If one image defines the nationwide students’ protest that has engulfed the country since the last month, it is that of the two Jamia girls protecting their male colleague from the armed Delhi Police with shouts and a wagging finger.
That image broke many stereotypes, most of all the stereotype of the demure scarf-wearing Muslim girl. Even the Delhi Police, a force that stands out among our heavy-handed police force for its crassness, had to stop short when confronted with that wagging finger and those yells. Rarely has a man dragged out by lathi-wielding police been rescued immediately, and perhaps never by a group of girls.
Rarely have thousands of Muslims come on the roads waving the tricolour, another lasting image of the last few weeks. The last time so many Muslims were on the roads in protest was in 1985, against the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment. The scene then and now couldn’t have been more different.
That was a centralised, all-male protest guided by the all-male All India Muslim Personal Law Board. It was an angry protest, its rage fuelled by the Board. Its theme was ‘Islam in danger’; its target, the Supreme Court and the frail old woman who had dared to win a monthly maintenance of `179.20 from her wealthy ex-husband.
The protesters won: After her house was stoned by Indore’s rallyists, Shah Bano repudiated her legal victory, earned after a long legal battle as her lawyer-husband appealed against every order that granted her the right all divorced women enjoyed. That wasn’t the only success; the orthodox male leaders even got the new, young, “dynamic” Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to enact a law excluding Muslim women from the legal right of maintenance from their husband, enjoyed by all divorced women.
If those protests resulted in separating Muslims from the secular framework of the law, the current protests have seen them in the forefront of a fight that is basically for the principles of secularism and inclusion. If those protests made secularists recoil, these have proved to be an inspiration.
Additionally, this time, women are not just very visible, but holding their own rallies and record-breaking dharnas. Again, the last time we saw Muslim women protesting in large numbers was in 2018, during the campaign against the triple talaq Bill, organised again by the all-male AIMPLB, with the same rallying cry of “Islam in danger”.
Today, it’s the Constitution that’s the rallying point of the movement against the discriminatory CAA and NRC. Until now, it has been Dalits who have always upheld the Constitution as the base of their agitations. So, Asaduddin Owaisi began focusing on the Constitution in his election speeches in Maharashtra (as distinct from his speeches in the Lok Sabha that are aimed at a national educated audience), only after he tied up with Prakash Ambedkar before the Lok Sabha polls. The youngsters who throng his rallies, many of them lumpens, were introduced for the first time to the Constitution.
Today, the community doesn’t need an Owaisi, it’s gone far ahead. It doesn’t need the Ulema either.
In gathering after mass gathering, Muslims are reading the Preamble to the document that many right-wingers want to change. This trend began last June after the lynching of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand. Muslims in Maharashtra’s interiors broke their five-year silence and organised mass protests with the Constitution as their focus. But that was a flash in the pan. Now it defines the movement.
What must these predominant images of this movement be doing to those who follow the ideology of Hindutva? They go against every notion they’ve propagated: Muslims as fanatics; Muslims as separate from the mainstream; Muslims as traitors. The participation of Hindus in these protests— including temple committees in Kerala—must make these Hindutva followers gnash their teeth.
There’s one more image that must be enraging the ruling party—the posters and the poetry. Who imagined so much rebellious talent existed among our youth? Weren’t they supposed to be the PM’s biggest supporters? The Jharkhand poll broke that pattern, and this movement has been a turning point.
Creativity is not exactly loved by rulers. Our rulers, specially, are intimidated by any expression of imagination that does not conform to hidebound tradition. The latest image to confront us is that of the masked youth holding rods in the JNU corridor, which is as unforgettable as the one that dominated our TV screens for days: UP cops smashing parked vehicles belonging to Muslims.
But there is another image we must not forget—of 18-year-old Amir Hanjla of Phulwarisharif. The photograph that has appeared in the media shows the red-shirted teen holding aloft the tricolour in a protest. What is not shown is what happened after that. As clashes broke out between the protesters and a rival group supporting the CAA, Amir fled through a nearby lane with the tricolour in his hand. His wounded body was found days later. What sort of people would kill a boy holding the tricolour, his father wondered. Amid all the uplifting images, let’s not forget this image not caught on camera: of Amir brutally murdered after holding the tricolour.
Freelance journalist based in Mumbai