New Delhi: The anti-CAA sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh and the Bharatiya Janata Party have nothing in common except that for the last few weeks one has leaned heavily on the other to create friction, polarisation in the hope that when Delhi went to vote on February 8, it would press a button on the EVMs with such anger and aggressive force that “its current would be felt in Shaheen Bagh”.
On Wednesday, as the results of Delhi elections started pouring in from 8 am, both felt the current and both reacted similarly.
First Shaheen Bagh and then the BJP went quiet.
The BJP was stunned into depressing silence, while Shaheen Bagh decided to register its roar by silence of the lambs.
Late on Tuesday night, Shaheen Bagh had put out a message that it would observe a silent protest on Wednesday. “Silent protest against police brutality and state oppression — 11th February, all day,” the poster read and asked all those taking part in the protest to bring a black tape or black cloth to cover their mouth.
All mics, speakers were disconnected and the stage had fallen silent.
After the recent incidents of shooting, a new security-check cubicle has come up at the entrance to the tent where the women have been sitting in protest for 59 days.
On Wednesday afternoon, outside the security-check cubicle sat two elderly men, both with black bands covering their mouths and on their chest was pinned a handwritten note that said, “Aaj maun dharna hai. Hum kisi party ko support nahin karte. Shaant rahein”.
Two women in the security-check cubicle also had black bands covering their mouths. They say nothing as they frisk and check bags except to gesture to women to be quiet.
The ladies inside the tent all have black bands covering their mouths and they hold up handwritten messages, in English, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Devanagri — “Today is silent protest. We don’t support any party.”
Taseer bhai, one of the men from the area who is part of the group that takes decisions on the Shaheen Bagh protest, says that this plan was thought up on Tuesday night to make sure the protest doesn’t turn into a “rajneeti akhara” (political battlefield).
“The message should go out that we are neither a particular party’s supporters nor opponents. Hum log toh Samvidhan ki ladai lad rahe hain. Balance karne ke liye kiya hai… Na hum jashan manaa rahe hain, na hamein koi dukh hai,” he says while offering me a steaming kullahd at Yadav tea stall, a short distance from the protest tent.
Barely 400 meters away is the office of Amanatallah Khan, the sitting AAP MLA from Okhla who won on Wednesday by an impressive margin of 71,827 votes, defeating his nearest rival, the BJP’s Braham Singh.
His supporters were milling about, stringing together blue and white balloons in bunches of four while waiting for him to arrive.
I talk to Taseer bhai about “goli-biryani ki rajneeti”, ask him why not let the protesting women comment on the results since Shaheen Bagh was made a mudda in Delhi elections.
No, he says, because “we don’t want to make it a political platform. No one should misuse the protest… Koi kehta hai ki yeh toh Congress wale chala rahe hain, Aam Aadmi wale chala rahe hain… Aaj bhi maine suna ki someone from BJP was saying, ‘Kejriwal ke samarthak hain, woh biryani bhijwata hai, yeh karta hai, woh karta hai”.
So why not respond, I ask.
“Usi baat ka jawab hai yeh… Hum log yehi kehna chah-rahe hain — that we can put our point across with silence, khamoshi.”
Shaheen Bagh, he says, will break its maun at 6 pm, Wednesday, when counting ends.
Over just 59 days, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh have stood for many things.
They have also learnt many things, including how to be stoic and calm in the face of abuses and allegations hurled at them by the very men they seek solace and solutions from. They have also had to learn to live with the constant fear that someone may shoot at them at any time.
That’s why, perhaps, to survive, they have developed a knack for throwing surprises, not just their with resilience and brilliant thinking, but also with disarming grace.
I walk back to tent, to sit for a bit. A young Sikh volunteer tosses a banana at me that I break into half and share with the lady next to me. She passes it on to a kid.
The stage in not just silent, but is made invisible by a flex poster standing in front of it with a large mugshot of Mahatma Gandhi. In the white space next to it are two Hindi words, large and in red: “Maun Vrat”.
Apart from the many days that Mahatma Gandhi would go silent to express his disappointment, he would routinely keep a maun vrat every Monday. It helped him catch-up with pending stuff and think of what next.
It’s 3.30 pm, and the BJP is down to 8 seats. But in the tent, no mobile phone is visible, and none are ringing. All are on silent mode inside pockets of kurta, burqas, or handbags.
I implore the women around me, with gestures, words scribbled in my notebook, to tell me what they feel about the results. All shake their heads and show me their sheets.
In the aisle that splits the tent into two sections, a gentleman with a black band covering his mouth and two sheets pinned to his chest walks up and down gesturing to the ladies who start talking amongst themselves in hushed tones.
He glares at them and then puts his finger on his covered lips.
The women go quiet.
As I walk out, the lady in the security-check cubicle has dropped her black band to her neck and is eating an ice cream cone. Chocolate.
I ask her, “Aap toh tent se bahar hain, kuch toh boliye.”
“Dilli ne izzat rakh li,” she says and then gestures to say, that’s enough.