The following post was written by Saher Naqvi, a student at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, who protested against India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill at Jamia Millia Islamia University, which has a majority-Muslim student body. The bill promises to fast-track citizenship for religious minorities from neighboring countries to protect prosecuted or marginalized minorities, however, it excludes Muslims seeking refuge.
It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around whatever happened that night, to understand what I was feeling, was it fear, was it anger, I still don’t know. All I know is that I never thought I’d have to witness something like this in my life.
I was at the protest yesterday with two of my friends and my cousin sister at Gate 7 in New Delhi, after which we started moving ahead towards New Friends Colony. Everything was going smoothly, no slangs were being used and if someone even shouted anything out of line, everybody else would shut them down. The men had formed a circle around the women to protect them. There were old ladies, young girls present, all walking and chanting slogans. It was as peaceful as it gets. Water and apples were being distributed, everybody was taking care of each other.
It’s at the turn at Mata Mandir when hell broke loose. A few ladies spread dupattas on the road and started praying and we all halted there so that they could finish and we’d move forward. In a fraction of seconds, people started running. That’s when we heard the blast sounds. We saw smoke rising in the air, we knew they were throwing tear gas shells again. The chain was broken and everybody was just running to protect themselves. Not knowing what to do, where to run, we started running too. But since there was such a huge crowd and everybody running to get away, my cousin was pushed and she fell down. My friends ran forward and on realising that my cousin was left behind, I went to get her. She had fallen on the footpath and was having a panic attack. I picked her up and started running.
In that process, I lost my shoe and the police too caught up with us. Just when I thought we’d escape, two tear gas shells landed right at our feet. And you don’t know what it feels like till it hits you and you’re struggling to breathe and run at the same time. Eyes watering, breathless, disoriented, we entered a bylane where some men offered us salt to eat and apply on the face and told us to not worry and they’d take us to a safe place.
This man didn’t leave our side till we reached Zakir Nagar, every lane we took we had to check for the police first. I saw police hitting old ladies, men with their ears bleeding, walking barefoot, all trying to find a safe place. Somehow, we reached Zakir Nagar where we got a rick to Batla House. Things didn’t end there. The rick didn’t drop us till the main market but left us in a lane from where we sat in a battery. We barely had been seated when we saw people running again and told people in vehicles to run and hide.
We got down and started running again, not knowing where to go. We asked people to let us in their houses but they refused.
Then one kind shopkeeper took us in and assured us that nothing would happen. He asked us to sit till the time the situation was better outside. He spoke to our parents and reassured them too. It’s only then I realised my face was bleeding. I don’t know how, I still don’t. We hid in his shop for nearly two hours until one of our friends could come and take us to her place close by. Sitting there, reading texts from my classmates, watching the news, all I could do is cry. I don’t know why this was happening to us. We are innocent, we did nothing, yet we had to run for our lives.
I reached home around midnight, I couldn’t sleep. People kept texting if I was safe. Technically I guess I was, but are any of us safe in a country when anything can happen, anyone can be attacked in a place they consider their home? A university? Without the tormentors facing any repercussions?
I’m not sharing this story so that you tell me I was brave or that sort of thing. I wasn’t, I was just running to get to a safe place. Like most of us. Some of my friends faced worse, you would cry if you heard their stories. I’m just sharing it to tell you that this won’t stop me from fighting for my rights.
Our right to live in our country. I know a lot of you think hope is lost. But after what happened yesterday, that man who brought us to safety, the shopkeeper who took us in, my friends who offered me shelter, all those people from my university who were out there that night and have been since then, despite what happened and all those protesting across the country; they restored my hope.
There are still people out there, fighting for the right things, for a better future, the least you can do is do your bit rather than complain about how our country is hopeless. We’ve got to be the change, all together. This is just the beginning, we have a long fight ahead. #RejectCAB