India: Shaheen Bagh protest must end now. Its returns are diminishing and COVID-19 is a real risk

As coronavirus spreads and 12 states reject NPR and NRC, Shaheen Bagh’s women must count their gains, cut their losses and leave.

RAMA LAKSHMI 16 March, 2020

Protesters at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh holding placards against the CAA, NPR and NRC
Protesters at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Shaheen Bagh’s women must disband. No, not for the reasons Home Minister Amit Shah or BJP’s Kapil Mishra want. The novel coronavirus pandemic is a good reason for the protesting Muslim women at New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh to end their 91-day sit-in. But that is not the only reason. Now that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has passed a resolution rejecting the new NPR format and the NRC exercise, joining 12 states and union territories, it is a fine moment for the women to declare a near-victory.

But the Left and the ‘progressive’ activists who keep fuelling the Shaheen Bagh protests don’t have a tendency to focus on tactical deliverables. For them, the idea of lambi ladai or the long struggle is a goal in itself. It’s like campus politics – impressive slogans, Instagrammable posts, speeches and loads of idealism. This is important and energises any movement, but at some point, hard-nosed recalibration must set in. 

Sit-ins can’t be endless, movements are.

And so, I have been asking anti-CAA and anti-NRC activists one question since February: What is a realistic endgame for Shaheen Bagh? But I found no good answers. What’s the goal? What’s the face-saver? Of course, in an ideal world, protests can go on endlessly. But in the real world, every smart protester must have an exit strategy. Of course, no protester begins with an exit strategy. When you begin, you want nothing less than Total Revolution. But mid-course, some strategic thinking must and often does come into play.

So, February was a good time to ask this question. But the activists were quite clueless. They hadn’t thought through. Mainly because there was no one group spearheading these protests. There were many disparate groups pooling in their resources. Not everyone agreed on the endgame. Also, Shaheen Bagh had by now prompted other protests in Lucknow, Patna, Bengaluru and Kolkata. So ‘scaling up’ across India became the goal for many.

Shaheen Bagh’s women protested undeterred through the most vitriolic election in Delhi and the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in years. They have been branded as ‘jihadis’ and traitors. Now, the women must count their gains – both tangibles and intangibles – cut their losses, and leave. And leaving must not be perceived as retreat or defeat.

Also read: Do Shaheen Bagh protesters run risk of waning interest or should stay put for CAA endgame?'

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