What makes the Shaheen Bagh rare in the history of Indian civil society movements is that this is the first-time Muslim women are leading a protest against a law passed by the state, writes Alakh Ranjan for South Asia Monitor
Civil societies are like the safety valves of democracies and civil society movements have been central to democracies. The previous decade saw a large number of protests throughout the world. The 2010s began with the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movements which saw people agitating against establishments across continents. The demonstrations, sparked by various issues, had some common features. All these protests were spontaneous, led by common citizens, without central leaders. Civil society movements over the last decade have tried to reclaim the rights of the people by coming out on the streets and raising their voices against injustice.
India also saw a large number of protests in that period, from the Nirbhaya anti-rape protests to the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement. The principles of Mahatma Gandhi have always been central to people’s movements in India. All the Indian civil society movements and protests that happened over the last decade and earlier in India have abided by the Gandhian principles of non-violence. The latest to join the list is the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests against religious discrimination that are happening across the nation.
Shaheen Bagh, in the eastern edge of the capital, has become one of the epicentres of the anti-CAA protests. The protest at Shaheen Bagh began on December 15 to express anger against Delhi Police which brutally beat the students of Jamia Milia Islamia inside their university campus and express solidarity with the students. The majority of protestors were relatives of the students who were beaten within the university. The protest is led by the local women of all age groups and children. They have been siting to register their defiance against the CAA. These women and small children have shown utmost courage, battling the coldest winter of Delhi while managing their daily chores.
The Shaheen Bagh protest, 40 days old, is in line with the protests that have happened around the globe over the last decade. It was a spontaneous gathering of people to raise their voice against an unlawful act of the state. Like many other global protests, it is leaderless and the face of this protest are the women of Shaheen Bagh. The determination and grit shown by the women are exceptional. They have decided to not move from there until someone from the government establishes some form of dialogue with them about their concerns. This protest has inspired people, especially the women in different cities, to come out and participate in sit-down protests, completely peacefully, to mark their opposition to the CAA. Shaheen Bagh-like protests led by women - mostly women in their traditional hijabs - are now happening in various cities of Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
Shaheen Bagh is no more the name of a protest site in Jamia Nagar. It has now become a spirit, a model which is been replicated. People from different parts of the country have now joined the protesters of Shaheen Bagh and are raising their own issues such as bonded labour or tribal rights. Women have taken active role in many movements and protests. Women activists like Medha Patkar has led a movement for years for the rights of displaced rural people. But what makes the Shaheen Bagh rare in the history of Indian civil society movements is that this is the first-time Muslim women are leading a protest against a law passed by the state. This unusual sight is being witnessed across the numerous Shaheen Baghs of India.
(The writer is a researcher who studied at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi)