Hundreds of people gathered at the protest site. (Photo: Abhinav Saha)
Amid chants of “samvidhan ki raksha, desh ki raksha”, the national flag was hoisted at Shaheen Bagh by the mothers of Rohith Vemula and Junaid Khan and the ‘dadis of Shaheen Bagh’, Asma Khatoon (90), Bilkis Bano (82) and Sarwari (75) on Sunday morning.
Radhika Vemula is the mother of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, who had committed suicide at the University of Hyderabad in 2016. Saira Bano’s son, 16-year-old Junaid Khan, had been lynched in a train in 2017.
Hundreds thronged the protest site in a sea of tricolour — in the artwork at the site, on sashes, ribbons, caps and clothes worn by people, and the paint on their faces — and sang the national anthem in unison.
“We usually do flag hoisting ceremonies every year in our own galis, schools and madrasas. This is the first time we’re all getting together and doing it because ‘hum sab ek hai’. There’s a serious attack on the Constitution and now we all have to save it,” said Anisa Parveen (52).
The celebrations had begun at midnight, with thousands reading the Preamble and singing the national anthem. But it left the women confused - “why did it (the Preamble) mention November 26 instead of January?” they asked each other in hushed tones. A few youngsters searched online to find out and everyone received a small lesson in history.
Soon after the songs, speeches and slogans subsided, which included an address by journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad, the crowd thinned and women took some time to stretch their backs. But around 3 am, over a hundred students, youngsters and locals from the area gathered to listen to Professor Nivedita Menon. She was the inaugural lecturer of the series “Shaheen ki Taleem”, night classes initiated by a few students where professors from JNU and DU will give lectures on citizenship.
“Shaheen Bagh se bahut kuch seekhna hai (There is a lot to learn from Shaheen Bagh). This moment is so historic, who would have thought that we would gather at 3 am to talk about citizenship,” she said.
In her lecture, she explained how the concept of citizenship emerged, how one is granted citizenship in India, the problems one can face with documentation to prove citizenship, and the implications of CAA and NRC. “The Prime Minister pointed out the duties of a citizen, but citizenship gives us some rights which the state is bound by and it has certain responsibilities towards the citizens...,” she said. She also explained why the agitation in Assam is different and how CAA affects them. Both Radhika Vemula and Saira Bano also spoke at the venue the next morning, with Vemula emphasising on Dalit-Muslim unity.
“This is not just a fight of Muslims but also of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs who will all suffer greatly ... All those mothers who have lost their sons, all those women who are fighting today — come join me in my struggle, I will join you all in your struggle until this government is removed... I wish to start a new Dalit and Muslim movement,” she said, ending her address with, “Dalit-Muslim - behen behen, bhai bhai.”