It was a chaotic afternoon early this week in India’s national capital, New Delhi. Trains were not halting at the metro stations in areas where the protests were planned. Barricades were (and still are) placed on roads. A large deployment of security forces, prepared with riot gears and helmets, dotted the thoroughfares. And protestors were out thronging various streets opposing the government’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
On the southern periphery of the city, students outside Gate number 7 of Jamia Millia Islamia University were also shouting slogans at full throttle: “Jo Hitler ki chaal chalega, woh Hitler ki maut marega (One who treads the path of Hitler, will die the death of Hitler).” It was a teeming atmosphere with animated faces shouting at the top of their voices. The varsity has been the centrestage of protests that began here and went on to spread across the country. However, amidst all the din, on the roadside, some people were clicking selfies—with Jabarjang Singh.
Donning an indigo turban that stood out from the rest of the crowd, Jabarjang Singh has become a celebrity of sorts among protesting students in Delhi. A member of the Sikh community, Singh joined the agitating students while on his travel to the eastern state of Odisha, where a historic Gurudwara is being demolished by the administration. “I was on my way to Mangu Mutt in Puri (Odisha) from Punjab when I got to know about the police excesses on the university students,” Singh told VICE. “I thought it wise not to go there, and express solidarity with the students instead. When I saw videos of students getting brutally beaten up, with some losing hands and eyes, I thought it better to serve them than to go to the Gurudwara.”
“I am here for humanity,” he added.
As angry slogans reverberated in the background, Singh could be seen either distributing food among the protesters, or counselling people about the problematic bits of the newly implemented Citizenship Amendment law. “This law is not just against Muslims,” he explained to a group of students who have gathered around him. "This is also a trap to strip backward classes of reservation that they are currently entitled to. In the process of National Register of Citizens (NRC), a large number of people from backward classes would be declared stateless. Then, the government will give them fresh citizenship under CAA. As fresh citizens, they will not be provided with reservations.”
The crowd that huddled around him nodded in affirmation.
Singh is one of the few individuals and groups who have garnered attention for extending humanitarian services, such as food and beverages, to protesters who have been spending hours and hours on the streets to protest. Across the country, we have seen people like Singh serve everything from langar (free meal usually made in community kitchens in Gurudwaras, served without distinction of religion, caste, gender or other denominations), to biryani, or the simple quintessentially Indian beverage: chai.
And much like those on the ground he is serving, Singh feels that the new Citizenship law, when viewed in combination with the government’s intention to compile an NRC, will create a situation where Muslims and people from economically and socially backward sections of the country would be vulnerable to being deprived of citizenship rights. Videos of his efforts to serve students and counsel masses about NRC and CAA have also gone viral on social media platforms, with netizens appreciating his service.
A farmer from the Bathinda area of Punjab, Singh has devoted his life to serving what he terms as "mazloom"—the oppressed. “Whenever I feel people are being wronged, I try to help. Whenever I feel someone is helping people, I support them—in whatever little capacity I can,” he said. “I worked against drug abuse in Punjab. I protested against the burning of religious scriptures of Muslims and Sikhs. I even campaigned for Kanhaiya Kumar (an independent Leftist leader) for I felt he was right,” he says.
Singh’s efforts to help students and educate masses have not gone unnoticed among the varsity students, who throng him and take photographs while chanting slogans. He has also been provided accommodation in the compound of a local mosque by the local Muslim priest. Ehsan, a protesting student, told VICE how people like Singh encourage the protesters. “It makes us feel we are not alone. It gives us hope that we will succeed. Many try to give protests a communal hue but selfless men like him prove the movement has no such connotations,” he said.
As Jabarjang moved towards the campus gate crossing a group of students, he chanted “Inquilab Zindabad (Long live the revolution)”. The students chipped in, too: “Inquilab zindabad! Inquilab zindabad! Inquilab zindabad!” “We got freedom because of the efforts of freedom fighters like Ashfaqullah Khan and Bhagat Singh. We have got a Constitution that we need to preserve. We should look beyond religion,” said Singh. “At least now, we should oppose this law in our personal capacity. If we can’t come here and protest, we should protest against it in our temples, in mosques and in gurudwaras.”
Singh promised that he will remain steadfast with the students’ struggle, come what may. “I want the new act to go as soon as possible. But I will stay here with the students till the bill is revoked, or even until I breathe my last.”
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