Be it alleged 'sting' videos revealing the 'truth' about paid protesters, rumors about their allegiance to so-called 'tukde-tukde' gangs and smear campaigns pegged on biriyani, Valentine's Eve found Shaheen Bagh in an ecstatic mood full of love and amity.
To celebrate the day of love, the women protesters and 'dadis' (grandmothers) who have been leading continuous sit-in demonstrations on Delhi's Shaheen Bagh-Kalindi Kunj highway for 63 days wanted a date with none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
At 5 pm, a group of young musicians took to the stage at Shaheen Bagh to unveil what the protesters are now calling the "anthem" of Shaheen Bagh. Called 'Modi Tum Kab Aaoge', the song appealed to PM Modi to come and meet with the women of Shaheen Bagh and have a conversation.
The protesters have for over a month been seeking dialogue with the PM and other members of the administration including Home Minister Amit Shah. A group of activists, artists, journalists and civil servants have even started a campaign under the hashtag of #tumkabaaoge to carry out events and social media campaigning to urge leaders to have a peaceful dialogue with the protesters, who have been seeking a withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 as well the proposed nation-wide National Citizenship Register and National Population Register.
The CAA seeks to grant Indian citizenship status to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs living in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Critics have called both laws divisive, stating that if implemented along with nationwide NRC - which seeks to weed out illegal immigrants in India - the new citizenship law could have an adverse effect on India's Muslim population.
"I want to meet the PM and give him a hug. He is like my son because his mother is also my sister," said 90-year-old Bilkis who has gained popularity on social media as one of the "Dabang dadis" of Shaheen Bagh. Bilkis has lived in Shaheen Bagh for over five decades. She refuses to understand why the PM would bring in a law that could make her homeless. "I want to give him love and take love from him. Then we can talk about how to plan the future of the country," Bilkis tells News18. The women also unwrapped a "gift" for PM Modi on stage preceding the performance of the anthem. Wrapped carefully in colorful paper, the "gift" turned out to be a giant, red teddy bear.
"We want him to come and take his gift from us as a gesture of commitment to a peaceful solution," a girl who called herself "Shaheen" told News18. A local who has been part of the protest since Day 1, Shaheen says that the Valentine's Day event was held a day before the actual date out of respect for the martyrs of Pulwama who were killed in a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14 a year ago. "We have silent protests all day on the 14th to honour the martyrs so we decided to hold the music performance on 13th instead."
The song, written by marketing professionals and part-time poet Farhan Zaidi who is part of the #TumKabAaoge movement, aims to initiate dialogue by way of compelling the government to grant legitimacy to the protests. In the past month, as Delhi witnessed a particularly vitriolic poll campaign, Shaheen Bagh received its fair share of bad press and even an incident of shooting. The protesters wanted to revive the spirit of the protesters as well as restore people's faith in the protesters' commitment to peace and dialogue.
"We have been helping the local protesters at Shaheen Bagh to coordinate and organise events like "Letters to PM", communal prayer sessions and off-site events," Zaidi who is part of the group that runs the #TumKabAaoge movement says. The idea, he says, was to spread the word that the unlike what much of the media portrayed, the protesters here were actually more than willing to talk".
As the evening wound up, music performances continued. Noor Unnisa, a 70-year-old protester with a candy pink Valentine's Day poster happily hummed a verse of the song:
"Sardi aake chali gayi
Garmi zyada door nahi
Ham to aas me baithe hain
Modi tum kab aaoge"
(Winters came and went,
Summers are not that far ahead
We sit in hope
Modi, when will you come?)
Meanwhile, the bus-stand turned Fatima Sheikh and Savitribai Phule library hosted the giant teddy which stood there as a reminder of Valentine's Day and the peaceful resilience of the protesters who were here to stay, come hail or sunshine.