Shaheen Bagh Take a (Collective) Bow!
High voltage energy
Visit Shaheen Bagh not just to support the women and their heroism, which goes without saying, but to celebrate the good side of that much scorned and reviled creature, the Indian man. Rarely do you see a large crowd of Indian men which is good natured, smiling, relaxed, civil, and totally lacking in aggression or a roughness of look or manner towards the women around them but that is the nature of the crowd there.
Sunday’s gathering was the biggest so far with the massed crowd stretching as far as the eye could see. The women sat on the ground in their usual place in the centre of the spot. All around them, on four sides was a phalanx of standing men up to 20 or 30 deep. We were two unaccompanied women trying to reach the centre. It could have been a daunting proposition to make our way through the dense crowd but how different it turned out to be.
Men made way for us as we tried to push through to the centre. Those at the front who didn’t realise we were trying to get through, were urged by others to move aside. We were tightly packed inside this crowd, our bodies touching others, but not for a moment did we feel uncomfortable. Hands emerged to help us over the barricade around the stage. Apart from the ordinary men there to support the cause, the volunteers were superb, making sure order was maintained and keeping an eagle eye on the crowd in case someone was in difficulty or lest a skirmish break out to ruin the peaceful atmosphere. The sense of responsibility in these young men was uplifting.
Food packs appeared from nowhere, a most thoughtfully curated apple, cake, samosa, and a carton of water that was handed round to anyone who might need it. A makeshift medical tent functioned. Big urns of delicious masala chai seemed never to finish. Someone needs help getting out of the venue? The men stepped in to give advice. Someone needs to be escorted through unfamiliar alleys? The men walked with them till they reached a familiar landmark. A motorbike rider is struggling to get through the crowd? The men made space for him to pass.
The energy at Shaheen Bagh on Sunday night was high voltage, the atmosphere electric, and the mood bright. ‘Is this the most good natured rebellion ever?’ we kept asking ourselves. Smiles everywhere. Strangers instinctively smiling at one another the moment their eyes locked. Everyone exuded comradeship, from grannies swaddled in shawls wrapped tightly around their heads to trendy students in skinny jeans and leather jackets. Toddlers sitting in their parents’ laps clapped at slogans, copying those around them.
Chatting to the men was easy with none of the usual jostling or slyly curious looks. The men wanted to talk, to share their optimism. They were pleased with whoever had made the effort to turn up. The clarity of purpose shone through. ‘I take time off from my job as a software engineer to come here. I want to keep my job but this is more important because what good will my job be when I cease to be a citizen?” said one young man who had walked three kilometres to the site.
In the narrow streets around the central spot the atmosphere as people made their way there, young children in tow, was almost like a carnival. In fact, it was the pure energy and geniality that made the surroundings so terrible in contrast: flanked by a stinking drain on one side and the putrid Yamuna on the other with the elevated metro soaring above the dirt and traffic chaos, Shaheen Bagh’s unpaved roads, gigantic potholes, poisonous air, and lack of lighting are a disgrace. Mr Kejriwal, take note.
Whoever the nameless volunteers and organisers are at Shaheen Bagh who succeed every day in managing a crowd, feeding and watering it, keeping spirits high, and bringing out the best in people, please step forward and take a bow.