Here above is a picture of the historic park circus protest in Kolkata, where women have gathered for an indefinite period to protest against the discriminatory NRC-NPR-CAA. The dome and turret of the mosque looming over the protest site perhaps bear witness to the almighty’s watch. It bears witness to the struggle of the ones with a true conscience, the struggle of the weak against the powerful and the struggle to keep hope alive.
It’s been 53 days now that women of Kolkata are successfully leading a sit-in protest in park circus maidan against the discriminatory NRC-NPR-CAA. I still remember when the protest was called I frowned at the idea of a sit-in being organized inside a maidan which was otherwise used for merely recreational purposes. While the protest was inspired by the shaheen bagh movement, the failure to have a roadblock made me question the very idea of it. On my first visit to park circus, I saw women sitting in groups holding placards with an injured Aishe Ghosh’s (student leader, JNU) picture on it, the stage was hijacked by some very ambitious college students, slogans raised in Bengali were incomprehensible to the larger Urdu speaking crowd and people had little idea of what they were protesting against. They only knew that the fascist state as they would call it “Modi Sarkar” has passed an act that would take away their land from them and the fear of being deprived of their only source of livelihood and survival made resistance inevitable. The lack of organized leadership with a clear vision to engage with the mass made me unsure of the success of the park circus movement, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The mere presence of Muslims in organized groups trying to synthesize their political and religious identity while engaging with the constitution and resisting against a very powerful regime was a success story in itself.
The protest in park circus has been initiated by a small group of Muslim women who believes in the constitutional ethos and the idea of a secular state. It takes immense courage and perseverance for Muslim women to come out on the streets and assert their voices from under their hijab. They refused to accept the identity of a victimized, disempowered female which the state, its agencies, and even their apparent allies have forced upon them. The burka is no longer a symbol of muteness, burka-clad women are raging, shouting and resisting against the fascist state with their mightiest weapon, the weapon of endurance. Endurance to bear the harsh weather, endurance to struggle against all odds and hopelessness and endurance to persevere no matter what it takes. However, what was most delightful for me to witness was the periphery that the Muslim men had formed around the protestors respecting their space and freedom to assert their selves while being absolutely unconscious of the pivotal role they play. While women were shattering the pitiable notion of a hijab, men in beard and skull cap were challenging their image of a fundamentalist Muslim that the state often purviews them with. Indeed the clothes of the protestors spoke a lot about them.
Under the leadership of few Muslim women and various young volunteers, the park circus protest is at its prime. Although these women are otherwise engaged in religious and educational activities they refused to integrate the religious element at the protest site. While Muslims were given the space to perform obligatory prayers, space was made to be accommodative of all religions and cultures such that slogans like “jo bole so nihal sat sri akal” were often heard. The gesture was reciprocated by the Non-Muslims who were trying to be respectful of the cultural and social binaries of Muslim women. Indeed the stage was hijacked by a group of college students in the initial days however soon they learned to let the minority speak for themselves. Such cultural heterogeneity is nothing but a part and parcel of India they’re trying to save. The picture of an injured Aishe Ghosh is certainly not an oddity at a protest site where the resistance is against fascism in all its size and form. It took seventy years of systematic oppression and the ultimate blow on their existence for the Indian Muslims to claim their rights and assert themselves in public spaces. Needless to say, that roadblock or no roadblock claiming public spaces has itself been long overdue.
Park circus maidan is located in a Muslim ghetto occupied by lower and middle-class Muslims. The same Muslim ghetto that I was once ashamed of given its unhygienic atmosphere and the financial/educational status of its occupiers is now a source of pride to me. Park circus maidan is now home to Muslims from all over the city despite their social caste and class. Muslims of park circus are synthesizing their religious and social responsibilities and asserting their nationality without compromising on their Muslimness. The library created in one corner is now a home to curious minds who are reading history, witnessing history and indeed creating history. The protest is not merely against NRC-NPR-CAA, the protest is for asserting their status as equal Indians and claiming their dignity which the Indian state has denied them time and again.
Khadija Aslam studies Economics MA (Hons) at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi