Shaheen Bagh inspires a women-led CAA protest in Kolkata’s Park Circus

14 January 2020
For a majority of the women protesting in Park Circus, this is their first time participating in a protest.
Indranil Aditya / NurPhoto / Getty Images
For a majority of the women protesting in Park Circus, this is their first time participating in a protest.
Indranil Aditya / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Since 7 January, the Park Circus Maidan in central Kolkata has been the site of a sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The protest, led by the women residents of Park Circus, is inspired by a similar sit-in at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, which has been ongoing since mid December. The women are protesting the CAA, the National Register of Citizens and the brutal attacks on students in universities such as Jawaharal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.

Park Circus is a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The protest is taking place in a ground outside the local mosque. Unlike other anti-CAA protests in Kolkata, in which students and people from upper and middle-classes have participated, the Park Circus protest largely comprises working-class individuals. 

Hundreds of women, some with their children, gather every day with posters and placards. Over time, the residents of Park Circus have been joined by others from across Kolkata. For a majority of the protesting women, this is their first time participating in a protest. The protestors told me that they intend to be on an indefinite sit-in, until at least 22 January, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear petitions challenging the CAA. There is no single organisation visibly spearheading the protests. The participants told me that the ordinary public is leading the movement, and that the only banner they are protesting under is the Indian flag.

On the afternoon of 8 January, a truck carrying several burqa-clad women arrived at the maidan. As they exited and walked towards the ground, several women chanted slogans, with calls for azadi—freedom—from communal politics. Dressed in a black burqa and dark sunglasses, Tabassum Akhtar, a 44-year-old resident of Ekbalpur in south Kolkata, led the sloganeering. “There is a fire in our hearts,” she said. “We are very angry. We have no direct relationship with the children of JNU, but they are our everything.”

Another protestor, 22-year-old Rafiqua Hayat, told me that on 7 January, she chanted protest slogans for the first time in her life. Hayat is a recent graduate from Sivanath Sastri College, where she studied accounts and finance. Until a few months ago, she said, she had no interest in politics. She would spend all her internet data on Instagram and Facebook memes. Now, she regularly watches the news and keeps track of videos on the NRC and CAA to educate herself.

Chandni Doulatramani is an independent journalist based in Kolkata. She previously worked with Reuters and Mint.

Keywords: Citizenship (Amendment) Act National Register of Citizens CAA Shaheen Bagh Jamia Millia Islamia protests
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