No MLAs present was allowed to take the stage. (Express photo by Smita Nair)
At the Lohia Maidan in Margao, known as the ground zero for the fight for liberation, chants of 'azaadi' filled the air as thousands from all parts of Goa descended on the city on Friday to read the Preamble of the Constitution in the first Church-backed protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
The event was coordinated by three organisations - the Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), the social wing of the influential Goa Church; the Concerned Citizens for Goa, an organisation fighting primarily for issues related to the Muslim community, and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO), a human rights outfit.
The organisers ensured none of the MLAs who sat in the audience were invited to the stage, with the scheduled list of speakers including rationalist and writer Damodar Mauzo, former state election commissioner Prabhakar Timble and tribal leader Rama Kankona, among others.
Each speaker gave a rousing speech, with Father Savio Fernandes, the CSJP executive secretary, calling for a resolution in the Assembly to revoke the controversial Act, and called all the assembled to spread the word: "Refuse to share any documents connected to NPR".
The speakers also called on people to not look at the CAA in isolation, but along with the NRC and NPR.
One of the speakers, Dr Oscar Rebello, who was at the forefront of the Goa Bachao Andolan, appealed to the crowd that the battle is "not about Muslims alone" and called the Constitution "the holy book".
He appealed to religious outfits, which run Sunday schools teaching the Bible, Quran and the Gita across the state, to take ten minutes every day to teach the Constitution.
"Insaniyat is the only Bharat they (children) should know," he said.
Mauzo read excerpts from former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's speech on Independence, and cautioned, "The new filters that are being introduced, I am afraid this will end in the second partition of India. All the wars in history have been fought for religion. This one too is dangerous. Please do not fall in this trap. Keep your cool. But fight for your rights."
Timble, pointing to an early protest being cancelled after the government revoked permission, said, "Such decisions are not a defeat of the protestors, but the defeat of the government." He added, "I read someplace that leaders like him (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath) invoke sedition charges when anyone even utters the word 'azaadi'. Goa, I call you to say it aloud, we want azaadi from CAA."
PFI leader Muzaffar Shaikh said "Like BJP, we too have been going from home to home. (Home Minister) Amit Shah has said protestors can protest daily but he is not going to revoke the law. We too want to tell him, we are from the same soil, we will not retreat even a centimetre..."
The speaker who got the loudest applause was Kankonkar, who said, "They keep repeating Hindus are in danger from Christians and Muslims. I want to say it aloud here, Hindus are in danger due to politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah."
Devsurabhee Yaduvanshi, a political activist, called for the protests to be kept alive and a “Shaheen Bagh to be recreated in Goa”. While the crowd was initially planned for close to 2,000, in minutes the roads surrounding the ground and the buildings around it got filled with protestors from all faiths.
A loud cheer also went up when a group from Ponda arrived with the national flag, and carried portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and B R Ambedkar.
According to Rajan Soloman, the NCHRO working president, a priest from Gujarat arrived in Goa a few weeks ago and educated the 18 deaneries across Goa about the CAA. "It's been gradual and systematic. First, we had to understand the details of the Act before we reached out. The crowd that has now reached the grounds is the result of those efforts in churches across Goa," he told The Indian Express.
Soloman said, "We went to different communities and finally told them we as Christians cannot remain silent anymore. We cannot say we cannot take sides. It was time. This is now a human rights issue."
The choice of the venue for the first Church-backed protest also was chosen strategically. "(Ram Manohar) Lohia was a socialist and it is from here that he gave the call for the liberation of Goa. This ground is actually smaller than others, but we chose it as it brings the communities together. There is an extreme sense of family when you sit and protest from here. We thought, even our protests should have a language, a sense of proximity and closeness," Soloman said.
Sameer Shaikh, president of the Concerned Citizens for Goa, said the movement was "overwhelming". "To see another religion becoming the voice for Muslims feels strong. Delhi leaders have been taunting that only Muslims are protesting. They should put a drone on top of this ground today to know what Goa is. Every faith is here today...."
Verma D’Mello, a fashion designer sitting on the grounds said, “Today was different. The neighbours who don't talk often too asked me if I am going for the protests. That is how much we are disturbed.” Mubina Pathan, who sat with her children on the ground, said. “Our freedom is being threatened. I am not speaking as a Muslim but an Indian. We have to refresh and ensure no one forgets the Constitution.”
Interestingly, the last issue the three outfits jointly fought was the right of an individual for decent burial according to their faith.