Anti-CAA protests: Mumbai keeps the flame burning

Updated: 28 December, 2019 07:40 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

More than 10,000 people turn up at Azad Maidan as Umar Khalid takes centre stage

Demonstrators hold placards during the protest at Azad Maidan. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Demonstrators hold placards during the protest at Azad Maidan. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Azad Maidan came alive with chants of "Modi-Shah murdaabad, Samvidhan zindabad" on Friday, as at least 10,000 people held a peaceful protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. At August Kranti Maidan, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis led a pro-CAA rally around the same time.

The protest kicked off at 3 PM and the crowd that had gathered at Azad Maidan had to squeeze in towards the stage as the main gate — which opens into the rest of the ground — was kept shut till 4.30 PM. On the stage, various people who had come together to dissent against the CAA and NRC dished out fiery speeches and electrifying poetry, drawing huge applause from the crowd. This included representatives from Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, as well as JNU's Umar Khalid, actress Swara Bhaskar, and Varun Grover. Many patriotic cultural and musical performances took place. At 4.30 PM, once the gate for the section of the ground where the protest was happening opened, protesters at the back finally had some room to breathe as they spilled onto the main stretch of Azad Maidan. Sporadic groups chanted "Azadi" on various parts of the ground, while a single-line of protesters with placards marched around the ground. Police armed with riot gear in case things went wrong, stood patiently and did not intervene with the protest proceedings.

Police were armed with riot gear but did not intervene in the protest. Pic/Atul Kamble
Police were armed with riot gear but did not intervene in the protest. Pic/Atul Kamble

Up-front near the stage, thousands of students — most dressed in black — sat cross-legged on the ground, eagerly listening to those talking on the mike. Behind them, protesters held multiple tirangas in their hands; flags of parties such as the AIMIM and Congress were also visible. Against the setting sun, Mumbai-based poet Hussain Haidry recited his famous poem, Hindustaani Musalmaan, which went viral on social media in 2017, and received tremendous applause, as did comedian Grover's recitation of poetry.

"All we demand is that the CAA, NRC and NPR are repealed in totality," said Fatima Jibran Khan, a 22-year-old protester. "For how long can they (government) ignore the voices of so many people?" Another protester who caught everyone's eye was 45-year-old Iqram Quereshi, a Mumbai-based costume designer. Dressed up as a battered and bruised man, with a patch that read 'NRC' across his right eye, he explained the message that he wants to send, "I represent what has been done to the students of Jamia and other universities across the country, by the police. Equality is our constitutional right but ever since Modi Sarkar has come, they are only trying to divide us. This is a jungle raaj. We have to be united at a time like this." A student from Jamia recalled the night police broke into their campus without permission, and attacked them with lathis and tear gas. "My friend's head was busted during the violence...we hid from the police inside the library."

At about 6 PM, JNU's firebrand orator Umar Khalid, who had flown in from Delhi for the protest, came on stage amid thunderous applause. "In logon (Modi-Shah) ko itni ghamand hai apne 303 seat pe, ki inhe lagta hai ki woh iske zariye samvidhan ko tod-marod sakte hai (These people are so smug with their 303 seats that they feel with them they can destroy the Constitution). Inhe jo seeto ki charbi chadhi hui, woh sab hindustan ki janata ne uttar di hai (Indians have brought them down to the ground). We are not Indians by chance — we are Indian by choice," he said.

'Weapons of satyagraha and ahimsa'
He added, "They say that the people of Mumbai are always busy with work and don't take an active part in politics — but you all have proved them wrong. Aaj jo aap logon ki ekta hai, woh Sarkar ko baukhla diya hai (Your unity has shaken up the government). They will make all the efforts to delegitimize your questions...they will try to incite violence between you. I appeal to each and every one of you to not fall for this. The biggest weapons that we have are that of satyagraha and ahimsa, given to us by Gandhi ji. We will not abandon these weapons. Woh dande maarenge toh hum tiranga lehraayenge (If they beat us up, we will wave the tricolour). Woh jail mein daal denge to hum saare jahaan se achcha gaayenge (If we are jailed, we will sing saare jahaan se achcha)." According to Mumbai police sources, there were around 10,000 people at the Azad Maidan protest and 9,000 at the pro-CAA rally at August Kranti Maidan.

No. of people at support rally for CAA

Devendra Fadnavis

CAA not a law, but process of giving citizenship: Fadnavis

Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act does not take away the citizenship of any Indian. Addressing a pro-CAA rally at August Kranti Maidan, he said CAA is not a "law", but a process for giving citizenship to those who were displaced from the neighbouring countries.

"The Congress and communists are spreading misinformation about CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens)," he said. "I am surprised that our old friends are quiet. They used to say once that illegal Bangladeshis should be thrown out, but now they are quiet," he said, in a dig at the Shiv Sena.

He also slammed the state government for denying permission for a march from August Kranti Maidan to Lokmanya Tilak's statue at Girgaon beach. "Has this government lost its head?" he asked, invoking the heading of a famous editorial penned by the nationalist leader during British rule. "Nobody can stop us from supporting the Act until the protest against it stops," he said.

Talking to reporters before addressing the rally, Fadnavis said the leaders who are saying that the Act will not be implemented in their states "do not respect the Constitution", as laws passed by Parliament are binding on all states.

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First Published: 28 December, 2019 07:31 IST

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