The leaderless protest has become politicized and is generally against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The protesters have also supported unions opposing the government's anti-labour policies and have protested against recent happenings such as the 2020 JNU Attack, and have shown solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits. The barricaded and tented venue has drawn large crowds; The Wire notes that tens of thousands of protesters have participated. The Shaheen Bagh protest has inspired similar Shaheen Bagh-style protests across the country, such as in Gaya, Kolkata, Prayagraj, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
The blockade became a campaigning issue in the 2020 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections. Some politicians promised to immediately remove the blockade after being voted into power, and were accused by their opponents of prolonging the demonstration to agitate voters. The blocked road affects more than 100,000 vehicles a day, adding hours to some journeys. As the area is also a border point into the capital, thousands of trucks are being diverted to other border points.
Five petitions have been filed to stop the blockade. The Delhi High Court refused to hear the first two pleas and on 14 January 2020 declared the blockade to be a police matter. The Delhi Police have said that they will not use force to end the blockade. A third petition highlighted the difficulty faced by students with upcoming board examinations. The matter also reached the Supreme Court of India with two pleas being filed. Following the initial hearings, on 17 February the Supreme Court appointed three mediators to initiate conversations with the protesters regarding shifting to a location which doesn't block a public place. As of 5 March 2020 the second round of talks with the interlocutors is underway and the next hearing is on 23 March.
Even after the spread of the coronavirus in India, including additional restrictions enforced by the government under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which includes a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and the closure of schools, colleges, cinema halls and weekly markets among other things, the Shaheen Bagh protest still continued for several days. As a precautionary measure the protesters planned a more "controlled gathering" by reducing the number of protesters to just 5 individuals and symbolically placing cots and sandals by other protesters in solidarity. However, following the complete lockdown imposed in Delhi from 23 to 31 March 2020, the protesters were arrested and forcefully removed from the site by the Delhi Police on 24 March 2020.
The CAA–NRC issue also ignited protest of the economic crisis and economic disparities that the country is facing. Women's safety, rising cost of commodities, increasing unemployment and poverty have acted as catalysts for the protest. The Indian economy has been witnessing a decreasing growth rate, increasing household debt, inflation, unemployment and economic inequality. The State Bank of India estimated a growth rate of 4.6% for the financial year (FY) 2020, which would be the lowest since the 2008 Global Recession where the growth rate had been 3.9%. The unemployment rate of India was reported to have reached a 45-year high of 6.1% in FY 2017–18. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy stated the unemployment rate to be 8.45% with a rate of 37.48% for the 20–24 age group and 12.81% for the 25–29 age group in October 2019. According to the 2019 report of the Pew Research Center, 393.7 million jobs are in a vulnerable state.Oxfam India data states that control of the country's wealth by the richest 1% of the population increased from 58% to 73% between 2018 and 2019, while the wealth of the poorest 50% increased by 1%. The WPS-index (Women, Peace and Security index) ranked India at 133 amongst 167 countries in 2019–20.
Protesters under a makeshift tent at the site during a night in December 2019.
The Shaheen Bagh protest was launched on the afternoon of 14 December 2019, when 10 to 15 local women began to blockade Kalindi Kunj Road (Road 13A), a six-lane highway bordering the Muslim-dominated neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in southeast Delhi. More locals joined and it became a continuous sit-in protest. Many of the women are hijab- and burqa-wearing Muslim homemakers. Elderly women have also joined the protest, and children and newborn babies have been present with their parents. The protesters have been supported and coordinated by more than a hundred volunteers, including students and professionals from Delhi. These volunteers organized themselves around different tasks: setting up makeshift stages, shelters and bedding; providing food, water, medicine, and access to toilet facilities; installing CCTV cameras and bringing in outside speakers. Within 10 days, the peaceful protest had grown to cover nearly one kilometre (0.5 mi) of the highway, supported by donations. On 2 January 2020, some prominent volunteers withdrew and urged to stop the protest, fearing that its message could be hijacked by political parties with the approach of the Delhi election, which they felt could "tarnish the image of the movement" and raise the risk of violence. However, the women protesters immediately made it clear through social media that they would continue.
