Thousands join multi-prayer program in Delhi against citizenship law
People of different faiths came together on January 12 to participate in a ”sarva dharma sambhava” – a multi-faith prayer ceremony – at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, where anti-citizenship law protesters have been demonstrating for almost a month now.
The inter-faith ceremony had a traditional Hindu-style “hawan” and chants of Sikh “kirtan.” The participants read out the Preamble of the Indian Constitution and took an oath to preserve its “socialist, secular” values.
“Scriptures from the Gita, the Bible, the Quran were read and Gurbani held. Then the Preamble of the Constitution was also read out by people from varying faiths who are supporting this movement,” Syed Taseer Ahmed, one of the organizers of the protest, told news agency PTI.
The crowd swelled to thousands by evening. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was among those who addressed the protest in the evening. Being a Sunday and the weather relatively warmer, more people, could join the protest, he added.
The concept of ”sarv dharm sambhav” (equal respect for all religions or peaceful co-existence of all religions) was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom struggle against the British rule to promote inter-faith harmony.
Hundreds of protesters, including women and children, stayed put at the Sarita Vihar-Kalindi Kunj road at Shaheen Bagh, as their movement for the withdrawal of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) was set to complete a month on January 13.
Zainul Abidin, 44, of Ghaffar Manzil had started a hunger strike on December 16 to demand for repealing the CAA and after a fortnight was joined by Mehrunissa, 40, of Sarita Vihar.
Besides them, three elderly women too have been a constant sight at the center stage of the protest venue since Day One.
A replica of the India Gate has also come near the protest site with names of the people who have lost their lives during anti-CAA protests across the country inked on it.
Over two dozen such names are written on the replica including those from states like Assam, Karnataka, Bihar and most of them from Uttar Pradesh.
People have been protesting at Shaheen Bagh and nearby Jamia Millia Islamia here to oppose the CAA and the NRC. Besides Delhi, protests have unfolded in several parts of the country over the contentious law since it was passed on December 11 and have led to clashes at several places including Uttar Pradesh, where over 20 people have died.
According to the amended law, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
Critics of the law say that, combined with the NRC it discriminates against Muslims and makes religion a criteria for citizenship for the first time.
However, the central government has dismissed the allegations, maintaining that the law is intended to give citizenship to the persecuted people from the three neighboring countries and not to take away citizenship from anyone.