Protests last night outside the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Photo: Farhan Qureshi
An uneasy atmosphere marked the start of this week, with citizens across India refusing to budge in the battle for human rights after terrifying violence was unleashed at India’s iconic Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Sunday, January 5. It prompted fresh protests across the country, perhaps most notably the #OccupyGateway one in Mumbai, where students, working professionals and even the elderly spent more than 24 hours staging a peaceful sit-in with charged speeches, echoing chants of “Azadi”, inspirational protest songs, some really creative posters and a sense of unity.
But the scene that saw a formidably large number of people who showed up to support a cause they strongly believed in was quickly blown out of proportion. Reports are now saying that authorities not only tried to break up the peaceful display of dissent by detaining participants and forcibly evicting them to and holding them inside the confines of Azad Maidan, but now they’re also cracking down on words used even in posters. The Mumbai police have now launched a probe against a woman for carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ sign at the Gateway of India.
Protest poster statements range from witty tongue-in-cheek taunts like “It’s so bad, even introverts are here” to straightforward ones that scream “We reject NRC and CAA” to those equating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s lotus symbol with the Nazi swastika to “Shah-Modi go back” illustrated with images of the historic ‘Simon go back’ slogans. But authorities now believe that a woman protester who was carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ sign to stand up against all the reported human rights abuses that have been going on in the state ever since its special status was revoked and the internet was shut down, deserves to be hunted down and questioned about her intentions.Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and BJP member Devendra Fadnavis slammed Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray asking him how he was allowing such "separatist" views in Mumbai. Fadnavis—the man last seen being sworn in as CM of Maharashtra, only to resign three days later, just moments after the Supreme Court asked his party to prove majority in a floor test after they were criticised for unfairly taking the oath overnight without the prior knowledge of other political parties—tweeted this:
The FIR against this protester wasfiled by BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, who told ANI that, "I have filed a complaint with the police. They have assured me of investigation.”
However, the woman holding the poster previously told India Today that her intention with this placard was to demand basic human rights for the Kashmiris who have been on lockdown for about six months, a sentiment that many concur with, especially on social media. She also explained in a video posted last night that, "I saw one on the ground that said 'Free Kashmir' and I thought we are here to talk about basic constitutional rights that people in Kashmir don't have because of the internet shutdown… this is why I picked it up."Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Tajinger Bagga accused former JNU student and protest leader Umar Khalid of perpetrating the slogan “Hinduo se azadi” (freedom from the Hindus) at the Mumbai protest in a tweet that got more than 9,000 retweets. However, Alt News quickly debunked this claim by investigating a Facebook Live from the event which proved that he made no such statement. This also comes at a time when Home Minister Amit Shah says that more than 50 lakh Indians gave a missed call to support the controversial Citizenship Act protests in their latest campaign, even as several sources say this is flawed since the number people were asked to give a missed call on was being propagated on social media as a toll-free one for everything from “free Netflix subscriptions” to “lonely and single women.”Given the uncertainty of the times, it’s imperative that we all educate ourselves thoroughly, inform others with empathy, and stay calm to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.