With crowds reaching as high as 100,000, the protest became one of the longest sit-in protests of this magnitude in modern India. Its stages became a prominent platform to voice issues, and gained support from Punjab farmers. A number of protestors cited the 2019 Jamia Milia Islamia attack, in which about 200 student protestors were injured by Delhi police at the primarily Muslim JMI university.CNN reported that a woman named Bahro Nisa quit her job to continue full-time protest, saying "They tried to stifle the voices of our children [...] as mothers, we decided to stand up". An article in Business Standard called the protest "A new kind of satyagraha [English: civil protest]", noting how a girl was allowed to express her doubts on stage by explaining her dilemma of supporting the CAA while understanding its dangers.
A health camp has also been set up beside the camped protesters. Doctors and nurses along with medical students from different medical institutes and hospitals voluntarily joined for the purpose. Sikh farmers have also come and set up a langer (free community kitchen) in the area.
Protest art became the voice of resistance and dissent during the event, and the area has been covered in murals, graffiti, posters and banners. A number of scale models were installed, including one of a detention camp, depicting those used as a consequence of the NRC in Assam. A miniature replica of India Gate bears the names of those killed during the anti-CAA protests across India. Protestors built and erected a 12-metre-high (40 ft) iron welded structure in the shape of India, painted with the message "Hum Bharat ke log CAA-NPR-NRC nahi maante" (English: We the people of India reject CAA-NPR-NRC). Hundreds of paper boats were arranged in the shape of a vast heart facing a small model battle tank; the boats were inscribed with the words of Hum Dekhenge (We will witness), a poem of resistance written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, with the many small and fragile boats dwarfing the tank which represented state oppression. Posters proclaim that the protesters are "a bouquet, not the lotus" (the symbol of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]), giving the message of unity in diversity.
The protest art has been made by anyone, including students from Delhi University, JMI, Jadavpur University and Hyderabad Central University. A reading area called "Read for Revolution" had been set up with hundreds of crowd-sourced books as well as writing materials, drawing allusions to the JMI attack in which police allegedly ransacked the university's library and assaulted those inside. On 17 January, a bus stop was converted into the Fatima Sheikh-Savitribai Phule library, which provided material on the country's constitution, revolution, racism, fascism, oppression and various social issues.
Image: Mural at Shaheen Bagh made during the protests
Speeches, lectures and shayari poetry readings had been held every day (as of 31 December). Lines of poetry and nazm of revolutionary poets such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Pash, Habib Jalib, Muhammad Iqbal and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar were recited. Inter-faith prayers have been held. Scriptures from the Geeta, the Bible, and the Quran have been read, and Gurbani was held. Many street pedlars have come to the site, including balloon vendors and chaatwallas (people cooking chaat from carts), giving the area a "lightness of festivity". Nearby eating establishments in Shaheen Bagh have seen an influx of people with an increase in political conversations, giving them a "taste of revolution".
Few protesters were on hunger strike at the Shaheen Bagh. Zainul Abidin, a 29-year-old social activist and businessman from Jamia Nagar, had been on hunger strike since the protest started on 15 December 2019. 50-year-old social activist Mehroneesha began a hunger strike on 1 January 2020. Both stated that they were motivated by police brutality on the students of JMI along with perceived injustices of CAA-NRC. Abidin stated concern for his two sisters who were studying in Jamia, as police reportedly entered the toilets of the institute and beat the female students. As of 10 February 2020, no government officials had visited the site or met with these hunger-striking protesters. Reportedly, Abidin was hospitalised and ended a 42-day hunger strike on 26 January 2020.
Children at the protest
Children sit-in protest around a graffito holding candles
Since the first day, children have been present alongside parents who have participated in the protest. Most of these children visit school in the morning before joining their parents at the protest site, which has become an art space for many children. They express their thoughts and join in the protest through storytelling, poetry, puppetry, singing and painting. Student volunteers engaged the local children in reading, painting and singing, and held informal reading lessons.
