Shaheen Bagh protesters refuse to budge as Coronavirus fear grips nation

FE Online

At a time when the whole world is calling for social distancing and precautionary measures to ward off the spread of the deadly coronavirus, anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters here in India refuse to call-off their months-long agitation, putting themselves and others at the risk of getting infected. As of this minute, protests against the amended citizenship act and proposed NRC (National Register of Citizenship) are underway in states like Delhi and Tamil Nadu.

The agitation began since December 15 last year when hundreds of women came out and sat on an indefinite protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area which connects the national capital with Noida and Haryana. Later, this protest - known as Shaheen Bagh - was emulated by women in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the central and state authorities have been urging people to avoid large gatherings and maintain distance to stop the spread of the virus. Earlier this week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal imposed a ban on gatherings of over 50 people, including at protests. Asked specifically if the ban applies to the Shaheen Bagh protest as well, the Chief Minister replied in the affirmative.

On Tuesday, the Delhi Police also made a fervent appeal to people not to assemble at any place for protest or rally whether in close space or outside till March 31, 2020. The Health Ministry too made a similar request to people not to gather and cancel all outdoor activities to fight the coronavirus. However, such requests have not been able to convince protesters to call-off their agitation.

Instead, media reports suggested that the protesters have argued that they are taking the necessary precautions, which includes keeping a distance of one metre between each other and making provisions for hand wash and hand sanitisers. Some reports said that the protesters had decided to ditch the carpet and replace it with benches to ward of the threat of infection.

The threat that the spread of the coronavirus poses was thrown to the winds in Tamil Nadu as well. According to news agency ANI, hundreds of people including the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath members today assembled near Madras High Court to protest against CAA, NRC and NPR.

So far, India has reported 147 cases of coronavirus with three deaths. In the last few days, the number of cases have risen sharply prompting central and state governments to take a slew of measures such as banning overseas travel, cancelling events, shutting down schools, and closing down temples. The Supreme Court and High Courts too have restricted the entry of the people in the premises and taking only important cases.