Last updated on: January 21, 2020 at 9:50 pm IST
A day after Delhi Police made a second appeal to protesters who have braved a cold winter to participate in a month-long sit-in relay protest at Shaheen Bagh against the citizenship law, a Twitter account that seems to be operated by the protesters sent out a polite response on Tuesday, assuring the cops “we too have children… understand parents’ worries… we are allowing school vans to cross”. On Monday Delhi Police, on orders from the Delhi High Court to use “persuasion rather than force” had urged protesters to disperse, citing hardships caused to students in “reaching schools, coaching centres and private tuitions.” The Shaheen Bagh protest, spear-headed mainly by local Muslim women is an event in history of peoples struggles in view of its impressive methodology and the multi-layered message it gives. While this month-long sit-in has inspired similar sit-ins in various parts of the country including Kolkata and Allahabad, it is becoming a major embarrassment for the BJP government at the Centre which is clueless about how it can deal with the arising situation. The government has been successful to stall similar attempts in Hyderabad but in many other places women are leading similar movements with exemplary show of solidarity from men and from people of other communities. The Delhi police, faced with a court intervention, announced that it will not use force against the protestors at Shaheen Bagh but has failed to convince them to evict the area in view of the traffic jams. The protestors have vowed not to move an inch but only showed willingness to co-operate in easing the traffic. The Shaheen Bagh solidarity is not only a symbolism of resistance; it is also a symbolic of the democratic spirit of the protestors and the increasing political consciousness of the women. The anti-CAA protests are not something directly connected to women rights, though every issue would have a gender component. But this momentous struggle symbolizes that women in India are consciously negotiating for an equal space by entering into the body politic. What makes this consciousness spectacular is that it is not lead by educated and privileged women, it is lead by ordinary women, who have refused to bow down before laws they feel are unjust or be cowed down by any threat and intimidation as they remain firm and resolute in the biting cold. While Muslim women are at the forefront, many other women have expressed their solidarity with this and similar sit-ins either in person or through statements and signature campaigns. They are not waiting for anyone to lead them but have taken the lead. Not only the BJP, which is in power, and which in its bout of arrogance has completely refused to engage with the voices dissenting against the Citizen Amendment Act, but also the other political parties need to wake up to this new reality. The Shaheen Bagh protest and its other replicas are manifestations of assertion of women power against patriarchal politics, struggles and narratives. While the latter are symbols of inequality and unequal relations, the CAA is a law that is based on inequality under the garb of humanitarian action. It is communally divisive because of its explicit reference to persecution of people of some religions and primary exclusion of Muslims. While on its own it does not legally reduce the Muslims of the country to second-class citizens, it promotes a psyche where the Muslim is seen only as the vilified perpetrator. In combination with the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens, however, it threatens to render many Muslims of the country stateless. These perceptions of religious and gender inequalities are getting inter-twined and strengthening a movement like Shaheen Bagh. Not to miss is the class divides. The elitist brigade of politicians, activists and intelligentsia joining these women are a manifestation that ordinary women are being accepted as leaders. While the present movement itself derives its energy from a deep-rooted sense of victimhood, the phenomenon of women taking the lead in protests at Shaheen Bagh, similar campaigns, university campuses and social media is a welcome signal of women crossing the threshold of being in the shadows or making feeble noises over women’s issues to capturing the centre-stage, not in opposition of men but on issues of equality. This is only symbolic but this journey has a long way to go but the baby steps have begun and begun very well.