Shaheen Bagh protest site was no less than a home to me. An outstation student in Delhi I had no home of mine. Being a hostel dweller after the December 15th event of Jamia, a sense of insecurity crept in and I would not feel safe in the hostel anymore. As things unfolded one event after another I started feeling detached with the hostel and like a homeless person I had nowhere to go. Delhi recorded one of the coldest winters of the decade. During my visits to the Shaheen Bagh, I made friends there and started feeling a sense of belongingness and comfort in the cold ground and open skies of the protest site.
It was on March 24th amidst the lockdown due to the fear of Covid -19 police reaches Shaheen Bagh protest site in the early morning hours. Since most of the people were locked up in their homes the police vandalized the site and tried to remove every trace of it. I being in my home watching all these photos and videos was feeling restless. Restless just like a bird who loses its nest in a forest fire. The police brutally detained people whoever resisted. We couldn’t help. None of us could. But how does it feel when your home is vandalized. When people enter forcefully and take everything?
There were many more students like me who would stay all night together. From having one chai after another to singing the songs of resistance around the fire we sustained together not just the harsh weather but the harsh establishment that had by now turned into a full-fledged fascist state. With all the college’s and Universities shut down the best of the minds were at the protest site who would not only transform me as a person but helped me better my political understanding.
We would discuss politics and debate over issues. We would plan the next course of action. We would agree and disagree. We would like each other and dislike we had our own disagreements but the only thing that united us was our fight with a common goal. We all were fighting for a common cause which was not restricted to the CAA or NRC but our fight was much broader than that. Shaheen Bagh witnessed An amalgamation of different ideologies different, gender, different regions coming together to fight against injustice, oppression, attack on the identity and exploitation of the marginalized.
The year-long of suppression was coming out. Soon the different artists came in and with their art installations transformed the Shaheen Bagh into a monumental place making it a landmark of resistance not just across the country but across the world. The artists made the place all the more vibrant. Every nook and corner would speak of dissent here. The murals, the graffiti, the songs, the paintings, the posters, the bus stand turned into a library everything about this place would carry an air of resistance. Shaheen Bagh became a national forte with the crowd swelling in each day.
People would come from far away places. From the media professionals to politicians to common people it became a ground for exhibition and which in no further time started to look like a place of a carnival. However, even in the most crowded days, I would find peace in sitting there talking to the women and children. The people of Shaheen Bagh were the most accepting they would welcome you with open arms. The love and regard they have for anyone who would come there for solidarity from outside to join them were beyond words. They would ask you umpteen times if you had food or not. If you want a blanket or not. If you want biscuits or not. The whole night would pass on like that.
With the revolutionary poetries and ideas acting as oil in the burning flame keeping the fire alive. Somebody would read a book in a corner other would just curse the state. Interestingly it was the dogs of Shaheen Bagh who were having the best time of their life. They would be pampered and fed by strangers. So would The kids. The kids of Shaheen Bagh never would sleep. They had their own art and craft workshop going on. With schools closed, they would study here only. Some of them won’t mind staying up the whole night just talking to you. I asked one such kid do you know why are we even protesting? They want us to throw out of the country came the Swift reply.
This generation of children is probably more charged up than any. They would give the slogans of Azaadi all through the night relentlessly without getting tired or drop in energy. So would the women’s of Shaheen Bagh. I remember it was for the first time I took my mother to a protest site and she just did not want to leave the place. The women despite facing all the labels and charges of being sold continued the protest with firm belief asserting their identity and breaking the age-old stereotypes around them. The women of Shaheen Bagh not only challenged the fascism on its face but age-old patriarchy. They no doubt deserve all the credit for sustaining the whole movement and it is because of them it will go down in history. For me, Shaheen Bagh was more than a protest site. From befriending vendors to finding a family amongst a group of student I found solace there. This place shaped my political journey honed up my understanding taught me lessons that I would have never learnt in the classroom or anywhere. It became a part of my existence.
When I saw all those videos of police rapidly destroying everything I felt attacked. My existence came shattering down. But we have decided to retreat the fight for a larger cause. As the fear of Covid looms around we have decided to change the form of struggle calling for the larger unity and solidarity. However, our struggle will not go in vain. Our fight is not over yet. We will be back with more force and energy. The fight is long and we are here to stay. We will build our nests again. We will rise again until the fight is won.
Fatima is a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.