#TheRepublicSpeaks: We Shall Overcome
A round-up of the voices and issues raised against the CAA – V
January 22, 2020
● Protests against the CAA continue to spread a month after it was signed into law by the President. Keep yourself updated on sit-ins, marches and demonstrations planned across the country and in your area with Feminism in India’s Google document. “Scroll down, and happy resisting!” reads their sign-off. The cities are listed alphabetically and your inputs are welcome.
● With the government having dug its heels in and refused to roll back the CAA-NRC-NPR, what does this moment mean? This report in Scroll (January 21) puts the question to protestors, who note changes that may prove too vast to be contained or quashed by the government: a continuing erosion of support for the BJP, its electoral losses, the rise of a new generation of leaders, the arrival of women in street politics.
● Is this the first time women have been the face of a sustained India-wide movement of civil protest? Expect the commentariat to start weighing in shortly, given the multiplier effect of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. For now, check out the scene at Patna’s Sabzibagh, Gaya’s Shantibagh, the Hussainabad Clock Tower of Lucknow, and at Allahabad, oops, Prayagraj’s Roshan Bagh, Kanpur’s Mohammad Ali Park, The Park Circus Maidan at Kolkata, Jaipur’s Albert Hall Museum, outside the Eidgah grounds at Kota, Raipur’s Jai Stambh Chowk, the Allama Iqbal Maidan of Bhopal, Kondhwa at Pune, Mumbai’s YMCA Ground. The list is not complete. We haven’t mentioned Delhi’s Khureji. And more, much more, on which we will keep you updated.
● Slogans of “azadi”, “inquilab zindabad”, “kala qanoon vapas lo”, and the tricolour being waved seem redolent of the freedom struggle. (Here’s a video of a vast crowd of perhaps ten thousand singing the national anthem at Andheri, Mumbai.) In another authenticating touch, the National Security Act has been invoked in Delhi (January 17), giving police the right to detain any person for months together. And, for up to ten days, the detained individual need not be informed of the charge against them. The measure stays in place for the next three months. (In August 2019, the National Security Act was extended to Jammu and Kashmir, as part of Amit Shah’s project to turn the erstwhile state into the “mukut mani” – jewel in the crown – of India. How colonial was that.)
But today’s protest is shot through with new voices. Watch Bahujan TV’s (January 19) coverage of activist Bittu speaking on behalf of the Telengana Intersex-Transgender Committee and the TransNow Collective: “We’re here because the CAA-NRC-NPR affects the intersex-transgender community, too. More importantly, we’re here because the transgender-hijra-queer communities have lived with discrimination every day of our lives. We know it at once when we see it. And we won’t stand for this, whether it affects us personally or not.” As it happens, the CAA is a serious threat to the LGBTQI communities. Standing before a painted backdrop of Savitribai Phule, Bittu adds: “Already four thousand trans-people in Assam are among those excluded by the NRC. We struggle to establish our identity in the normal course of things. Many of us are separated from our families. What papers do you expect us to own?”
Intersectional solidarity (which Chris Hayes termed "sublime solidarity" in a remarkable article of 2006), comes more and more to the fore as groups from Punjab run langars at Shaheen Bagh, artists create new public art in support of demonstrators. January 17 was the fourth anniversary of the death of Rohith Vemula. His last letter was published again by many newspapers. It was read aloud by gatherings of students and anti-CAA protestors at Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mysuru,Rohtak, IIT Bombay, Dadar… Watch the NDTV report.
Also, watch Satyen K. Bordoloi’s upload (January 18) of thousands of women at Mumbai’s YMCA Ground joining in with the refrain to Varun Grover’s “Hum kaaghaz nahin dikhayenge”. On Mojo Story (January 14), Bengali artists recite a translation of the same: “Shaashok aasbé, shaashok jaabé, kaagozh aamra daikhabo na.”
● If you’ve lately been growing sick of “Hum dekhenge”, the sweetness of this Bhojpuri translation put up on The Quint (January 10) may renew your old attachment. And here’s a sung version, in Kannada, by M.D. Pallavi (January 9). Bahujan TV presents Nandita Narain confessing to a group of protestors at Delhi University (January 10) that she often questioned Faiz’s line about god’s simultaneous absence and presence: “I used to wonder, I can see that you are absent; by when may we expect you to become present?” She adds: “Today I see the Presence, in all of you gathered here. Something has happened in this country.” Click here for Narain’s tuneful rendition of Faiz’s nazm, as she throws in some rewarding asides – it is set in Raga Desh, which couldn’t be more appropriate. She also manages a quick translation on the go, and a mini tutorial on the rapport of Faiz’s lines with the Gita and Vedantic thought.
● The worthies in charge of IIT Kanpur have called off their committee to examine Faiz. The free run that metaphors enjoy in Urdu poetry looks set to continue. Vashimant Sharma, the teacher who filed the complaint against the poem, explained to The Quint (January 10): “Bas naam rahega Allah ka, and so on and so forth. So, I thought ki it is not right, in a country where eighty per cent of the people are but parast.” It turns out that Sharma belongs to an outfit called Agniveer, active on the gau raksha front. The Quint highlights his social media posts offering a “pranam to the spirit” of cow vigilantes. The posts also solicit donations, celebrate “ghar vapsi”, keep score against Christian missionaries, and are concerned to rescue Hindu women snared by “love jehadis”.
● Novelist Ali Sethi argues here (Scroll, January 9) that the Faiz poem should indeed be read in a stricter way – that is, in strictly literary terms – as “a culmination or summing-up of his life’s work”. Sethi points out that Faiz wrote it living in Beirut, in 1979, which was the year of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Lebanese Civil War and the siege of Mecca by rebels, quite apart from the killing of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by Zia-ul Haq’s régime. Why wouldn’t the result be a polysemic poem, especially given that sufi poetry is rooted in “shararat” (playfulness) and the love of paradox.
● Somewhere in India, at this very moment an enterprising publisher is probably collating an anthology of anti-CAA poems. Puneet Sharma’s “Tum kaun ho bé” ought to be a shoo-in. In case you don’t know it yet, here’s his live recitation at Mumbai presented by The Shudra (January 7). And here’s the ferocious Madara video, “Tukde-tukde gang”. Husain Haidry recites his poem “Hindustani Musalman”. Nabia Khan her nazm: Saahil ki khamoshi ko cheerta hua/ leké ehtijaaj ka ek sailaab/ aayega inquilab pehenké bindi-chudiyan-burqa-hijab. But you can’t leave without meeting this band of young women full of beans, who park themselves on the road and thoroughly enjoy their homespun composition, “Mama”: “Yehi hai spider hai qanooni jaal hai/ Shakuni sé shaatir hai, Kansa jaisi chaal hai.” Who could they possibly mean?
● The BJP has repeatedly asserted that all protests are the handiwork of opposition parties, a puzzling claim since these parties are conspicuously absent on the ground. Arfa Khanum (The Wire, January 13) looks at the mutual antipathy among them and how it has trumped their resistance to the Modi government so far. There were notable absentees from the meeting called by the Congress Party on January 13 to issue a joint statement against the CAA-NRC. Among them, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, which would not make a common front with the communists. Also, the Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj parties, uneasy with Priyanka Gandhi’s efforts in UP. The Shiv Sena suffers from double vision, between its saffron ideology and the Congress–NCP alliance that keeps it in power. The AAP regards the Congress as its primary threat in the coming Delhi polls. While the DMK’s absence is an unsolved mystery. Were they all blindsided by the spread of the protests? Are they scared of being targeted as pro-Muslim by the BJP? HuffPost’s Rohini Chatterji reports that on January 21 the BJP Delhi twitter account put out a pair of juxtaposed images. On the left stands a burning vehicle titled “Art”, and on the right Kejriwal in a skullcap, titled “Artist”. Islamophobia is probably the only electoral weapon left with the BJP. Well, that and money. And both will be used freely. Is there any point in running scared of the inevitable?
● The state governments of Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand have refused to implement the NRC. Arvind Kejriwal will go so far as to say that he sees “no need for it”. The Maharashtra government has merely assured people that no detention camps will be set up in the state and the Muslims have nothing to fear. On January 21, Punjab joined the Kerala legislature in passing a resolution against the CAA. The Congress Party says the legislatures of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh will follow suit, and Mamata Banerjee says so will West Bengal. Today, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court decides whether to dismiss the 132 anti-CAA petitions before it, giving clearance to the CAA, or start hearings in the case. The bench includes the CJI, S.A. Bobde. No links this time; we’ll be back as soon as there is news to report.
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