Children at the Shaheen Bagh protests dressed in tricolour
Children have drawn issues such as the Australian wildfires (with a child writing "Shaheen Bagh prays for Australia") and other things such as Deepika Padukone, Spider-Man and Disney Princesses. Some of the children will go to the stage with slogans such as "Hum kagaz nahin dikhayenge" (we won't show our papers). One of the most common pictures drawn by the children is that of the national flag.Scroll.in has called the area an "open air art gallery". Some children express themselves through sit-in protests holding candles.
On 21 January 2020, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the top children's-rights body of India, asked authorities to provide counselling for children present at the protests. A complaint was received claiming that the children had been misinformed by their parents about the CAA and detention centers. Children at the site listen to speeches about issues – including CAA-NRC, the Ayodhya dispute, and triple talaq (a.k.a. instant divorce) – which are claimed to have been discriminatory in nature. Some of these children have been seen in viral videos of the protests shouting slogans. NDTV reported that the District Magistrate of South East Delhi was informed of claims of "mental trauma" the children may have undergone due to this. After an infant died at the protests the Supreme Court questioned the Union and State governments as the why a four month year old child was at the protest.
Efforts to remove blockade
Counter-protests against the Shaheen Bagh blockade have been held with many locals wanting the roads to reopen. The Delhi High Court refused a plea on shifting the protesters from Shaheen Bagh; the bench of the court was presided by the Chief Justice, DN Patel. Another petition has been filed by Advocate Amit Sahni "seeking directions to withdraw the closure of Shaheen Bagh stretch" and give Delhi Police the required assistance in addressing the issue. The blocked road affects more than 100,000 vehicles per day, including 1,800 trucks which are being diverted to other border points.
On 14 January 2020, the Delhi High Court stated that it was a traffic matter to be dealt with by the police according to the larger public interest. The Delhi Police then stated that they would look into the restrictions caused by the protesters, which affect tens of thousands of commuters daily, including senior citizens, school children and office workers. Delhi Police made a statement saying that, "Won't use force to evict protesters from Shaheen Bagh" and would use "persuasion". (Notably, police brutality is among the protesters' grievances.) Talks between the protesters and the police failed and the protesters refused to move. The leaderless nature of the protests made it difficult to take any action.
There have been various misleading claims by the media related to the incident. One of such claim was that the Delhi High Court ordered police to clear the protest site.The Times of India debunked a viral video which claimed there was a failed police crackdown at Shaheen Bagh; the video was from a CAA protest in East Delhi.
The protest site on GD Birla Marg
On 17 January 2020, Delhi Lt. Governor Anil Baijal gave the Delhi Police authorization to detain anyone under the National Security Act, for three months beginning on 19 January. This was reportedly clarified by the Home Ministry as a routine order. On 18 January, another petition was filed by Advocate Amresh Mathur on behalf of the Sarita Viharresident welfare association (RWA) for opening the road, with concerns regarding the upcoming student board exams in February and March. The High Court accordingly directed the police to look into the reasons for the closure.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari made a video appeal to the protesters to end the demonstration, noting that the road closure resulted in tens of thousands "completing a 25-minute journey in two-three hours", while stating that the CAA was not against any religion. Protesters responded that they would not budge until CAA is scrapped, but that they will help ease traffic, and said that they have opened the blockade for ambulances and would do so for school buses.
Commentators have noted that the Shaheen Bagh is allowed to continue as it benefits the regime. Pratap Bhanu Mehta noted that "In Delhi, the protests were allowed to continue in Shaheen Bagh, not because the government was soft. It thought it could use the protest as pretext to consolidate majoritarian sentiment: Look at these minorities blocking roads and standing against Hindu rights, went the refrain."
