Delhi, the capital, and heart of India enriched by the ubiquitous presence of political leaders and journalists, roughened by political tempests, was now frayed at the edges, toughened and tired. Over the last six years, the nation’s capital became a fierce battle zone intensified by frequent hair-raising events. The present big happening in 2021 is lakhs of farmers camping at Delhi’s fortified entrenched borders making it look like a border-security barricaded line of control.
It all started with Jawaharlal Nehru University when it became the hub of political controversies. The age-old system that JNU held of debates to express different points of views suddenly augmented in dangerous dimensions to bring on clashes between the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students’ Union and the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) a right-wing all India student organization affiliated to the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Suddenly, it was no longer about normal university debates. Things suddenly took a grave tragic turn when in 2016, Jawaharlal Nehru University students were vilified as anti-national seditionists and arrested. India’s attention remained transfixed on Delhi, watching the news with fascinated horror, especially when the JNU students were attacked and vandalized by ABVP students revealed on CCTV camera footage.
All these events left the Delhiites like zombies, still scratching heads in wonder, wondering if it was another bad dream. Then, just when the Delhiites were recovering from the torrid events of JNU, the Center made a new bold discriminatory announcement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on 12 December 2019.
The CAA sparked protests across India starting in Assam. Of course, it seemed bizarre that Muslims would not be given citizenship while Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jains, and Buddhists would. However, it was not all that surprising when over the decade, a certain section of society who considered themselves “nationalists” monotonously taunted others who they called “anti-national” with “Go to Pakistan.”
It was a strange new law for those who could not prove their citizenship by ancestral papers to drive them to Pakistan or Bangladesh or worse still, thrust them to detention camps where no one would ever hear of them again. While the BJP government said the law was long overdue and “India was not the world capital for refugees” as recently again stated, no refugee law in the past was made to mark out religion with any intent to differentiate citizens. India has a deep history of refugee admissions, but the implications of CAA took on a different road.
While all Indians rose up in arms struck by the ignominious decision of the government, Assam first took precedence in protests, where five people tragically lost their lives. The protests sparked all over and Delhi in the heart of India took on a fierce fight.
On freezing, smoggy December days tucked in the nucleus of Lajpat Nagar, and different parts of North, South, East Delhi, and West Delhi chaiwallahs sold hot jalebi, samosas, and kachori, with steaming cups of ginger tea, while Delhiites huddled around their kiosks talking in worried whispers about the noxious consequences of the new law. Even the elite and educated were disturbed because most Indians cannot prove where their grandparents live. Actress Swarna Bhaskar in Delhi cried out fretfully that even they could not find old land papers and birth certificates were misplaced.
This new law made Adhar cards and passports invalid to prove Indian identification. It suddenly dawned on people that the government could mark out anyone who they did not like. It was not hard to believe when political leaders make controversial statements and certain people keep saying, “Get out of India,” or when people representing the BJP keep threatening Indians monotonously, “Go to Pakistan,” to citizens who seemed too secular, too liberal, minorities and others. It seemed it was perhaps the nefarious plan of the government to throw them to the camps after all. When rumors stirred around that the detention camps akin to concentration camps were really being built, millions of Indians panicked in frenzy.
New winds of change whizzed through the Delhiites who rose like roaring lions on the realization that the battle was no longer limited to only Muslims but just about anyone who could not prove their citizenships. A new era lit on Delhi when netizens became warriors fighting for the preservation of the Constitution.
People were getting more aware that the nation was getting divided by political players trying to communize different religious communities. It was no small secret that the BJP cum RSS was pitching for a Hindu nation that would eventually brand others as second-class citizens.
In this ferocious fight, the green-concrete city became the red-hot epicenter of the protests. The whirling dust storms of Delhi could not keep citizens at home. While television media aired lakhs of people out on streets peacefully protesting against the CAA, the “nationalists” declared smugly, “The anti-nationals are out on the streets, but the silent majority nationalists are in their homes.”
Somehow, for every event, the “nationalists” always crooned about per capita per head taking solace in the fact that even if two million were on the streets, about 98 million were peacefully calm and happy about everything. You know our India has a population of 1.39 billion people so a certain crowd always falls back on these statistics in order to feel all is well!
The hysterical chants ‘goli maaron saalo ko’ led by BJP’s Kapil Mishra along with his frenzied followers on streets openly declaring the anti-CAA protesters were traitors and asking the police to shoot them down did not cause the Central Government to blink an eyelid and they ignored the diabolic intent of this hateful chant. In the eyes of the feverish crazed mobs, they saw protestors as anti-nationals and terrorists. Mishra’s chants triggered the February 23, 2020 riots.
The fierce fight between Hindus and Muslims was violent and lethal. The North East Delhi riots had 53 people killed, 70 people suffered gunshot injuries, there was heavy bloodshed, rampant property destruction, and rioting. It was caused chiefly by Hindu mobs entering into Muslim neighborhoods and attacking them. It was triggered by hate speech attributed to Kapil Mishra’s slogan.
Of the 53 people killed, two-thirds were Muslims who were slashed with repeated blows, shot, or set on fire. The dead also included a police officer, an intelligence officer, and over a dozen Hindus, who were shot or assaulted.
Rioters wearing helmets, carrying sticks, stones, swords, or pistols, and the saffron flags of Hindu nationalism entered Muslim neighborhoods. The Delhi police stood by mute and let it happen. Chants were heard of “Jai Shri Ram” (“Victory to Lord Rama”), their war cry slogan. In Shiv Vihar, groups of violent Hindu men attacked Muslim houses and businesses for three days firebombing them with cooking gas cylinders and gutting them while passive cops watched.
A shoot at sight order was given to police in the riot-affected area, 3,500 emergency calls were made to the police control room just in a day, and charred cars in North East Delhi after mobs set fire to the area.
Finally, the Delhi High Court had ordered the Delhi Police to help remove injured victims to the hospital, thus they moved into the area on 26 February. India’s national security advisor, Ajit Doval, visited the area. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made an appeal for peace on Twitter.
Kapil Mishra got his promotion and it was sad to hear him say recently in an interview when Ismat Ara and Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta asked him about his polarizing politics, there was ‘Nothing Wrong With ‘Goli Maro Saalon Ko’ Slogan! It would be good for Kapil Mishra to learn that “Genocide is a process. The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. It started with hate speech,” as said by the UN.
While the Delhi riots were on, the powerful anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh revolutionary movement continued thriving in South Delhi. It was a peaceful 101-day sit-in protest by the women. Shaheen in Urdu means white royal falcon or hawk is known for its flight and its ferociousness.” Their battle was non-violent but strong and determined to ensure that the CAA was not a pre-cursor to stripping future generations of their legitimate citizenship. This protest ended only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Valiant predominantly Muslim women-led it, and lion-hearted Delhiites enrolled in with helping hands from all quarters.
Perhaps this was one of the most unique cementing times in Delhi which saw an amazing intensifications of unity and harmony of all communities of people. There was intense care and concern from the people who cooked and shared food, gave blankets, and showered endless good deeds on the 24-hour vigils. Over 10,000 women gathered on nights in subzero freezing temperatures, singing songs and crying for Azadi (freedom), and sharing poetry. Shaheen Bagh might well turn out to be the most unique and powerful movement of Indian women in history and it was seated in Delhi.
After all, most of the greatest movements in India started in Delhi. It is the seat of great transitions and shifts, mysteriously always in the eye of the storm!