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An ode to Shaheen Bagh: Twinkle Lal

Photographs and video by Hashim Badani

One has to pass through narrow, dark and congested lanes to reach a site that has in these past months become a place of zealous protests. Shaheen Bagh is not magnificent like the Jantar Mantar or Azad Maidan; however, it is replete with a transformative aura. The shops that surround the area are shut, as if stupefied by the zeal of these familiar women (and men) who had earlier only visited them like guests. Now they sit in from of these shops, like invincible warriors who will not budge.

The protest site is covered with red, yellow and blue coloured tents, with an elevated stage for speakers to make speeches and shout war cries. But what really tugs at one's heartstrings are the hurtful faces that reveal wounds made fresh, and the never-ending struggle that these people of faith are subjected to.

Shaheen Bagh is a place where wounds are shown, and struggles shared. The incisions made are deep, and it is not only the demand for justice that binds them; it is the acknowledgement of this pain.

The women of Shaheen Bagh are resolute. They have kept this protest going against CAA/NPR for more than a month now. I see old women who can barely walk, and mothers with little children respond to the shouts of Azaadi with unmatched energy. On speaking to a few women there, I discovered that none of them feared for their families...Kaagaz hai par dikhayenge nai was a standard response. But they fear for those who may not have the required papers. Why must they not stand for their community? Why must they not fast for their brothers and sisters? These women know how to care for others- a lesson in disguise for the government in power.

The men of Shaheen Bagh are there to support the women they respect and love. Just outside the tent where the women sit, they make a human chain, making sure that goons don't enter the tent. They understand the importance of that revolutionary space. They remind me of the guards in the Old Testament who protected the Tabernacle, a holy and reverent place, from hooligans. They refer to young women as appi when they offer water and snacks, and make sure you feel safe. It is heartening to see them support the women of Shaheen Bagh, to see them support these women fighting for their rights. All our rights. Another lesson for our government there.

The children of Shaheen Bagh offer an indelible sight. They aren't passive participants in all this. They read, draw, run, play and offer hope amidst the bleakness outside. A girl aged no more than four sits on her brother's shoulders and yells war cries. She shouts words like Azaadi and Inquilaab with such panache that I don't question her understanding of these powerful words. Young girls and boys volunteer after school to help serve water and direct people to a seating area. Some just look at their mothers, confused and possibly even unaware that they are part of something bigger than this country has ever seen, that their presence there will go down in history.

Inside Shaheen Bagh are different stories of pain, hurt and hope. You can't help but empathise. But by standing with the people of Shaheen Bagh, one can weave a communal story that will end in victory- a victory not just for a particular community but all of humanity.

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