A common thread connected the slogans heard at Hyderabad’s Dharna Chowk on Saturday, where thousands of people turned up to march against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The slogans all called for unity among different religions in India — with the loudest being the popular slogan from university campuses — “Awaaz do” (Say it out loud), with the crowd responding in unison, “Hum ek hai (we are one).” Protesters were also calling for religious unity with a dig at the ruling party at the Centre, “Hindu Muslim bhai bhai, Modi-Shah hai hai.”
As a few thousand people marched towards Dharna Chowk, Pradeep, who works near the protest site, watched the marching protesters with amusement. He heard the slogans, approved of them and said that “Yes, all Indians are one,” but was unable to understand why thousands of his fellow Hyderabadis are protesting against a central government policy.
“The Muslims think this CAA will give citizenship to minorities from other countries and it will prevent those from their religion to become Indian citizens. For this, they are protesting?” he asks. Another bystander chimes in, “For them (Muslims) it’s a serious matter.”
On Saturday, as the protesters’ numbers swelled, filling up Dharna Chowk and spilling out onto the streets, the Hyderabad police opened up NTR stadium to accommodate the crowd. Vehicle entry was restricted to all roads leading up to Dharna Chowk.
Protesters began gathering kilometres away from the protest grounds but marched together towards Dharna Chowk, holding placards, banners and shouting slogans against the CAA-NPR-NRC. The Telugu Talli flyover became a pedestrian bridge, leading to the police restricting the movement of vehicles. The massive crowd, holding up the Indian flag, inched towards Dharna Chowk.
“The whole of Mehdipatnam is coming out to protest, but they are not able to get here due to the traffic,” said Santosh, who is in the armed forces..
The protesters at the Million March raised slogans against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from 2 pm to nearly 7 pm, well beyond the 5 pm deadline set by the Hyderabad police.
Azhar, one of the protesters who is there with seven of his family members, says that he hopes the issue needs more vernacular coverage, as the family’s non-Muslim friends do not want to dip their toes in the matter as it is religious.
A crowd gathered as Azhar was speaking to this reporter, and Mohsin, one of the protesters wanted to verify this reporter’s credentials first. “Not all media is writing the truth, so we are avoiding talking to the ones we can’t trust,” says Mohsin, an engineering graduate who has been looking for a job for two years and is with one of the 40 organisations that backed the Million March.
“Telugu media is not reporting the truth. They are underplaying the whole issue. Many of the Hindi channels are spreading lies,” said Mohsin.
“There are real issues that need to be reported, like no jobs, the scams that are being pulled off in the country. Even about CAA, the media only discusses the Act but they don’t debate or discuss NPR (National Population Register) and how that can be used in NRC,” another protester told TNM.
Jahangir, another protester, laid a poster on the floor with slogans against the BJP and asked people to walk over the poster, “Walk over this poster and you will get god’s blessings,” he shouts into the crowd. People look down upon it momentarily, some smile as they walk over it. “This is my way to protest against their politics of divide and rule. The protests are working, more state governments will speak out and the BJP will be forced to back down,” hoped the 51-year-old.
“We have to talk to everyone we know about CAA, NPR and the NRC. My non-Muslim friends know about this issue and are supportive,” said Sadiya, a student from Osmania University. “That’s the only way. Talk to people and make them understand,” she added.
As the protesters began to leave a little after 5 pm, a few volunteers in yellow jackets, armed with gunny bags, began clearing the roads to pick up any trash left behind. Protesters then joined the volunteers in their cleaning efforts, and then more eventually followed.
Thank you! We are giving chocolates to the policemen thanking them for their service.#Hyderabad #MillionMarch #IndiaAgainstCAA_NPR_NRC @hydcitypolice @CPHydCity @IGWomenSafety @HiHyderabad @ayesha_minhaz @kparveen2005 @WahHyderabad @AmanWadud @asadowaisi pic.twitter.com/EC3yUQ2svz— Najma Haleem (@HaleemNajma) January 4, 2020
As the crowd dispersed across Tank Bund, many hung their posters on the fence of the Hussain Sagar, hoping more people would become aware of the issue.