A video doing the rounds on social media yesterday created quite a stir. A Muslim community leader is seen addressing his adversaries, telling them that for every person in their community who wants to live, he has someone in his own community that is willing to embrace death. Members of his own community standing around him are heard cheering.
The clash of civilizations. Veritable proof
Civilization which wants to live versus Civilization (sic) which is ready to die pic.twitter.com/DqX5ImXStZ
— iMac_too (@iMac_too) February 3, 2020
The video went viral in the morning yesterday. In the evening, two stories surfaced about infants who were taken to Shaheen Bagh almost every day, and had died due to the cold.
Let us take a moment to understand the chronology of things. Mohammad Jahaan was born about four months ago. Two months later, another baby girl was born. Around 50 days ago, as Delhi’s winter set in, some people began to gather at Shaheen Bagh to protest. Soon both these toddlers were brought as well, almost on a daily basis. Exposed to the freezing temperature for long durations, both newborn children have now lost their lives.
Most people do not take newborn children outside for one and half to two months. What prompted the parents to take these children out every day, in Delhi’s biting cold, just days after they were born? And was there nobody at the protest site to warn them of the consequences?
India Today, which reported about Mohammad Jahaan’s death, visited his house. The family lives in a tiny shanty in the Batla House area of Delhi, held together by plastic sheets and pieces of cloth. The father is an embroidery worker, and also drives an e-rikshaw. The mother helps the father with his embroidery work. They struggle to make ends meet. Fourth-month-old Mohammad was the third child. They have a one-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl too. According to the article, the mother was “visibly disturbed” about Mohammad’s death. Now, the family is all set to return to the protest.
Unable to make ends meet, with five mouths to feed and a newborn infant to take care of, it is shocking that the Shaheen Bagh protest was where the family spent time every day. Let us give this protest the benefit of doubt for a second and discount the stories of cash and free food. How important can a political cause be for you, that you would put it ahead of everything? That you would put it ahead of your children’s well-being, of your newborn baby’s life? And to think that the family is all set to return to the protest now, just a mere political demonstration that nobody is even compelled to attend and that is unlikely to even change anything.
How expedient is life for them? Arms and ammunition are manufactured for battle. One uses them, runs out of them, and manufactures more. One never hesitates to use them if one knows that they can be manufactured constantly. Imagine thinking the same way about human life. Here we have people creating life, using it as ammunition, and returning to fight again with more ammunition when they have run out. What mindset must one have to perceive things in this way? The idea of creating a conducive environment, nurturing one’s children and helping them in their growth seems alien to them. Instead, it is all about what commodity one can bring to the table for the larger cause.
When OpIndia questioned a protester about the death of the two-month-old baby girl in Shaheen Bagh, the protester told them that she was after all the child of Allah, and Allah had called her back. A Twitter user by the name Ovais Sultan Khan tweeted that the little girl used to come with her mother to the protest regularly, and termed her death as a sacrifice. What Ovais forgot to mention is that since the baby girl could neither walk, talk or think coherently, she wasn’t accompanying the mother there out of choice. The sacrifice wasn’t her own either. If there was any sacrifice involved, let us be very clear that the little girl was SACRIFICED. For the sake of context, Ovais is some sort of activist and is seen posing with the likes of Aruna Roy and Swami Agnivesh on his Twitter cover photo.
Smallest coffins are the heaviest.
A little girl used to come with her mother in anti CAA-NRC-NPR protest regularly at Jamia Millia Islamia.
She got ill due to harsh winter, and passed away.
I don't know what should I say about this sacrifice.
— Ovais Sultan Khan (@OvaisSultanKhan) February 2, 2020
If one were to believe for a second that the parents wanted the best for their toddlers, and that despite all their experience of parenting so many children it was out of sheer ignorance that they took them out in the cold constantly, why were they not warned? Of course, we have seen how the protesters and the activists think, so we could never have expected them to warn the parents. But it isn’t just the protesters and activists who are present at Shaheen Bagh, and who were aware of these practices. We have a large contingent of the mainstream media that is either camped there or is solely focused on what goes at Shaheen Bagh. These are educated people who call themselves forward thinking. Were they aware that toddlers were being brought to the protest in this manner? Did they to prevent it?
This woman writes for portals such as the Wire, The Quint and Al Jazeera:
20 day old Umme Habeeba,the youngest protestor @ Shaheen Bagh.Wen I asked her mother how she manages sitting in d cold having gone thru delivery 20 days back, she said, "..samvidhaan bachaana hai. Baithengey" @thewire_in @washingtonpost @AJEnglish @nytimes @times @TIME @BBCHindi pic.twitter.com/gynaLNF6SN
— Mariya Salim (@MariyaS87) December 30, 2019
The less said the better about this woman:
When women lead protests children accompany them to work. In Shaheen bagh tonight so many infants and toddlers. And for once men serving the chai and the boiled eggs. pic.twitter.com/JHlKkiVG6e
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) December 30, 2019
So they were aware of toddlers being brought constantly to the protests in the biting cold. They didn’t prevent it from happening, or speak up about it. Instead, they romanticized the entire situation. They made props out of the toddlers, props that could be used for a great article or a feel-good tweet. After the next JNU hero and the next ‘Shero’, they were all set to create the next baby heroes. My guess is that they are currently planning to make martyrs out the toddlers and use them to counter the government. In case they think it will backfire and that they should simply look the other way and brazen it out, do not let them. These are the people who tried to make us believe that the world had come to an end because some loony walked towards the protest site waving a pistol, but protesters enabling the deaths of their newborn babies is not an issue for them.
Here’s the bottom line- new lives have been lost. Whether it is for negligence, incompetence or pure politics is secondary. Someone must take responsibility. It might be romanticized, and the desert gods might even be proud of the entire show. But as a civilized democracy that cares for human rights, we cannot simply let this go. Human lives are not a commodity, and understanding this is one of the factors that makes us a civilized people. Outrage is not enough, the authorities need to step in and stop this barbarism. Clearing Shaheen Bagh or charging those responsible for these deaths might not change mindsets, but it is our duty nonetheless. At least for the sake of justice, for the sake of the innocent infants.
And what about the mindset, you ask? How can we change that, you wonder? Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s famous quote comes to mind: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”