Defiant women who have been blocking a New Delhi highway for more than four weeks in protest against a bitterly disputed citizenship law have inspired thousands across India to copy their challenge to the Hindu nationalist government.
Supported by volunteers who bring biryani meals, chai and blankets, groups have started occupation protests in about 20 cities across the country of 1.3 billion people to demand the repeal of the law that opponents say is anti-Muslim.
Nearly all pay tribute to the 200 grandmothers and housewives and students who sit and sleep across the main road in the Shaheen Bagh district of Delhi, fighting a law that would give passports to “persecuted” religious minorities from three neighbouring countries but only non-Muslims.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in rallies across India since parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 11.
Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear the government is getting ready to draw up a national citizenship register that could strip them of their nationality, though New Delhi denies this and calls the law a “humanitarian” gesture.
Though at least 27 people have died in violence around some demonstrations, protesters have taken over parks and streets in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh states as well as two new occupations in Delhi.
Srijan Chawla, a student protest leader in Mumbai, said “Shaheen Bagh has inspired a lot of women in this country to go on the streets and protest. Be it Kolkata, be it Delhi, be it here in Mumbai.”
Hundreds of protesters have spent nearly three weeks on public land in Gaya in Bihar. A huge poster of Mahatma Gandhi hangs over one entrance.
More than 10 other non-stop protests are taking place in the eastern state, including at Sabzi Bagh near the capital Patna. “It is like another Shaheen Bagh,” said Afzal Imam, a former mayor of Patna.
“We cannot sit silent at home when the government is hellbent on stealing our citizenship,” said Shagufta Amin an activist at Sabzi Bagh, where weekend crowds swell to thousands. —AFP