How Afreen Khan led a sustained movement against CAA-NRC in Jharkhand

Afreen, far left, in meeting with CM Hemant Soren regarding CAA, NRC, NPR

Ranchi: Jharkhand had been witnessing a wave of protests against CAA- NRC-NPR since December last year leading the State assembly to eventually pass a resolution against NPR-NRC on March 23, 2020. Kadru, Ranchi’s Shaheen Bagh was the major a sit-in protest site for women, running for two months until the latest shutdown for Coronavirus pandemic.

The sit-in registered massive student and women protestors, most of them young and old Muslim women on the forefront taking the movement ahead. Among them is Afreen Azad Khan, 30-year-old protester from Purani Ranchi who has been the most active on ground for creating awareness and mobilization of the masses. Afreen, along with her team had also met CM Hemant Soren urging him to stop the process NPR in Jharkhand.

Support TwoCircles reporter Nazish Hussain spoke to Afreen on the challenges, opportunities and experiences on the ground against CAA-NRC. Here are the excerpts:

CAA got passed in the Lok Sabha on 9 December, 2019, triggering protests across the country. What was your initial reaction and how did you follow the developments as the protests intensified?

I was getting news of NRC process being carried out in Assam. It didn’t hit hard until we saw names of distinguished government personnel and military officials out of the NRC list. It was then that I started following it closely, reading more about CAA. The whole exercise seemed to me as Anti-Constitution and Anti-Indian. It would affect not just  Muslims but also Dalits and Adivasis, who are huge in number in my State. At this point there were many protests taking place across country and I felt the need to finally start learning about it and educating the same to people in Ranchi.

When and how did you decide to join the protest against CAA and took it to streets, campaigning against it?

Particularly after the police violence on students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University I was very much affected.  Many things have happened before this, like Gujarat riots, but this time I felt the jolts when I saw young, unarmed students being attacked inside a university. I decided then that I must do something against it, whatever was in my capacity.

How did your family respond to your decision of joining the protest and later leading them?

I have three sisters, a younger brother and my mother. I received full support from my family since day one as they got actively engaged at the protest site at Kadru Bagh readily. My mother and sisters would daily go to the sit-in and sometimes when they couldn’t, they never stopped me from going anywhere to these protests. There were times I reached home very late at night due to ground work but I had full family support and it never became an issue. My family let me do things form a free mind.

Being a Muslim woman activist, tell us about your experience of mobilizing and interacting with the community? What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge was to engage with women for their active participation. They were mostly fear-stricken and only knew that something against Muslims was happening.  It took us a while to get them to fully understand the larger implication of the situation. We had to educate them about the broader perspective and motivate them to reach out to other communities for a dialogue on CAA-NRC.

Afreen Azad Khan

Since many women, who are mostly housewives came out and continuously took part in the protests, how did it affect the traditional family dynamics? Tell us about the role male members played to support the participation of women.

Interestingly, there has been huge support from the male members of the families. Personally I have felt that usually mobility and safety are two of the important issues involving women protestors but thankfully it was the men this time taking that responsibility by cooperation and understanding. It would not have been possible to women to out in large numbers for a sit-in protest if they did not have support of the male members in their families.

It is no surprise that CAA-NRC would impact other communities including indigenous people of Jharkhand largely. Did you try to reach out to the indigenous communities of Jharkhand? If so, what response did you receive from them?

We went to remote localities and tried reaching out to them but the initial response was not good. Many were not interested to even listen to us. Few people dismissed saying these are mere rumors and nothing will happen. But we kept on our efforts and slowly we started getting responses from Adivasis and Sikh communities as well. Many Adivasi activists came to our support and they mobilized their communities. And to our success in one of the dharnas, near Raj Bhawan there was a mixed crowd.  Many Adivasi women joined in along with Muslim women. In Jharkhand, if any community that came out in large numbers against Anti-CAA after Muslims, it was the Adivasi community.

You met CM Hemant Soren regarding CAA, NRC, NPR and he has now passed the resolution against it – which had been one of your demands. So, do you think your protest has been successful?

It was definitely great news for us and we all had a sigh of relief. We had been waiting for this since long seeing other states pass resolution against it. We formed a group and arranged a meeting with the CM with a list of appeals and finally met Hemant Soren on February 27, 2020. He was very responsive when we presented our case against CAA-NRC-NPR and finally we saw that the Jharkhand government considered our voices and passed the resolution against NPR -NRC.

What will be the future course of action now, would you continue with your Ant-CAA protests against the centre?

As of now everyone is more concerned of the Corona virus pandemic. So there are no more protests sites. I don’t know how long will it take for this virus threat to end completely. So we are not thinking of the protests now. But people are vigilant.

 Do you think the momentum of the protest has been broken by the pandemic and it will be difficult to gather people again for a sit-in protest against Centre?

Women here at Kadru Bagh were not ready to clear the protest site, as Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protest was still going on. It was hard to convince them but after we reasoned with them, they agreed. Things may have gone quiet for now, but if the Centre starts any exercise on NPR-NRC people will start protesting as well.