Police barricades blocking the carraige ways of GD Birla Marg
Scroll.in reported that the effect on traffic congestion was not merely due to the closure of GD Birla Marg, but also because two alternative routes had been barricaded by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (UP) police. The Quint reported that the protest occupied a small stretch of GD Birla Marg, one of the roads that connects Delhi to Noida, whereas police blocked both the carriage way and the whole road. The first set of barricades were placed ahead of the GD Birla Marg Bridge, but a second set of police barricades were placed 200 metres (660 ft) to the west. This resulted the blockade of Jasola Vihar Main Road and Allama Shiibli Road which could connect Sarita Vihar to Jamia Nagar. Scroll.in could not determine why the police had closed this additional stretch. Delhi Police called this "a security measure". UP Police, on the other hand, blamed the Delhi Police for erecting barricades blocking the entry of commuters from Noida into Delhi, citing the Kalindi Kunj–Mithapur Road blockade. Since Delhi Police blocked the entry point near Kalindi Kunj metro station, UP Police had to block the road on the UP side at Kalindi Kunj Bridge. Delhi Police also blocked the entry of Khadar–Kalindi Kunj Road which connects Jamia Nagar and Noida to Faridabad. Following the North East Delhi riots, police barricading and presence in the area increased with over ten companies (1000 personnel) being deployed in the area.
Petitions in Supreme Court
A plea was filed in the Supreme Court of India requesting supervision of the matter so as to prevent any violence. The plea sought removal of the demonstration, citing that no one can be allowed to occupy a public road under the pretext of peaceful protest and for an indefinite period such that others face inconvenience. Another Supreme Court petition was filed later, on 4 February 2020, by BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg and sought an urgent hearing. On 7 February, the Supreme Court postponed the hearing until after the Delhi elections (scheduled for 8 February), so as not to influence the outcome. On 10 February, in its first hearing, the Court drew the attention of the protesters to the inconvenience caused over months of disruption. The court argued whether protests can be held in common areas indefinitely or if an area should be designated for protests, and considered the consequences of such protests held in public areas everywhere. However, the Court issued notices to the Central Government, the Delhi Government and the Delhi Police, stating that people have the "right to protest" though this couldn't be for "an indefinite period in a common area". The Court did not give any interim order and wanted to hear from the protesters.
On 17 February, the Supreme Court heard the plea, which framed the matter as an issue of protests on public roads. Two interlocutors have been chosen for engagement in dialogues with the protesters by the bench of justices S.K. Kaul and K. M. Joseph and the hearing was scheduled for 24 February 2020. The two interlocutors are senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhna Ramchandran. The Court also advised the interlocutors that they could seek assistance former Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah who filed an affidavit in the Court on the blockade. Habibullah in his affidavit stated the court that the precautionary blockade by police around the protest site is cause for the traffic inconveniences. Hegde and Ramachandran examined the area and had several talk sessions with the protesters. On 24 February 2020, the interlocutors submitted the sealed cover report to the court as the report was only meant to be studied by court. The bench received the report to examine the situation and scheduled the hearing for 26 February 2020. However, the Court postponed the hearing for 23 March 2020, following the North East Delhi riots happened between 23 and 26 February 2020. The second round of talks between the interlocutors and the protesters is underway as of 5 March 2020.
Kashmiri Pandits' cause
"We feel the pain of Kashmiri Pandits who left everything back in Kashmir and ran. We the people of Shaheen Bagh stand in solidarity with them in their agony."
— A 40-year-old female protester at Shaheen Bagh.
On 19 January 2020, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh called for a meeting in solidarity with the Kashmiri Pandits, who were the victims of the exodus in Kashmir. This was observed after a controversial tweet by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri went viral, claiming that the protesters of Shaheen Bagh would organise an event to celebrate "Kashmiri Hindu Genocide day" on that day, which the official twitter handle of Shaheen Bagh debunked. A statement was released which clarified that "malicious elements" were circulating false information on social media, and that the event was not to commemorate the exodus. The protesters also recognised the "injustice done" to the Kashmiri Pandits and invited them to the Shaheen Bagh protest site, where they observed a two-minute silence in solidarity. Two prominent Kashmiri Pandits, performance artist Inder Salim and theatre personality M. K. Raina, delivered a speech at the gathering.
Paid protest allegations
A poster at the protest reads: No Cash, No Paytm, No Account (Don't give money to any volunteers) Photographed, 11 Jan 2020
As the protest entered January, the BJP and its online supporters made claims that protesters were being paid. A doctored poster stating "fix rate RS 500" went viral on social media platforms on 18 January 2020. This claim was debunked when independent website The Logical Indian released a fact check article on the same posters. The article unearthed the veracity of the real poster which says, "CAA wapas lo, NRC wapas lo" (English: Roll back CAA and NRC).
