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"Does the Coronavirus ignore wedding parties, and attack only peaceful protests?"

Shaheen Bagh gears up for protests amidst the Corona virus epidemic

Karuna John 19 Mar 2020

Shaheen bagh

“Please sanitise your hands,” request volunteers at the Shaheen Bagh protest as they move around with spray bottles full of sanitisers and make sure visitors and protesters periodically disinfect their hands. Those even with the slightest cough or sniffle are told to go to the medical assistance tent behind the stage and show themselves to the medics volunteering there. Even the young vendor selling protest memorabilia of banners and badges has begun stocking and selling triple layer surgical face masks. “You can buy the banner anytime, today get the mask, 20 rupees only. Okay, take it for 15 rupees, it is important,” insists the teenager who will not remove his own mask or touch anything he does not need to. 

In the tent the number of women has thinned down. There are fewer elderly women. Some are coming in shifts, smaller groups. “We are careful and will take precautions, but the protest must be kept going. This issue is a matter of life and death,” said a woman protester who has not been bringing her elderly mother in law to the protest this week. “She is home and will pray and support us from there,” she says.

This writer saw less than a couple of hundred women at the site, as dusk fell on Wednesday March 18. Those who are not sitting in protest just hang around the borders to listen to speeches, and do not enter the tent. Even they get their hands sprayed with sanitisers regularly. The sanitiser pump itself is the large one used to water indoor plants etc, and the liquid inside has been checked by doctors, said the volunteers. “We will do our best to make sure no one falls ill. Hand hygiene is most important,” he said as he walked and sprayed the hands of those outside the tent too.  The volunteers look to have figured out a relay style schedule, and take rounds of the protest tent, and outside one by one with their pumps, but are on hand for extra spraying if someone approaches them.

 

shaheen bagh

Meanwhile, the women of Shaheen Bagh sitting in this peaceful protest for the 96th day and counting, say they are not scared of any disease but they need to continue their fight against laws that threaten their very existence. “We can prevent the virus from spreading. And the virus will die out soon Inshaallah. But how can we protect ourselves and our children from these inhuman laws?” asked a woman, who was wearing a protective mask and gloves, but she did not get her children along to the protest that evening.

“This CAA, NRC will kill us before any disease does,” said a man, who came backstage to tell a speaker why the virus was not the bigger threat here. “The government is okay if we die of hunger, unemployment, lack of medical facilities, and say our protest is dangerous,” asked an activist who came from West Bengal to show solidarity with the Shaheen Bagh women. 

Some distance away, at the protest site at Jamia Milia University, young articulate speakers continue to tell people how governments, both central, and state, hope to use the Coronavirus pandemic, as yet another tool to disband the protest. They say they will not back off or be scared by this. However, the crowds there too have been thinned down considerably. “If the government is really concerned about us protesters they can send us more masks and clean water to wash hands,” added a protester at Shaheen Bagh. “I can see everyone is being careful. This protest is very important. There are protests in parts of Punjab too. I came from Ludhiana to support my sisters here,” said a Sikh man, adding that he comes to Shaheen Bagh everyday.

On Wednesday, the  District Magistrate of South East Delhi was asked to give an update on the protest by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed before the Supreme Court seeking the evacuation of the Shaheen Bagh protest due to the Coronavirus spread in India. The SC had adjourned hearing on pleas challenging the Shaheen Bagh protests, till 23 March 2020. 

Ironically, many people at the protest sites wondered how the Delhi government decided that all  protests should be banned and all weddings spared. On Monday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led Delhi government, that had previously shut down all schools, anganwadis, colleges, swimming pools and cinema halls, further decided to ban gathering of more than 50 people at a place in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus. The decision is applicable to all social, political, cultural, religious and family events. However, speaking at a press conference on the subject, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, "Gyms, nightclubs, spas will also be shut 31 March. Other gatherings that involve more than 50 people – social, political, cultural, religious and family will not be allowed. Weddings have been excluded from this but we appeal to people to postpone them if possible." 

At the time of filing this report, there were fewer people at both protest sites than there are at a medium sized Delhi wedding. “Does the Coronavirus ignore wedding parties, and attack only peaceful protests,” asked a young woman protester. Perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal are the best persons to answer that question.  

