As you enter the Park Circus Maidan at one-end of the 7-point crossing, the tri-colour welcomes you. At the centre, is a makeshift circular seating area surrounding a small, permanent sheltered area. If you are a woman, you are welcomed into it to seat, if you are a man, you are told to make way for the women, and occupy the peripheral space outside. The “gate” is kept by men, and the hoarding at the top of the entrance reads “Ladies Entry” with a “Only” added in later.
On the left of the seating space is a national flag that a wide young man refers me to. He is holding a placard “We are one, don’t divide us,” and tells me, “I am not from any political party, or organisation. I am a student, and I have come on my own. See that flag? That’s what I represent. I represent India. Listen to me, they won’t be able to divide us.”
Such has been the nature of the movement. After the emerging success of Shaheen Bag in Delhi, the call for a similar movement was made by a lady named Ismat, whose surname is “something like Zamil,” a young woman tells me. The movement has no face. Another woman there represents a feminist organisation, and has come all the way from Salkia, Howrah. “Now I need to go back,” she says, “I need to save energy for the Go Back campaign tomorrow.”
As the afternoon rolls on, someone asks me for the time. I say, 5. He is not happy, he asks me for the exact time. I tell him 4 minutes are left to 5. He talks to someone managing the “gate,” and the women start going somewhere together. Flummoxed, I ask where. “To pray,” he says. Some women offer their evening prayers right there in the circle. As dusk falls, Kolkata sees an unity amongst people of faiths that find themselves on opposite sides of the CAA. We are getting to know each other better.
More women keep joining in the evening. Slogans keep getting aired, the tri-colour keeps getting flown. Some women who were leading the slogan before the prayer break, are not there anymore, duly replaced by others. A few political party leaders come in, talk to the people, and leave. So do students from universities, who say that at least a few representatives of their organisation visits once every day. People have started knowing each other, recognising, having a tea together. The vendors have found new business.
The police has not given permission for a structured roof of tarpaulin to be built over the seating area. It reduced the number of people in the rain two days back. In the night, about 50 people remain, going into the small pre-built structure at the centre. This structure is used in the day time by men who are constantly managing the water and snacks for the women. They bring in resources in bikes, and a few women distribute it amongst all seated. These women are home-makers, managing a community home instead.
Innovative slogans mark the protests. An old man holding two posters tells me, “I don’t know who started the protest. I got news, painted these, and have held on to them ever since.” Both are in Bengali. “Who were the perpetrators of violence in JNU? The Urban Nazis,” claims one, with the face of the Honourable Home Minister painted on the side. Another tells “Modi, the tea-maker,” to go back from the airport, in sarcastic humour unique to Bengali.
And such has been the hushed tone. Everyone speaks of the visit. When asked what exactly are the plans of the PM’s visit, no one seems to know clearly. Some say that he will be “stopped at the airport.” Another woman tells me, “I will be at the Y near the Raj Bhavan, where he is supposed to go. I heard that he can escape in a helicopter!” Alone, I ask? “No, with my friends,” she beams. Everyone is confident that the Honourable PM will have to return.
As the evening rolls on, men come into the Maidan rallying, shouting slogans. They go around the centre a few laps. As some women are about to leave, one proudly flashes a poster that reads, “Dekh bhai, Yahan sirf Ola, Uber ka CAB mangta.” But more importantly, it says below, “No violence.” When I ask her how long she plans to keep coming, “Until the law is rolled back,” she replies instantly.
As I am about to leave, a placard pasted around a lamp-post catches my eye. “Suggestions & Complaints,” it says, pointing to a box placed below. I am left wondering that if a movement can be democratic and responsive, why cannot the mighty government? “Bura din wapas do,” I hear the chant from the crowd as I leave.
An edited version of this post got featured as a report on LiveWire: Park Circus Maidan: Kolkata’s Shaheen Bagh.