At the protest site in Deoband. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)
At an Eidgah in Deoband, a few hundred metres from Darul Uloom seminary, a group of women have come together to create their version of the Shaheen Bagh protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Local women, most of them Muslims, have been gathering at the Eidgah since January 27. They call this the Deoband Satyagrah and say the Shaheen Bagh protest is their “icon”. The venue has photographs of several freedom fighters, but no religious symbol. The gathering of about 200 women around noon swells to nearly a thousand as the evening approaches.
The district administration has sent notices to the protesters, accusing them of encouraging seditious behaviour and disrupting peace, but they have not budged.
The protesters complain that neither local political forces nor Darul Uloom has lent any support to the citizen-driven protest. The women say two senior clerics of Darul Uloom were part of a committee formed by the district administration to mediate with the protesters, but they had not come to meet the women.
Iram Usmani, one of the leaders of the protest, says, “If Darul Uloom asks us to go home and takes the responsibility of getting CAA, NPR and NRC repealed, we will leave happily.”
Darul Uloom representatives said the seminary cannot play an active role in the protest. Its spokesperson Ashraf Usmani said the institution has issued statements against CAA and said that it supports protests to “protect the soul of the Constitution, wherever they are happening”. However, he added, “Darul Uloom Deoband is an apolitical institution, we can give moral support, but cannot play any part actively.”
On Thursday, district officials called a meeting of community leaders during which they were asked to speak to the women about ending the protest. Darul Uloom spokesperson Usmani says, “If the administration calls a peace meeting to discuss local, national or international matters, it is our moral duty to go.” He says Darul Uloom said at the meeting that the committee formed to mediate with the protesters “can try and have conditional talks” with them.
But when half-a-dozen men reached the protest site to ask the women to leave, the women threw their bangles at them and asked them to leave. They told The Indian Express that “none of those ‘responsible citizens’” who came to talk to them had supported them earlier.
The same day, several people told The Indian Express, the district administration sent notices to over 100 people, reminding them that Section 144 is in force. The notice accused them of “spreading rumours” about CAA to impact “religious” and “social” peace. It also accused them of “inciting seditious behaviour” through speeches, illegally collecting cash donations and “misusing children”. Those who received the notices include the women heading the United Women Committee, which is leading the protests, their families, local politicians and journalists.
SP (Rural) Vidya Sagar Mishra asserts that the only way out is through talks. About the notices, Mishra says several complaints about the protest are being received everyday. He said the notices have been sent to ask the protesters to protest as per “democratic means” and “follow laws”.
Iram Usmani says that even though the government has said there has not been any discussion regarding NRC yet, there is trust deficit “because different leaders are saying different things”. “What does no discussion till now mean? Tomorrow the PM will make an announcement at 8 pm that NRC will be implemented from tomorrow. What then?.”