Mumbai rises against JNU attack, midnight vigil turns indefinite

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on January 07, 2020 Published on January 07, 2020

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Ever since Sunday midnight, the strong gusts of wind at Mumbai’s Gateway of India has been carrying with it cries for Azadi or freedom from atrocities on students. The city famed for never sleeping has indeed been protesting without a wink of sleep against the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University’s students and staff.

What began as a candlelight vigil at midnight on Sunday against the carnage unleashed by masked goons at Delhi’s JNU – which rendered students and staff grievously injured –  has now turned into an indefinite protest. Hundreds thronged what has been dubbed the ‘Occupy Gateway’ protest, chanting ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Azadi’ in unison, whilst sloganeering, songs and poetry also resonated across the city’s iconic location.


Though the initial plan for protests in the city (as per discussions on various social media platforms) was to protest at a different location later in the day, the attack at JNU on Sunday night galvanised Mumbaikars so much that they decided to take to the streets immediately to stand in solidarity with JNU, Lara Jesani, who was part of the organising team, told BusinessLine.

“Everyone was like, they (JNU students and staff) are going through this entire night of terror. How can we leave them alone? We need to stay on vigil the entire night, let them know that we stand with them,” said Lara, who is a lawyer and an activist.

Words of the protesters

Lara, like many other protesters BusinessLine spoke with, felt that the tipping point has been reached. “When people talk about the spirit of Bombay, they talk about the tenacity of Bombay, about how much they can endure. But, they don’t talk about what happens when Bombay starts agitating - because people join. It’s a diverse place, it’s a cosmopolitan place, it actually values its freedoms. I think what has happened is, they have tested the tenacity of the people, and now the Bombay spirit is coming out in a very different way. Now that they are out on the streets, I don’t think the spirit is going to die down soon,” said Lara.


True to her words, the protest has metamorphosed into an indefinite one now. Unfettered by the scorching sun during the day, people took to not just fervently protesting, but also making sure that food, water and medicines kept doing rounds.

The simmering anger over the JNU attack was palpable. We are here for humanity, not politics, said Amir, 26, who identified as a citizen when asked what he does. Amir has been protesting since 11 in the morning and plans to stay there for as long as the protests last.

“I am a guy who discusses politics in the bedroom, but this is not about politics, this is about humanity. We are fighting for our existence. If they could attack JNU yesterday, they can come to our homes tomorrow,” he said, as the national flag fluttered majestically behind him.

A person he knows was shot in the leg while studying in Jamia Millia Islamia’s library. “She was not even protesting, she was sitting in the library and working. So let’s not talk about politics right now,” he said grimly.

Another 25-year-old, who also identified as a citizen and declined to name himself, has been protesting since Sunday midnight. He quipped that he will go home once Home Minister Amit Shah resigns. Engaged in a banter with a fellow protester, they discussed the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) - issues that found prominence in this protest as well. The city has also been witness to a spate of protests against the CAA and NRC ever since the CAA was passed in the Lok Sabha.

“If we have to prove our citizenship, then who voted this government to power?” he asked, smirking.

Only when the government is out of power will people feel safe in this country, said a 24-year-old human rights worker, who did not wish to be named. “I was panicking because I couldn’t get in touch with my friend in JNU. The fact that someone who is sitting inside a room is also not safe today is just terrifying,” she said.

“The kind of statements that you see even from people in power - it is not condemning the attack. I don’t think the police has done enough, I don’t think the government has done enough. I don’t think they deserve to be in power. It’s scary for me. And only when they are out of power will we feel safe in this country. That’s what I want. That’s why I am here. Because if I sit at home, I will feel guilty that I haven’t done anything. That’s why I am here,” she said.

It is high time that state-sponsored violence stops and the police start protecting people instead of protecting people in power, said a 22-year-old, who has been attending all the protests in the city against the CAA and NRC. She did not want to be named due to fears of surveillance and targeting by the state.

However, coexisting with the palpable anger that gripped Mumbaikars was a glimmer of hope as well.


“I (now) have hope for a country I actually didn’t have any hope for,” said a beaming Pooja Sinha Roy, 33, who is a cultural guide.

“We are seeing the country standing as one and unifying against fascism because finally, people are waking up after six years and seeing what is going on. It is very heartening to see the country standing together,” she said.

Pooja found it incredulous that in a city that is otherwise considered apathetic, people have been protesting relentlessly since midnight. That masses thronged the protests at August Kranti and Azad Maidan against NRC and CAA were surprising too, she said.

Ambika Vishwanath, 39, who runs a political consultancy firm called Kubernein Initiative, said she has given her employees, spread across the country, a day off to engage in protests. “We have had very little job done in the last two weeks because everyone has been doing this (engaging in protests). But it’s okay, this is more important,” she said with conviction.

The most beautiful part about the protests is that it’s spearheaded by the youth, who don’t want to compromise anymore on their freedom, progressive values, and the so called development they were promised, said Lara. “I don't think they will stop, because stopping would mean compromising their future,” she said.

The way students across the country have stood up against the government is phenomenal, said 27-year-old N Sai Balaji, former JNU student union president, who was leading the protest for a while during the day. “People are fighting for themselves. It’s their battle. It’s a battle of students who are tired of communal violence. They want jobs, they want education, they want a better country. I think it’s that idea that they are fighting for,” he said.

Sai said that more such protests will be organised across the country. He said, “We have decided to fight it the way we fought for our freedom struggle, in a democratic and peaceful manner, no matter how much they want to assault us."

Published on January 07, 2020
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