Anti-CAA protest: 30 days on, Mumbai Bagh protesters battle fatigue, fear of police action

Tabassum Barnagarwala
Anti-CAA protest, Mumbai Bagh protest, Mumbai police, Mumbai news, maharashtra news, indian express news

At Mumbai Bagh protest in Nagpada on Tuesday. (Photo: Amit Chakravarty)

The sit-in protest spearheaded by women against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on Morland Road in Nagpada completed a month on Tuesday even as organisers worked on shoring up flagging interest and the fatigue that seems to have creeped into a section of the protesters.

From attracting over 4,000 people in the first few days of February, the protest — popularly known as the Mumbai Bagh on the lines of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh — lost its steam when the police began issuing notices under Section 149 for unlawful assembly, and later registered an FIR claiming the protest was hindering BMC’s road construction work.

In the last few days, protesters have restricted themselves to one side of the road to allow civic workers to begin work. The protest now sees a few hundred women in the evening. Post midnight, only 40 to 50 remain.

“The police will only need one reason to end this protest. Every day, we are more cautious about how to sustain it,” said Nawab Patni (26), who has been down with viral infection but visits the protest site with a mask.

Maaz Azim, a student of mass media, is one of the 40 to 50 volunteers who spends day and night at the protest site. “After the police scared many protesters away, we started visiting buildings in nearby areas to explain what Section 149 is. Many stopped coming to the protest because they thought an FIR could ruin their career or land them in prisons,” Azim said.

From 12.30 pm till 4 pm every day, he visits nearby buildings. On Tuesday, he went to a building near JJ hospital to talk to the residents about how they are working to ensure the safety of the protesters.

Of the groups of volunteers working at the site, Azim is in the social media team. “I work towards ensuring nothing wrong is conveyed from here... When there is a celebrity or noted speaker, we start sending messages around.” A group also works on distribution of food and water.

To keep the protesters occupied, various activities are being conducted. While flowers adorn a part of the cemented road, right next to it stands a white canvas sheet with colourful hand prints of women protesters. A free mehendi event was organised on Monday. Last week, children were taught how to use Adobe Premiere software to create videos. On Tuesday, balloon decorations and rangoli was made to celebrate 30 days of the protest.

Two days ago, a group of people donated story books in English, Hindi and Urdu for children. A tiny wooden plank was placed on the road to keep the books and make space for children. Ruby Ansari, who comes every day from Madanpura with her 4-year-old son Farhan, said he does his homework on the plank. “He remains distracted and I can spend an entire evening here,” Ansari said.

“He has made several friends here,” said Heena Khan, whose four-year-old son Hasnain sat with other children, with a book in his lap.

With increased media scrutiny, the protesters are also careful not to allow their struggle to be tainted as being against the nation. “A few days ago, someone brought a poster saying ‘Free Kashmir’. We immediately asked them to remove it. We are learning from the mistakes made at other protest sites,” said Patni, a student of psychotherapy, who spends 10 hours at the site every day. The group also vets the people who address the crowd to ensure that no hate speeches are made.