“Hindi Hain Hum Watan Hain”.
“We are sitting here to save the Constitution.”
On Saturday, hard-hitting slogans such as these filled up the yellow postcards that were addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by women protesters at New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.
For hundreds of these women, who have been braving one of the coldest winters in the capital to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), writing these letters was a means to send across a strong message, a “paigham”.
The printed postcards also invite Modi for a cup of tea and discussion over the issue, “We invite the Prime Minister of India to Shaheen Bagh, to join us for tea, witness our resolve and listen to our concerns.”
“This is a ‘paigham’ to Pradhan Mantri from the women of Shaheen Bagh. We write letters in very important times and this is one such moment for us where we want to make sure our children will not be stripped of citizenship on the grounds of religion. I am old and will die, but my children and grandchildren are facing an uncertain future. There is a threat of people being sent to detention centres,” said a 50-year-old woman protester who did not want to divulge her name.
Unity in Namelessness
The women here say the movement has given them a new identity – ‘women of Shaheen Bagh’. “I am a woman from Shaheen Bagh and in this moment this is my identity. All women here have names but when we come here, we become the women of Shaheen Bagh. What matters is the issue against which we are fighting. I was born here, but will I be fortunate to be buried here?” she wondered.
In the ‘paigham’, the women urged Modi to roll back the contentious Act that offers citizenship on the basis of religion. “How are CAA and NRC in the spirit of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’? Mazhab nahi sikhata aapas me bair rakhna. Hindi hain hum watan hain Hindustan hamara,” reads one of the letters.
“This is a black law. Take it back. We are here to save the Constitution,” reads another message.
The women who could not write asked other visitors to help them in writing. For some it was simplified – as one of the women announced, “Just write, we are against CAA-NRC-NPR.”
Verses Come to Life
Tehzeeb, an 80-year-old poet from Darbangha, may be too frail to travel to Delhi and witness the fiery protests at Shaheen Bagh, but he is making up for it in spirit.
After his family in Delhi sent him videos and photos from the protests, Tehzeeb penned down Urdu poetry titled, ‘Khatoon Shaheen Bagh Ki’, and sent it to his daughter-in-law Farheen Sami who lives in Shaleen Bagh. Sami got the poetry printed on a fuschia pink paper and distributed it to everyone.
“The poetry my father-in-law sent is in Urdu language. I did not get it translated in any other language like English and Hindi as this is why we are here – for the protecting the diversity of our country. Let people read it or ask someone to read it to them, he was so fascinated that essence is well captured in Urdu language,” she said.
In poet refers to the protesting women as “Tareeq ki zeenat” (the pride of our times), “Tasleem kar leti bhala kaise siyah qanoon ko?” (How could they accept such a dark law?) and “Anchal ko apne haq ka parcham bana daala hai” (Their robe is the flag of protests for rights).
Tehzeeb commends these women for being the strength of the community and not ready to succumb to the calls of calling off the protests. His poetry also highlights the fact that the women continue to remain strong in the times of chaos, acting with resolve and showing the way forward to men. In fact, the women sitting in groups don’t let other women lose heart, he writes. When one woman protester said, “I don’t know what days my children will witness because of being a Muslim,” another woman cut her short, saying, “In the times of solidarity, we show strength, not fear.”