By Namratha Keshava
23rd December began as every Monday does, with a lot of cribbing about Bangalore traffic and running incredibly late to office. However, this Monday turned out to be quite an eye-opener. It was one of the most interesting Mondays at work. I landed at the office 15 minutes late and was given the opportunity to attend the mass protest at Khuddus Saheb Idgah Maidan. Getting to the venue was a challenge by itself, with roads clogged and traffic moving at a snail’s pace. News reports claim that there were about 80,000 to lakh protesters. The roads were lined with protesters equipped with the aptest and creative slogans. About a km to the Maidan was cordoned off. There was a sea of policemen and volunteers placed at every nook and corner. Getting out of the cab, I got to witness a deluge of protesters. There were thousands of protesters on the roads and the gates to the maidan were periodically opened and closed to ensure crowd management and prevent any untoward event. I made my way through the crowds, courtesy of two very helpful volunteers who helped me traverse through the crowds.I sat down to listen to the speeches which brought out the true spirit of India. They professed the importance of the constitution and the significance of protesting against the NRC in a non-violent fashion. The speeches were a fresh whiff of air as compared to the prevailing xenophobic and communal opinions that have been repeatedly espoused in the last few weeks.
One of the nicest things I came across was the respect for women than the men displayed. I was a lady in a predominantly male crowd near the maidan making my way towards the gates., But I did not feel unsafe. Instead, every time the volunteers said ‘ladies hai, jagah do’, the men moved aside despite it being a complete people jam. There was no inappropriate behaviour I witnessed, it was surprisingly respectful. For a girl who is raised in India and has been taught to be wary of huge congregations of men and has been groped in crowded metro stations, this was a pleasant surprise. Here I was, in a crowd which involved men who belong to a community which is generally perceived as a front for violence and yet I felt so safe. I have to thank that bhaiyya who opened the gate for me because he realised a single lady standing in between so many men is a very uncomfortable situation and proceeded to direct me to volunteers who helped in escorting me to a place where a bunch of women were protesting. Yesterday, I learnt a very important lesson, to never entertain preconceived notions before I test the waters myself. I agree that stereotypes exist for a reason but sometimes a small minority of a community brand a whole community which isn’t fair. All the preconceived notions I have repeatedly heard about Muslims and violence and the men treating their women badly felt hollow yesterday. The respect that the men in the protest showed towards contingents of women protesting was heartwarming.
Coming to my second lesson from yesterday. On my way out I joined a bunch of Burqa clad women who were protesting and struck very interesting conversations with them. I met Noor ( name changed) and her sister. Noor is a doctor and her sister is a nutritionist. They had taken off to come to the protest. Their contingent of 8 women was led by their 60-year-old aunt who had come all the way from RT Nagar to make her voice heard. Noor and I got into a very intriguing conversation about Islam. She made me see the state of Muslim women in a completely different light. She gave me her passionate opinions about the misinterpretations of Islam itself. She used the example of Sati and the Manusmriti, She asked me if I could label Hinduism as anti-women because of a misogynistic text and a practise which was encouraged a century ago. She pointed out that judging Islam on the basis of triple talaq and terrorism in the name of jihad is akin to judging Hinduism based on misogynistic texts and the prevalence of the caste system. It sounded way more profound when she said it. I have not reproduced our exact conversation.
We spoke about a wide range of topics from our respective religions to our favourite TV shows to politics to literature. The one thing we both agreed on was that we need more inter-community dialogues. It is only when we talk to each other that it dawns upon you that you have more in common than differences. Noor and I were pretty similar, except for our religions. We believed in equality, women empowerment, standing up for what we believe in and most importantly that we are willing to fight for what we think is right. Only when misconceptions are destroyed will harmony prevail. As the protesters from all over Bangalore continued to pour into the Maidan to express their dissent, Noor’s aunt offered to help walk us back. The protest had led to most roads around the Idgah to be blocked and I could not find a means of transport to get back to the office. Noor invited me home, I went to her place and ate the best muffins I have ever tasted. We chatted for a while until I could get an auto. On my way out, her mother packed me fruits and biscuits as it was almost lunchtime. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch and meet up over the weekend for Biryani. Meeting Noor and her family made me realise that sometimes you have so much in common with people you think you have nothing in common with. Noor is a burqa-clad doctor who aims to find a cure for cancer, I am a Hindu Lawyer who works on labour law. At first instance, there is nothing that we could have in common. But the more we spoke to each other, we were so similar. It did not matter that she was Muslim and I am Hindu or whose grandfather landed in India first or where our gene pool traced back to. All that mattered was that we were supporting each other and fighting for what we believed was right – Ensuring that the secular fabric of the country we call home is preserved.
Another very interesting observation at the protest was that there were only National Flags, it was a lovely scene to watch. The road was filled with people waving the Tiranga. There were Nationalist slogans being raised, Vande Mataram was sung but nowhere were there any sort of religious references as part of the protest that I witnessed. There was no violence that I witnessed either. For a crowd which supposedly breached a lakh(as per few organizers), the crowd was surprisingly well behaved and peaceful. The protest reflected on one of the most important lessons that Unity is strength. The beauty of the protest was that it might have been thousands of different people but there was only one voice, India is our country and nobody can defile the principles which made my country great. Secularism flows in the blood of every Indian.
One of the most beautiful lessons from the protest was the power of humanity. We might be different on a million grounds but when it comes to helping someone in need, we are all one.
Whether its giving way for a lady to ensure that she isn’t uncomfortable in a predominantly male protest or the random volunteer who helped a child find his father or Noor who was so hospitable to a person she had known for two hours or the shopkeeper who opened up his shop to give water bottles to a contingent of seniors who were protesting or the heartwarming scene of a lady in a Ghungat and a Burqa clad woman protesting hand in hand or the policeman who took a disabled protester to the Idgah on his bike. The mass protest in Bangalore was a symbol of unity, It was a powerful display of dissent and a clear message that Indians do not enjoy being manipulated in the name of religion or any other divisive parameter.
Another interesting observation was the sheer number of students in the protest. They were not just there to skip college or school. But these were informed citizens of this country. They were articulate in expressing why they are against the proposed changes by the Government. They were not there as tools of a political party. They were present to express their displeasure at the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The interest and initiative of the students does reassure every Indian that the country is in safe hands.
The protest showed me the India I thought was a mere utopian fantasy. A fantasy where we all rise beyond our differences to support each other. Where we could stand for something which was bigger than ourselves.Where we stand a billion strong when it comes to protecting our values. The protest at Eidgah Maidan was a manifestation of the Indian Constitution. Unity, Fraternity, Secularism, Freedom – The protest was a testament to all those ideals. It was a befitting testimonial to the values this country was built on. I am sure that Ambedkar and Gandhi must have surely been smiling down upon the mass protest, feeling content that all their efforts in giving us the right values paid off.
On the whole, Democracy won at the protest. It was indeed the power of the people. The protest was an eye-opener to everyone about the power of public initiative and awareness. A huge shout-out to the organizers who did a fabulous job on the organization. And of course, the Bengaluru Police who displayed restraint and a lot of sanity in handling in the crowds. Thank-you for not following the precedent set by your brethren in Mangalore and Delhi, we appreciate your efforts in keeping us all safe.
I am so glad that I went to the protest as it taught me way more than a few of my constitutional law classes. I shall end my long monologue about the protest by just saying – Go stand up for what you believe in because this is your country, you owe your country at least this.
Kuch toh bolo, Kuch toh karo, Kyunki desh apna hai.