Four-month-old Muhammad Jahan, who accompanied his mother almost every day to Shaheen Bagh, an epicentre of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest, has passed away after acquiring a severe cold and congestion following exposure to the winter chill at the protest site.
Little Jahan, was a favourite among the protesters who would take turns to hold him and often draw the tricolour on his cheeks.
His mother is, however, undeterred and determined to continue her protest with hundreds of other women, saying it is “for the future of my children”.
The infant’s parents, Muhammad Arif and Nazia live in a tiny shanty put together with plastic sheets and cloth in Batla House area and have two other children, a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
Arif is an embroidery worker and also drives an e-rickshaw. Nazia helps him in his embroidery work.
Nazia said Jahaan passed away in his sleep on the night of January 30 after returning from the protests.
“I had returned from Shaheen Baag at around 1 AM. After putting him and other kids to sleep, even I went to sleep. In the morning, I suddenly found him motionless. He was gone in his sleep,” she said.
The couple said they took their motionless baby to the nearby Alshifa Hospital on the morning of January 31 where he was declared dead on arrival.
Nazia, who had been visiting the Shaheen Bagh demonstration every day with Jahaan since December 18, says that he died after catching a cold that turned lethal.
According to her neighbour, Nazia would gather all women outside her house so that they could together walk to the demonstration, around 2 km away. Sometimes, Arif would drop some of them to Shaheen Bagh on his rickshaw.
Nazia said she strongly feels that the CAA and NRC are against the welfare of all communities and will join the Shaheen Bagh protests, but this time without her children.
“Had the government not brought CAA and NRC, people would not have protested and my wife would not have joined them, my son would have been alive,” Arif said.
Over the past month, hundreds of women, including grandmothers and children — have occupied a stretch of road in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, undeterred by rain, cold and threats, protesting against the highly sectarian and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that gives fast track citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but intentionally excludes Muslim migrants.
The rightwing BJP-led Centre government has said the new law will be followed by a National Register of Citizens (NRC). That means Muslims must prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries. Non-Muslims listed in the law, by contrast, have a clear path to citizenship.
Deemed discriminatory in nature, the act has propelled fears that the BJP seeks to undermine the constitution’s secular character and turn India into a majoritarian state.
Primarily led by women, the Shaheen Bagh sit-in has come to symbolise the ongoing nationwide struggle against the divisive act that shares worrying similarities with the rhetoric and policies of the Nazi German state between 1929-1940.
(With PTI inputs)