Anti-CAA stir: At Shaheen Bagh, an evening of poetry, comedy, theatre

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At the Shaheen Bagh protest, Sunday. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Under criticism from some quarters for “celebrating” on the anniversary of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, Shaheen Bagh Sunday received support from several Kashmiri Pandits who came and addressed the gathering. Organisers of the protest had planned to hold ‘Jashn-e-Shaheen Bagh’, an evening of music and poetry to “celebrate the resistance”. While performers and artists due to participate in the protest showed up, the term wasn’t used by any volunteer the whole evening.

As rumours started doing the rounds that a few Kashmiri Pandits had been roughed up at the event, those in support took to the stage to clear the air. Theatre director M K Raina was among them. “Shaheen Bagh is no longer Shaheen Bagh. It has become India,” he said. Raina said that having being driven out of Kashmir, he empathised with the pain of those who might be left “homeless”.

“After Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha, this is the first such programme where so many oppressed and poor people are standing up for the country. It’s the first time that the youth of India — whether from universities in Mumbai or Delhi — have forced the older ones to take to the streets to save the country. Hindustan humara hoga,” he said.

Ashish Pandita, a real estate businessman, denied any news of a scuffle. “There has been no attack on us. The BJP government is so concerned about those in other countries, but they haven’t done anything for us insiders in the past many years,” he said. Ashwini Pandit, another speaker, echoed his views.

Later in the evening, to loud cheers and claps, artists took to the stage. Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra received applause for his opening line: “I didn’t come much prepared to speak here. But the Modi government was even less prepared to introduce CAA.”

Singer and actor Saba Azad sang the India People Theatre Association’s song ‘Tu Zinda Hai’ with the audience — in hundreds — holding up their phone torch lights and swaying.

She also recited Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Bol ke Lab Aazad Hain Tere’. “We’ve heard that these days, some people have a problem with Faiz saab. So we’ll recite his nazm,” she said.

Singer Ankur Tewari also came on stage, strumming his guitar and singing. “We’re here to stand together with anybody who has faced violence; we will sing of love in solidarity with them,” he said. Tewari’s song ‘Mohabbat Zindabad’ was a hit with the audience, which repeated the chorus after him.

Poets Aamir Aziz and Hussain Haidry recited their poems, critical of the government. They received among the loudest cheers of the evening.