Every evening for the past week since 16 December, the residents of Zakir Nagar, a locality in south Delhi’s Okhla area, have stood on the street holding a candlelight vigil to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens. The locality is a little over a kilometre away from the Jamia Millia Islamia university, that has been the center of anti-CAA protests and subsequent police bruality. The purpose of the vigil is also to register the locality’s opposition to the police’s violent crackdown on the students of Jamia.
The protests in Zakir Nagar are part of nationwide demonstrations against the CAA since the law was enacted on 12 December. Across India, the police have clamped down on protests by beating people, firing tear gas shells and detaining hundreds.
When I visited the Zakir Nagar vigil on the night of 23 December, people were peacefully lined up on either side of a road leading to the local mosque. Children sang the poet Muhammad Iqbal’s Saare Jahan Se Accha. Men distributed biscuits and tea to the people braving Delhi’s cold December nights. Amidst the vigil, the participants engaged in conversations about the consequences of the newly enacted law. Emotions ran high at the protest in Zakir Nagar, but the fear of the Narendra Modi-led government was not one of them.
On an entire stretch of one side of the road, women stood holding posters with slogans calling for the repeal of the CAA. For most of them, this was the first time that they were participating in a public protest. “Till today, we have never come out on the streets, but today it is the question of the whole country,” Nishat, a resident of Zakir Nagar, told me. Her poster read, “Laathi, goli nahi, rozgar, roti do”—Don’t give us laathis and bullets, give us employment and bread. Describing the other protestors, she added, “All the women who wear burqas and niqabs are here to stand up for their rights.” Nishat said she had been attending the protests at Jamia during the day and then joining the protest in her locality in the evenings.
“The prime minister has not taken one good decision till today,” Nishat continued. “He raises burdens for the common man, be it demonetisation, be it GST”—the goods and services tax—“or the Babri Masjid dispute. All his decisions so far have not been for the welfare of the people but for the owners of big companies.” The protests across the country have given her hope. She said she sees them as a vindication of the Muslim community’s resistance to Modi.