This is not the first time that a major protest has been hit by COVID-19. In March 2020, when the virus first struck the nation, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were in full swing.
The stir, which began after the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, took off when Parliament passed it on December 11, 2019, with protesters demanding scrapping of the new law.
The Act seeks to fast-track citizenship for persecuted minority groups in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The six minority groups that have been specifically identified are Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis.
According to protesters, by imposing a religious requirement, the new citizenship law is non-secular and discriminatory, especially against the Muslim community. Additionally, protesters expressed concern about the implications of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the way the CAA might play into this.
The agitation gained huge public support across the country, including students, politicians, social activists and other individuals.
Though the protest took place in many cities, national capital Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh grabbed special attention where it was spearheaded by women.
Like the farmers’ protest, the anti-CAA agitation was also rocked by violence, adverse weather conditions and other hardships faced by protesters. But they refused to end the movement - till the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation hard.
The protest started wrapping up at various cities as the virus spread across the country, but agitators at Shaheen Bagh refused to budge. However, on March 24, the site was cleared as coronavirus-enforced lockdown had to be imposed from midnight. With this, the 101-day protest came to an end.
The country moved from lockdown to ‘Unlock’ (a term used by Centre to relax COVID-19 curbs) and the farmers’ protest gathered steam, but there was no sign of the anti-CAA protest resuming.
Candles spell out "No CAA" during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in New Delhi. (Image: Reuters)
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) claimed that the Shaheen Bagh protest, which was aimed at the Centre for bringing in a new controversial citizenship law, was scripted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with its leadership dictating every move of the agitators for electoral benefits. The claim was made a day after several members of the minority Muslim community from Shaheen Bagh joined the BJP.
The Supreme Court, too, in its verdict on October 7, 2020, had said that occupying public places like Shaheen Bagh for protests is not acceptable and such a space cannot be occupied 'indefinitely'.