"Does the Coronavirus ignore wedding parties, and attack only peaceful protests?"

Shaheen Bagh gears up for protests amidst the Corona virus epidemic

Shaheen bagh

“Please sanitise your hands,” request volunteers at the Shaheen Bagh protest as they move around with spray bottles full of sanitisers and make sure visitors and protesters periodically disinfect their hands. Those even with the slightest cough or sniffle are told to go to the medical assistance tent behind the stage and show themselves to the medics volunteering there. Even the young vendor selling protest memorabilia of banners and badges has begun stocking and selling triple layer surgical face masks. “You can buy the banner anytime, today get the mask, 20 rupees only. Okay, take it for 15 rupees, it is important,” insists the teenager who will not remove his own mask or touch anything he does not need to. 

In the tent the number of women has thinned down. There are fewer elderly women. Some are coming in shifts, smaller groups. “We are careful and will take precautions, but the protest must be kept going. This issue is a matter of life and death,” said a woman protester who has not been bringing her elderly mother in law to the protest this week. “She is home and will pray and support us from there,” she says.

This writer saw less than a couple of hundred women at the site, as dusk fell on Wednesday March 18. Those who are not sitting in protest just hang around the borders to listen to speeches, and do not enter the tent. Even they get their hands sprayed with sanitisers regularly. The sanitiser pump itself is the large one used to water indoor plants etc, and the liquid inside has been checked by doctors, said the volunteers. “We will do our best to make sure no one falls ill. Hand hygiene is most important,” he said as he walked and sprayed the hands of those outside the tent too.  The volunteers look to have figured out a relay style schedule, and take rounds of the protest tent, and outside one by one with their pumps, but are on hand for extra spraying if someone approaches them.

 

shaheen bagh

Meanwhile, the women of Shaheen Bagh sitting in this peaceful protest for the 96th day and counting, say they are not scared of any disease but they need to continue their fight against laws that threaten their very existence. “We can prevent the virus from spreading. And the virus will die out soon Inshaallah. But how can we protect ourselves and our children from these inhuman laws?” asked a woman, who was wearing a protective mask and gloves, but she did not get her children along to the protest that evening.

“This CAA, NRC will kill us before any disease does,” said a man, who came backstage to tell a speaker why the virus was not the bigger threat here. “The government is okay if we die of hunger, unemployment, lack of medical facilities, and say our protest is dangerous,” asked an activist who came from West Bengal to show solidarity with the Shaheen Bagh women. 

Some distance away, at the protest site at Jamia Milia University, young articulate speakers continue to tell people how governments, both central, and state, hope to use the Coronavirus pandemic, as yet another tool to disband the protest. They say they will not back off or be scared by this. However, the crowds there too have been thinned down considerably. “If the government is really concerned about us protesters they can send us more masks and clean water to wash hands,” added a protester at Shaheen Bagh. “I can see everyone is being careful. This protest is very important. There are protests in parts of Punjab too. I came from Ludhiana to support my sisters here,” said a Sikh man, adding that he comes to Shaheen Bagh everyday.

On Wednesday, the  District Magistrate of South East Delhi was asked to give an update on the protest by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed before the Supreme Court seeking the evacuation of the Shaheen Bagh protest due to the Coronavirus spread in India. The SC had adjourned hearing on pleas challenging the Shaheen Bagh protests, till 23 March 2020. 

Ironically, many people at the protest sites wondered how the Delhi government decided that all  protests should be banned and all weddings spared. On Monday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led Delhi government, that had previously shut down all schools, anganwadis, colleges, swimming pools and cinema halls, further decided to ban gathering of more than 50 people at a place in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus. The decision is applicable to all social, political, cultural, religious and family events. However, speaking at a press conference on the subject, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, "Gyms, nightclubs, spas will also be shut 31 March. Other gatherings that involve more than 50 people – social, political, cultural, religious and family will not be allowed. Weddings have been excluded from this but we appeal to people to postpone them if possible." 

At the time of filing this report, there were fewer people at both protest sites than there are at a medium sized Delhi wedding. “Does the Coronavirus ignore wedding parties, and attack only peaceful protests,” asked a young woman protester. Perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal are the best persons to answer that question.  

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