Posters at the site asked participants to not accept any amount of money and to not bribe anyone to participate. On 15 January, Amit Malviya, BJP leader and head of IT cell, tweeted a video which claims that the women protesters had been paid ₹500 to 700 to sit-in. The protest's official Twitter account released a statement and denied the claim.
"We are not here to take Rs 500 rather we are here to protect our 500 years which our ancestors have dedicated for India."
On 4 February 2020, AltNews and Newslaundry jointly released a fact-checking article in which the veracity of the video was debunked. It was discovered that the video was orchestrated by a shop owner in his shop in Tughlakabad of South Delhi. This demonstrated how the mainstream media's lack of ethical journalism helped to create a false narrative and a negative image of the protest.
Two female protesters named Nafisa Bano and Shahzad Fatma sent a defamation notice to Malviya which demanded an apology and ₹1 crore (10 million rupees) in damages from the BJP leader. The notice alleges that the addressees, "have not only played a fraud on the general public but have also attempted to bring disrepute to the protesters".The Quint reported that on 21 January notices had also been sent to Republic TV, Zee News, Times Now, TV18 and News Nation with the same allegations.
Inspiration for other similar protests
The Shaheen Bagh protest has inspired several other similar protests in big cities around India. On 7 January 2020, female residents of Park Circus, Kolkata, gathered at Park Circus Maidan to voice their dissent against the CAA. It became one of the most organised protests against CAA-NRC. On request from the protesters, the West Bengal state government provided them with tents, bio-toilets, running water and lights so their protest could run continuously. Former Union Minister P. Chidambaram visited the protest and conducted a workshop there on CAA and NRC. Social activist Yogendra Yadav and singer Kabir Suman also visited to extend their support to the protesters.
On 11 January, an all-women sit-in protest started outside Konark Mall in Kondhwa, Pune, organized by Kul Jamaat-e-Tanzeem, an umbrella body of several organisations. This protest started with a few participants and steadily grew a crowd which reached around 500–600 protesters on 19 January. According to a protester the movement was to save the constitution and the country. Candle light vigils, human chains and speeches were part of the protest. The venue had banners with slogans such as "Tumhari Lathi Se Tej Hamari Awaaz Hai" and "Liar Liar Desh on Fire", as well as "India Needs Education, Jobs, Not CAA, NRC, NPR".
On 12 January, a group of women started a CAA sit-in demonstration in the market area of Patna's Sabzibagh. Over the following three days, people of all ages gathered to join them in the protest. Also on 12 January, inspired by the women of Shaheen Bagh, groups of ten women began sit-in protests at the Mansoor Ali Park of Roshan Bagh, Allahabad. Over the next few days, thousands of women, students, and others braved rain and cold to join the resistance against the CAA-NRC through slogans, speeches and poems.
Similar protests were held at Kanpur's Chaman Ganj, Gaya's Shanti Bagh,Kota's Eidgah ground, Lucknow's Clock Tower and Fraser Town in Bangalore. Inspired by the Shaheen Bagh protest, a massive anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protest started in Mumbai on 17 January. Around 10,000 women gathered in the evening at the YMCA ground in Mumbai to protest. The protest was organised by NGO collective Mumbai Citizen Quorum. On 20 January, an indefinite sit-in protest started at Parbhani, called "Parbhani bhi ek Shaheen Bagh", which was organised by Samvidhan Bachao Tahrik.
