Any respectable government should reciprocate positively to this fair demand.

As for expenses to keep the protests going, you must be here to see and believe what is happening here. People spontaneously keep donating money. Children come and give away their savings in piggy banks. When the collection buckets were brought around, everyone put in 50s and 100s or what they could. I heard that women dropped their jewels in collection boxes. These are tales out of books on Gandhi though there is no such old man to coax the women and children. There is no greater slander than to say people are at these protests for money.

If we are to save Delhi and avoid Delhi-like violent mob attacks elsewhere, people of all communities should step out of their homes and stand shoulder to shoulder with the protesting people once and you may do it again. Or at least break your silences. Injustice for one is Injustice for all.

One may not agree with all that is said by so many different people with different ideologies in such leaderless mass protests and there are bound to be a few historical/factual errors in such emotional impromptu speeches. But what is important is I could see and sense that this is a determined, disciplined and nonviolent gathering making a just demand. There is no shame for a government in listening to the voice of its own people and rolling back an unpopular and unjust law. It is way better than sending mobs to provoke retaliation and use that as a pretext to destroy them. It will go a long way in creating a harmonious country. Else we will be left with radicalized populations on both sides.