The short walk from Jasola Vihar/Shaheen Bagh metro station to the Delhi-Noida road blockade which is currently the ‘protest site’ for the so-called organic protests is a little unnerving. As the stench of unclean canal fills your lungs, you can feel the heat of preening eyes on you, looking at you with suspicion.
You pass through the narrow, crowded lanes to reach the main road where there is ‘security check’. Not by security personnel or policemen. But by the ‘protestors’ who will ask your name, check your bags and if they will, check your ID proofs. Unless you are a ‘regular’ and people there have seen you before, you are marked.
Unknown to you, they are keeping an eye on you.
“Don’t mention you’re from media. Not only they’ll keep a strict eye on you but in all possibility not allow you there,” we were told when we went to the ‘heart of anti-CAA protests’ some time back.
“Everything is planned”
The first thing that strikes you when you reach there is that the ‘organic protests’ are extremely well-organised. The tent has a stage, backstage and high power sound system. Along with this, there is a continuous supply of packaged drinking water for ‘protestors’. Bottles, pouches, packaged water in plastic glasses and even packaged fruit juices are there. They say these are not paid for, but people are giving them out of their support and solidarity.
Any media personnel who wants to come inside and take videos or bytes of the ‘protestors’ must go through screening. You are not allowed without permission. Permission to ‘Godi media’ comes only on the condition that it will telecast everything ‘live’. One such permission was revoked when one of the ‘protestor dadi’ ended up giving “wrong information” about CAA and NRC and the protests on live TV and one of the ‘organiser’ angrily ran inside the tent demanding to stop shooting.
India TV News was recording a reaction of ‘protestors’ on the viral video tweeted by BJP leader Sambit Patra on Monday. A question came up whether the women were still aware of what they are protesting against. Suddenly, some men barge into the scene and stop the live telecast.
This is a small recording of the brawl that took place when ‘organisers’ stopped live telecast of India TV. One of the leading ‘protesting lady’ was upset at the ‘organiser’ for deciding for them who they would talk to and what they should talk. “Kaun hote hai yeh jo humein batate hai ki kis se baat karein aur kya baat karein? (Who are these to tell us who we should talk to?)”
A Shaheen Bagh resident who goes to the ‘protest site’ (which is literally on the main road), says that they’re upset with certain media houses who try to show the ‘protests’ in a bad light. “They come and take pictures of backstage and of food,” she said.
“Godi media” is not allowed. You will be ‘politely’ asked to leave the place, should you manage to reach despite the heavy screening. Note that police is not ‘allowed’ at the protest site, so you’re pretty much on your own should any untoward incident takes place.
Where are you from?
If you are visiting Shaheen Bagh for the first time, they’d know. You will invariably be asked whether you are a localite from Delhi and soft-probe on your reasons to visit. They’d try to know why you’re visiting without being overtly hostile.
Women are sitting for protests inside the tent, while men stand outside the tent ‘in solidarity’. This is strategically to show that the protest is led by women. A man was ‘cleaning’ the sitting space for women when someone recorded a video of background. He got mighty upset and demanded to see the phone. He made that person delete the video.
If you record anything that might go against them, they will get you to delete the footage.
Public property vandalism
Other than the fact that these ‘protestors’ are blocking one of the main roads which connects Delhi to Noida in Uttar Pradesh, they have also taken to defacing public property.
They say ‘street art’ is a form of political protest. Except, in the words of Shaheen Bagh mastermind, ‘Shaheen Bagh model is of chakkajam‘. The modus operandi at Shaheen Bagh is of blocking roads and bringing cities and eventually country to a halt. Once the motive is of creating unrest in the country, it ceases to be a protest.
What you are seeing here is that a foot over bridge is defaced with political slogans even as the road continues to be blocked for public movement.
This is a bus stop. At least it was, till ‘protestors’ converted it into a ‘library’ where people come, sit and read books. This is often romanticised by media at how the ‘organic protest’ is ‘spreading love’, without stating that this is damaging public property and that these are very well organised ‘protests’ where students of universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University often come to help them organise these ‘libraries’, ‘painting competition’ and ‘essay writing competition’.
Removal of ‘problematic’ defacement
More defacement of public property. On the far right, one can see a structure which in its isolation wouldn’t draw much attention.
On the left, the India Gate replica was to be a ‘tribute’ to those who died in Shaheen Bagh protests. On the right, however, is the ‘replica’ of the broken India Gate. The India Gate installation, when it started giving out a wrong message of ‘endorsing the destruction of India Gate’.
This misleading poster with a fake message has also since been removed from Shaheen Bagh.
The cold and the death
Delhi in 2019 witnessed one of the coldest winters ever. The temperature at national capital dipped as low as 1 degree in December. The Shaheen Bagh protestors were hailed across media for continuing their ‘fight for democracy’ despite the bitter winter. The fight where they are demanding that persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh do not have their Indian citizenship fast-tracked.
Multiple children have been part of these protests. They were also hailed by media as ‘bright future’. Meanwhile, at least one child who accompanied the mother in the protests has now died due to cold. There are reports of two infants who died, but only one has been confirmed by the parents of the child. The parents have said they will continue to go protests. The protestors have been trying to suppress the deaths of these children. So much that one of the protestors even said that the child was given by Allah and now has been taken by Allah. For them, this is jihad and these infants are just a sacrifice.
Well-oiled, well-funded (plus, biryani)
A politician of a particular community had visited Shaheen Bagh last week and our of his own happiness took out a bundle of currency notes and just gave it to the organisers. So clearly, it is not just Allah who ‘sends miracle food’. There is a music system there, where rental charges are anything between Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per day. The tent would cost anything between 10,000 to 30,000 per day. During day time, there are about 200-300 ‘protestors’ who are provided with water and tea and free food.
The crowd soars to 10,000-15,000 people in the night, sometimes even more. A carton of about 40 pieces of 200ml packaged water class costs Rs 55. For about an average of 2,00,000 water glasses, it costs about Rs 2,75,000. There were also water bottles, water pouches and packaged fruit juices. To put a rough estimate, it would also be costing approximately Rs 2,50,000. Till now, putting all these expenses, we have an estimated cost of Rs 5,00,000.
Then there is biryani. No, it is not a joke. “Protestors” are served meals and other refreshments like tea and coffee. This would again put an estimated cost of Rs 5,00,000 per day. This means these protests at ‘Shaheen Bagh’ are costing Rs 10,00,000 minimum per day. Even if you do dismiss the allegations of Rs 500 paid every day to sit for protests, Rs 10,00,000 a day is a huge cost to bear.
Protests at Shaheen Bagh have been going on for about 50 days now. That brings the figure to Rs 5,00,00,000 (Rs 5 crore). This is just the very basic, very rough estimate with only 10-15 thousand protestors. The crowd has been even more on some days, which would mean an increase in these costs. This in addition to the opportunity cost of the shops which are closed in ‘solidarity’ with these protests.
So, who has borne the expenses for these ‘organic’ protests?