Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad on Wednesday night visited the Shaheen Bagh locality in Delhi that has emerged as the epicentre of nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens. Azad declared there would be 5,000 more such protest sites across the country in the next 10 days, PTI reported.

Azad, who was allowed by a Delhi court to enter the city, praised the women of Shaheen Bagh for braving the cold to continue with their demonstrations. “I congratulate those who have participated in this protest,” Azad told the protestors. “This is not just a political agitation. We have to save the Constitution and unity of the nation.”

Even the record-breaking cold in the national Capital was not able to break the willpower of the women protestors, Azad said. The protestors have occupied the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch for over a month now.

“I promise you that in next 10 days there will be at least 5,000 Shaheen Baghs across the country,” the Bhim Army chief said. “This law will not be applicable and they have to go through my corpse [to implement it]. The court is saying that we should respect our prime minister. I do and and I will do because the Constitution says this. But the prime minister also needs to respect the Constitution of this country.”

He said the Citizenship Amendment Act was a “black law” that divides people on religious lines. “In the time to come, every bagh [garden] can be Shaheen Bagh,” he added.

The 33-year-old leader also criticised those saying the protestors were inconveniencing schoolchildren, patients and the general public. “Where in Delhi do you not find traffic jams?” he asked, according to NDTV. “I accept that there is some difficulty...but tell me honestly, were you not troubled by demonetisation too?”

The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 last year and notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.

The Act, which has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, triggered nationwide protests in December. At least 26 people died during demonstrations that month – all in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam. In the North East, people have protested against the law as they believe it threatens the region’s indigenous cultures.

Earlier on Wednesday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath alleged that women and children were being pushed forward to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, adding that they did not even understand the meaning of the amended law. He claimed men do not have the courage to participate in protests as they know their property will be seized if they indulge in vandalism.

Women across India are leading their own versions of “Shaheen Bagh” protests. Scores of women and children joined the demonstration against the citizenship law at Lucknow’s iconic clock tower last week. The police were accused of taking away blankets and food meant for the protestors there. Criminal cases have been filed against protestors, and they have been accused of rioting and unlawful assembly. A similar protest is also going on in Kolkata.

Former Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung on Wednesday said the Shaheen Bagh protests were a reaction to “cumulative fear” of the last five years. He added that the protests had made citizens aware of the Constitution.

Swapan Dasgupta faces protests in Kolkata

Meanwhile, hundreds of Left-wing students protested against Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta’s session at Kolkata Literary Meet, PTI reported.

The students held up placards and posters criticising the amended citizenship law and National Register of Citizens, and shouted slogans against the Narendra Modi government. They accused Dasgupta of spreading misinformation about the proposed citizenship law and test.

“Some people have some misconceptions,” Dasgupta told reporters after his programme. “And they are completely within their rights to articulate their misconceptions somewhere else. I can’t be held responsible for that.”

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Kota protest

Women in Rajasthan’s Kota district have been protesting against the citizenship law for the past nine days. Braving the cold, hundreds of women have gathered at the Kishorepuria Idgah area with placards, posters and banners to voice their opposition. The protest site is close to the home of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who represents Kota in Parliament.

People from across the neighbourhood have provided the protestors with food and blankets. “A lot of elderly women have also joined our protest and we all raise slogans to register our opposition to the CAA and the proposed NRC,” Shifa Khalid, the protest convenor, told PTI. “The new law is a black law which goes against the spirit of our Constitution. Instead of providing our kids with jobs or taking care of the economy, the central government wants to bring this divisive law which will ruin poor people in our country.”

Khalid said “women in Kota got inspired by the protestors of Shaheen Bagh”, and added that their “sit-in is also indefinite”.

Pune protest

Protests were also held at Kondhwa and Chhatrapati Shivaji Market in Pune on Wednesday, The Indian Express reported.

“We are inspired by our counterparts at Shaheen Bagh,” said Rameeza Khan, one of the protestors. “Sometimes, it is difficult for the women in Camp and surrounding areas to go to Kausar Bagh at Kondhwa. We will sit here 24x7 to register our protest.”

Mattresses have been placed on the ground to make it easier for women to offer prayers. “We are fighting for our rights,” said Ruksar Sayyed, a homemaker. “We are citizens of this country. Why should we show identification documents or even be asked to do so?”

Organisations are reportedly planning to step up the momentum of the protests ahead of Republic Day.

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