The sky turned a menacing grey with rain but the handful of people who had gathered at the foot of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on Mayo Road were undeterred.
“They can chant ‘goli maaro…’ as much as they want but they will not be able to kill the ideals of this man,” Bishop’s College principal Sunil M. Caleb said, referring to Gandhi.
Caleb has been a familiar face in citizens’ protests against the new citizenship regime and other divisive policies of the Union government.
Tuesday’s assembly at the base of Gandhi’s statue was organised to condemn the “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro… (shoot the traitors)” slogan by a few men who were marching towards the venue of Union home minister Amit Shah’s rally in Calcutta on Sunday.
“Those who shouted the slogan can kill anyone. Their mentors had killed Mahatma Gandhi. But they cannot kill the values of pluralism and unity in diversity that Gandhi stands for. Standing at the foot of Gandhi’s statue, we must say this,” said Sunil.
With him was his wife Beulah, who teaches at La Martiniere for Girls. “Are they suggesting that those who are fighting to protect the Constitution of the country are gaddars?” asked Beulah.
A steady drizzle had started by then and Sunil held an umbrella over Beulah. The couple and the other protesters were getting drenched but none seemed bothered.
“We are opposing the amended citizenship act because it goes against the spirit of the Constitution. But does opposing a divisive act introduced by the Centre make us traitors? Does that mean we can be killed? By endorsing the slogan, the BJP is egging people on to murder those who don’t share their opinions,” Beulah said.
Ratna Pal, 60, joined the gathering because BJP supporters were increasingly resorting to hate speeches to silence the non-violent protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
“They want to silence those who have been protesting in a non-violent way in pockets like Shaheen Bagh and Park Circus Maidan,” Pal said.
“As the BJP has failed to contain the peaceful protests, they are increasingly opting for hate speeches to terrorise protesters. But we will not abandon Gandhian values.”
A strong breeze was blowing when Pal was speaking. Like several others, she held onto the posters condemning the violence in Delhi to prevent them from blowing away.
Avik Saha, one of the organisers, said: “We need to understand who are the gaddars. Those like Nirav Modi, who flee the country with savings of common people, are the real traitors. But even then you cannot shoot a traitor. You need to bring him to book.” The “goli maaro…” slogan, Saha said, is a call to street violence.
Men waving BJP flags were caught on camera shouting “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro…” on their way to Shah’s rally at the Shahid Minar ground.
No one from the BJP has yet condemned the slogan, which was rampantly used during the campaign for the Assembly elections in Delhi and is believed to be the primary trigger for the violence in the national capital that has left at least 46 people dead.
Six men were arrested in Calcutta and its outskirts on Monday and Tuesday for allegedly raising the slogan.