India: Muslim Ladies Hit Headlines!

Image credit – Nilofar Suhrawardy

by Nilofar Suhrawardy 14 January 2020

Muslim ladies who had not ever stepped out of their homes to participate in any demonstration are now in news all over the world. They have been protesting at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi now for over a month. Unfazed by biting cold and even showers, the women’s demonstration at Shaheen Bagh is the first of its kind in Indian history. They leave the site only for a few hours to attend to routine chores at home. Their place is taken by other ladies. Thousands are visible at all hours. Begun on December 14, 2019, the demonstration has now lasted for more than a month. Chances of ladies giving up their stand seem fairly dim at present. These are largely hijab-clab, Muslim ladies. They regard their protest as essential to protect the Indian Constitution.

Yes, these ladies and their supporters are out in large numbers against the discriminatory nature of moves taken recently passed by the present government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Demonstrations and protests are at present taking place across the country demanding withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Cutting across religious and other barriers, while students are in the forefront in most parts of the country, women are in the lead at Shaheen Bagh in India’s capital city. 

The elderly ladies here have become popular as “Dabang Dadis” (Bold, fearless grandmothers). Ladies of practically all age-groups and also children- from infants to teenagers are seen gathered here, committed to their demand against CAA and NRC. The crowd here swells to around hundred thousand and even above it by evening practically every day. These include people from all religions. Though most ladies sit cross-legged on the floor, arrangements have been made for a few to sit on chairs. Media representatives are visible from various channels and papers practically throughout the day. A stage has been set up for various people to express their stand against CAA and NRC through speeches, small plays and so forth. Attention is also paid to display the secular nature of this demonstration. This Sunday (Jan 12) was marked by religious prayers of key Indian religions being performed here.

Besides, volunteers have set up a small clinic for medical help. In addition, supporters ensure that there is supply of food, water, tea, chocolates and other such items for those protesting almost round the clock. No step has, however, so far been taken by leaders in power at the center.

Rather than address people’s concern democratically and peacefully, the power-holders seem to be at a loss for what steps they should take. If certain authorities thought that protests and demonstrations taking place across the country would be silenced by use of violence against students and also academics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, New Delhi), last Sunday (January 5), they have been proved wrong. Within hours, a large number of people gathered outside the police headquarters in New Delhi, demanding action against criminals who had attacked students and property in JNU. The whole week has been marked by protests and demonstrations across the country condemning the JNU violence. Students and faculty of St Stephen’s, the most elite and prestigious college of Delhi University went on a strike last week, for the first time in decades, to display their support for JNU students.

Sadly speaking, power-holders have not yet paid needed attention to democratic voices echoing continuously and loudly throughout the country. What is worse are reports of criminals being supported by those in power at the centre and at their command by the police. Brutality displayed against students of JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has an uncanny resemblance with the manner in which minorities have been targeted in parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Criminals, also described as goons, as indicated by video-clips and reports have ruthlessly targeted property as well as selected persons. What message have they tried to convey? At present, when students and their supporters across the country are coming forth in larger than expected numbers against certain moves of the present government, clearly, the “goons” are trying to silence them. In JNU, protestors have been blatantly attacked. The minority-tag with Jamia, AMU and property as well as people targeted in UP stands exposed. The manner in which people and property have been targeted in the places mentioned is too similar to be ignored. While in JNU-case, police is not visible openly supporting the “goons,” they are in other places.

It is possible, the power-holders were not prepared for a strong opposition from the people. Democratically speaking, people are only exercising their right and duty to save the country and its Constitution. What is commendable is that people have refused to let their voice by silenced by nature of threatening moves made against them. What has happened (and is still happening) may be viewed as a nature of people at large being threatened by armed criminals, with tacit or open support from sections of police force. It is also a sign of power-holders having reached a point of desperation. When their own “power” is showing strong signs of having failed against the democratic voice of people, they have begun stooping to probably hiring criminals for targeting people and property in set places.

Sometime back, the same motives led them to silence voices of secular Indians of which assassination of Gauri Lankesh was one instance. Similarly, incidents of cow-lynching occurred to target Muslims. Those were isolated cases. Most of these crimes were not engaged in openly. People did not keep quiet then also. Yet, the leaders failed to understand people’s message. Had they comprehended the importance of Indian secularism, the situation in the country may not have reached this stage.

So far, even ladies protesting at Shaheen Bagh have not been addressed by any member of the ruling government. Rather, the government seems adamant on not changing its stand towards CAA and NRC. And so seems stand of its opponents, including ladies at Shaheen Bagh. They have openly expressed that they don’t care if the demonstration leads to loss of their lives. Anti-Muslim discrimination marked by CAA, NRC and other measures will only lead to their losing lives. They’d rather lose lives by protesting against the same. In general, people feel, only Muslims will not suffer. After Muslims, Dalits and poor Indians will be targeted is the view voiced by most opponents of CAA and NRC.

Paradoxically, the government has not paid much attention to a few lapses in drafting of the CAA. The issue is being repeatedly focused upon by the Home Minister. Yet, if the government is concerned about granting citizenship to minorities being oppressed in a few other countries, how can it be viewed as an internal matter? Shouldn’t it be a priority of foreign affairs’ ministry as it concerns what is happening outside India? Also, not much importance appears to have been given to it as a sensitive diplomatic issue. After all, this amounts to painting a negative image of other countries. No country can be expected to be pleased by nature of such diplomatic missiles being hurled at it. Prospects of India inviting greater concern about minorities being oppressed within its own borders cannot be ignored. The government also seems unmoved by the negative image it has received throughout the world because of its moves against students, Muslims and others demanding withdrawal of CAA and NRC!

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