There is a lot of discussion and exchange of ideas that has taken place on Shaheen Bhagh. I have followed it as closely as possible from as far a distance as one can from Mumbai. The shape-shifting nature of the Citizenship amendment bills with its strange and theatrical ambition stirred a rather theatrical, in the sense of the unbelievable, response from several factions of the public. Assam was resisting for completely opposite reasons, Tamil Nadu for some other reasons, Kerala for some other reasons and so on. Without going much into detail, I want to note down some thoughts on the way the Shaeen Bagh staged a resistance against this bill. It was heartening to see women of all age group from Shaheen Bagh coming together and organizing a peaceful and smooth protest. Peaceful because, there were no arms taken up and there is certainly no report of use of abusive language or ill treatment by the protestors at Shaeen Bagh.
As a couple of the prominent artists from Delhi mentioned ‘I have never witnessed the strength in the idea existence in this manner before. This is something else’. The vivid description presented by them about the daily routine of the protest almost felt like they were describing a festive scene taking place on the steps of a hill reaching the church or a temple. Especially that moment of the festival where the hurrah is mellow and the group of people involved have found a certain tranquility, repose or a sense of being phased-out and all you can experience is the soothing weight of the faint communal rhythm, that is faintly throbbing inside you, sedated and dreamlike.
On the other hand, as a person interested in the questions of architecture, human settlements, space and form what was fascinating for me was the physical form of the of the protest, the way in which life accumulated around the protest, and how it evolved into a fully functioning city -albeit in the form of a camp. Camp for me is an interesting metaphor think about Shaheen Bagh. Seen from the lens of the state, it is the archetype par excellence of the state of exception. It is quick, momentary, frail, pure shelter, and indicative of a will. However, this camp is different from the camps that Agamben refers to – if one were to put together an anthology of camps, then Shaheen Bagh will be close to a festive tent – something like the Ganapati or Durga Pandal or a wedding pandal in dense neighborhoods or pendals for political rallies; no less obstructive, temporal or willful. Yet, it is also close to the camp of Agamben, in the sense that it is a result of a moment of political state of exception.
The protest site, however, also evolved as a garden over time. A garden where everyday was a gathering or even a picnic (I fully grasp the life threatening atmosphere that pushed people to protest; I am simply trying exercise other dimensions to read this dire situation). Children were painting the streets, confetti decorated the site, tea and snack stalls were established, people from far and near gathered to cook and offer food, doctors set up health check up camps, people recited poems, sang songs, performed communal rituals, claimed political and physical presence. Like a garden which has witnessed fatality and vitality in the same moment.