Bilal Bagh, the Shaheen Bagh in Bengaluru since February 8

Published : March 02, 2020 14:29 IST

Bengaluru has witnessed continuous protests since the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA in December last year. The protests have attracted massive support, with one protest on December 23 attended by an estimated 1 lakh people in the city.

In spite of this, there was the need felt by the community of protesters for a round-the-clock protest site where the momentum of the campaign could be sustained like at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi.

Bengaluru has found this in ‘Bilal Bagh’, named after the mosque next to the protest site, Masjid-e-Bilal, and women have been protesting there since February 8. Bilal Bagh is located in a lane just off Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (BSA) Road in north Bengaluru, which is popularly known as Tannery Road. The area is densely populated with limited civic amenities. Apart from Muslims, it is mostly Dalits who live in the area.

 

As one nears Bilal Bagh, slogans of “Azaadi! Azaadi! Arre hum kya chahte, Azaadi!” (Freedom! Freedom! What do we want, freedom!) rend the air. The banner marking the entry to the party-sized marquee reads ‘Bilal Bagh: Bangalore’ and has portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh and Tipu Sultan amid fluttering Indian flags.

The person leading the sloganeering is Syed Imran, a businessman who is also the driving force behind Bilal Bagh.

The protest has been put together by a loose group of students and youth who met at various protest venues. “We will stay here till the CAA is repealed,” Imran said. The 400-odd women present at the venue were mostly Muslim but Imran said this was not a “religious platform” but a “platform for humanity”.

Bilal Bagh is located in a lane just off Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (BSA) Road in north Bengaluru, which is popularly known as Tannery Road.

 

After Imran vacated the narrow platform that works as a stage, Warsi (who uses only one name) ascended the platform and began to lead the women in another round of intense sloganeering. Just a few days ago this fiery speaker was on a hunger strike to attract attention to the protest at Bilal Bagh.

 

Like the other anti-CAA protest sites all over the country, most of the women at Bilal Bagh are also participating in protests for the first time in their lives. Waheeda, an illiterate woman in her 60s, sells fruits in a pushcart for a living but has abandoned her meagre trade since she joined the sit-in protest as a volunteer at the venue.

 

“If I don’t fight now, my children will suffer. I will fight till my last breath,” she said. Another woman, with a veil covering her face, said: “This is not a fight for Hindus or Muslims, but for India.”

Other women, who are mainly from low-income backgrounds, said this was the first time they were stepping out of their homes to participate in a street protest. For Danish Ahmed, a doctor who is also one of the organisers and attends to any emergency medical requirements, the aim of Bilal Bagh has partly been achieved. “We follow the words of Babasaheb Ambedkar who said, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’.”

Madhu Bhushan, a women’s rights activist, said there was a “huge conversation” happening at Bilal Bagh and spaces such as these had the potential for “transformation and change”.

 

“What was fascinating is the level of acceptance of absolute diversity which is heartening. There is a feeling that we are fighting together for something larger,” she said.

The location of the protest site deep in the heart of a largely Muslim locality was partially motivated by practical considerations, according to the organisers. It would have been difficult to secure permission for a continuous protest space in central Bengaluru. An experiment to start a sit-in protest at Frazer Town in a more cosmopolitan part of the city fizzled out after three days.

For many of the non-Muslim visitors to Bilal Bagh, the trip has been a revelation.

Ranjini Murali, a Bengaluru-based wildlife biologist, who has visited Bilal Bagh a few times, said it was important the protest was happening at this location because because “when you go there, you realise how this ghettoisation has happened and I feel guilty for not knowing that it was there.”

The disadvantage of holding the protest at a marginalised part of the city is that it is hardly getting the attention of the media or the political leadership although some leading voices of the anti-CAA movement have spoken at the venue. They include the political scientist Yogendra Yadav, the Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, the freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy, the historian Ramachandra Guha, the singer Vasu Dixit, the former civil servant Kannan Gopinathan, and the actor Naseeruddin Shah.

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