Delhi Assembly election issue
The blockade at Shaheen Bagh became a campaign issue for the Delhi Legislative Assembly election, held on 8 February 2020. Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind KejriwalAam Aadmi Party and Home Minister of India Amit Shah fiercely criticized each other over their positions on the protest. On 27 January, during an election rally, Shah said that the protesters would not listen to the BJP government regarding the removal of the road block. Shah asked Kejriwal whether "he is with the people of Shaheen Bagh or not" as some AAP members had publicly sided with the protesters. Kejriwal accused the BJP of using "dirty politics" and prolonging the road closures to cause a public backlash against the protesters, and noted their promises to reopen the route following the election meant that they could do so at any time. He urged the BJP leadership to visit Shaheen Bagh, talk with the protesters, and open the blockade.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said that Shaheen Bagh is offering a platform for the "anti-India" gangs. Junior finance minister Parvesh Verma (BJP) made hateful and abusive comments about the Shaheen Bagh protesters and claimed that they would be cleared within an hour of the election results being declared on 11 February. Verma was later penalised by the Election Commission and BJP for his comments.
Several other BJP leaders made statements regarding removal of the protesters from Shaheen Bagh. One said that a "surgical strike" would be conducted on the protesters on 11 February.Hindu Sena stated that they would remove all "Shaheen Bagh Jihadis" at 11 am on 2 February. This plan was cancelled after consultations with the Delhi Police.
Threats to the protesters
Several BJP leaders and politicians made hate speeches against the protesters, including Yogi Adityanath, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma. This was followed by attempts to threaten the protesters. On 28 January 2020, an armed man entered the Shaheen Bagh protest site, climbed the stage, and threatened people to stop the agitation; he was later overpowered by protesters. On 1 February, a Hindu fundamentalist entered the barricaded area and fired a gun into the air near the stage; he was taken into police custody. The incident happened two days after a Hindu fundamentalist shot and injured a student protester in the presence of police near Jamia Millia Islamia. The alleged perpetrator of the Jamia incident had made various threatening and hateful social media posts, including one in which he threatened to convert "Shaheen Bagh into Jallianwala Bagh", the site of a massacre. On 2 February 2020, the Election Commission of India transferred Chinmoy Biswal, the then deputy commissioner of police (DCP) for South East Delhi, citing the multiple shooting incidents in the Jamia area, which was an election polling area.
Impact of coronavirus pandemic
Following the spread of the coronavirus in India in 2020, the Press Trust of India reported that the women at Shaheen Bagh had said that "the protesters were being provided with masks and hand sanitisers and there was no need to be scared." However, the Chief Minister of Delhi made it clear that restrictions were in place in Delhi as per the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and this applied to protests too. Schools, colleges, malls, weekly markets, cinema halls and gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned in Delhi. The Chief Minister made it clear that those who did not comply with the Act would be punished. However, the coordinators stated that "the order of shut down has come for entertainment services, while Shaheen Bagh is agitation and fight for survival" and that only a Supreme Court order could get them to move. As a precautionary measure the protesters planned for a "controlled gathering".
The protest followed the "Janata Curfew", a self-imposed curfew annoucned by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22 March 2020, by reducing the number of protesters to 5 and symbolically leaving behind cots and sandals by other protesters at the site in solidarity. However, a complete lockdown was imposed in Delhi by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from 23 to 31 March 2020, folowing which the protesters were removed by the Delhi police on 24 March 2020. It was reported that the police arrested the protesters who were present there as they refused to end the protest and leave the site.
^Media coordinator of Shaheen Bagh Protest: Qazi Emad
^A four month old child's parents told media that their child died in sleep in their tiny plastic shanty. It was reported that the child caught cold and congestion after got exposed during the winter chill as the mother was attending the outdoor protest.
^As a precautionary measure for the Coronavirus pandemic, the protesters reduced the number of protesters at the site to just 5 individuals. As complete lockdown was imposed in Delhi from 23 to 31 March 2020, the Delhi Police tried to remove the protesters from the site and on refusal by the police, the protesters who were present (assumed to be 5) were arrested on 24 March 2020.
^Road No 13-A, Shaheen Bagh (GD Birla Marg) - Mathura Road - Kalindi Kunj - Shaheen Bagh stretch is a border point that connects New Delhi to Noida and Faridabad.
^The library and reading area is symbolic and a protest "against the violent ransacking of the Jamia library and beating up of its readers by the Delhi Police."
^Suspended till 5th April due to coronavirus pandemic
^Called off till 31 March due to coronavirus pandemic