Cover Feature
Two Years Of The Historic Shaheen Bagh Protests For Equal Citizenship
Shaheen Bagh Protests For Equal

Two years ago, in the freezing cold of December 2019 in Delhi, people gradually began to notice that Muslim women had come to occupy a corner on a public street at Shaheen Bagh, desperate to make themselves heard against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. Taken together in the “chronology” as explained by India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, NPR and NRC were designed to put the citizenship of all Indians at the mercy of the Government; and the CAA would then offer non-Muslims a way back to citizenship via “refugee” status; while excluding Muslims from such an option.

In December, police waged war on students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, raiding the campuses and attacking students with batons and bullets. The spectacle of the injured students backfired on the government, galvanising students and citizens across communities into massive protests all over India against the police violence and against NPR-NRC-CAA.

Meanwhile, Muslim women all over India set up sit-in sites like Shaheen Bagh. These Shaheen Baghs turned into places to own, embrace, and celebrate India’s Constitution and its promise of equal citizenship. The sit-ins continued until a national lockdown imposed due to Covid-19 on 24th March 2020. In the time since, leaders of the movement have been arrested and imprisoned under the draconian UAPA, framed for the communal violence that BJP leaders unleashed against the Muslim minority coinciding with Donald Trump’s India visit.

As we complete two years since the Shaheen Bagh movement – arguably the most remarkable people’s movement since the freedom struggle, the danger of NPR – the first step in the implementation of NRC – looms nearer. The NPR is planned to coincide with the next Census – even as the demand for a caste Census is rejected by the ruling BJP regime.

The young artist Ita Mehrotra’s graphic documentation of the movements at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia have been published by Yoda Press as a graphic book. Liberation is proud and grateful that Ita Mehrotra allowed us to publish her work during the movement, and we reproduce some of her work in the feature below.

Nitin Raj and Meena Singh interviewed many of the women protestors who sat in Ujariyaon at Eidgah, Gomtinagar; as well as Ghantaghar (the clock tower) in Lucknow. Excerpts from the interviews, along with a write-up by one of the protestors Tasweer Naqvi, follow.  

How do you look at the farmer's movement?

Nuzhat (in her early 50’s): I view it as our victory (she adds with a smile). Farmers have demonstrated to us that we can accomplish whatever we want if we are willing to sacrifice. I am overjoyed, and my bravery has grown as a result of their resistance.

Shaheen ( aged 40’s): Homemaker and Asha Worker: We learned from farmers' struggles that by fighting, we can win the majority of life's battles. We would have won if Corona had not arrived; they disrupted us; they merely put a halt to our demonstration on January 26th, but we resumed protesting the following hour. Now that elections are approaching, they have begun giving free refined oil, beans, and other necessities. But how long is it going to last? We are not going to fall for this.

Roma (28): Farmers have triumphed in a valiant war, they were able to push laws back. Farmers maintained their togetherness, realising the danger of farm laws. They have informed us that if we work together, we can win any conflict.

Zeba (30s): One thing is evident after the farmers' demonstration: this time, our (anti-NRC-CAA) protest will be more determined. Some people thought that NPR-NRC-CAA isn't for us, as a result, they did not join us. Farmers, on the other hand, saw the risk that these regulations posed to their livelihoods, and they banded together to fight back.

Saba (30s): Only ten percent people came out on the road for our movement; the others remain at home, thinking this is not for them. But if Corona had not arrived, our protest would have succeeded in the same way that the farmer's protest did.

How did you first get to know about the anti-CAA protest?

Nuzhat: I learned about the demonstration via my husband's friend; my husband was unsure whether I would join the protest, so he contacted his friend to urge me to do so. His friend phoned me and told me that there are women sitting at Eidgah who are sitting like Shaheen Bagh, so I made a meal and then went to Eidgah to look for it and after that I joined the protest.  

Shaheen: We were getting news from Assam of detention centres where news of families was coming, and my family was supporting me. All the news was horrible; women were torn from their husbands and children. This infuriated us and spurred us to fight because the laws affected everyone, so we had no choice but to resist.

What were the reactions of your families as well as your husbands and what you all got from joining the protest?

Saba: Our family sometimes acts as I am going to ‘ruin’ my life, so we have to battle that as well. My husband, on the other hand, was supportive, but I was struggling to come out for the demonstration and to stay within the protest. My spouse took me and persuaded me to join the demonstrations since I had changed so much. I used to be quiet, but now I am so talkative that I like talking to everyone. My husband was overjoyed, but my sister-in-law was not. As a result, my mother-in-law began to request that I should be asked to stay at home. But the events of January 26th enraged my mother-in-law; she became so enraged when she witnessed police thrashing everyone at the protest site that she too began to speak up in anger.

Zeba: I've evolved. I'm not frightened of the cops at all, and the demonstration has helped us figure out what else we can do. Before the protests, I merely noticed the injustices that were occurring throughout the world, but now I don't just see them; I ask why they are occurring and why they should not.

Roma: Our perspectives have broadened, and while we are concerned about the politics of the future, this demonstration has boosted our confidence. In our daily lives, we are more watchful. We will not go just because someone says so; this is our country; how can we leave without fighting? Women are beginning to realise that there is no need to choose between spouses and families. We'll have to look after things, but we won't have to suffer any more. We will no longer be silent. Rehaan (her husband) used to think that politics was not for me, but now he encourages me to give bytes and make remarks. He now encourages me to attempt new things.

Zeba: Every day, I struggle, and I do it every day. My spouse is completely unaware that I am here for an interview. I've had several arguments with my hubby. We never imagined we'd be fighting a cop in the middle of the night. We now understand our strengths and weaknesses, and we know who we are. My spouse dislikes my social life, but it is my desire to keep it going. I battled my spouse and even joined the demonstration. After arguing with my spouse, I sometimes have to cook twice. This was my passion prior to the protest, but after the demonstration, I realised that I can turn my passion into a reality. It was my desire to keep the protest going and to defeat CAA.

Shaheen: If we promise ourselves that we want to aim for it we have to wage a war.

Women can do anything yoù can see. She is driving a car, a train she is also making home she can also make a nation.

What was the most memorable moment for you during the protest?

Nuzhat: On the day and night of January 26th, police officers ordered us to disband the demonstration, and they attempted to persuade us to leave the Ujariyaon and join the protest at Shaheen Bagh. We asked them how we'd get to the Shaheen Bagh. How can we leave our families and children behind? They stated that a bus will be arranged for us. When we refused to comply with their “requests”, they employed a variety of techniques to disperse us.

On the night of January 26th, police tried to intimidate us by wielding sticks and yelling at us. We weren't terrified, though, since we weren't quite ready to leave. That night, we fought till the wee hours of the morning. The police repeatedly harassed us, threatening to put an end to our demonstration. They ruined our food and took away our shelters, but we never gave up hope.

That night, I started arguing with the cops, and I got into a fight with a cop named Dubey. They pushed us away from the location, and we waited a few hours before taking the opportunity and reclaiming our spots. That night, a policewoman targeted me because she spotted me assisting people, the day before and, I received an FIR. But I wasn't scared since I wasn't alone.

Do you think sitting again like farmers, if laws are enacted?

Nuzhat: If they implement NPR, NRC and CAA, we will fight back. We may lose our lives, but we will not sit on the sidelines. Farmers have won the war, and we will sit in protest like them. We are ready and we are not frightened.

What about your husbands, have they changed? Do they help you at home with housework? Do they talk about politics with you?

Shaheen: Husbands have remained unchanged. I had to do my housekeeping while the protest was going on, and then I had to join the demonstration. I still have to wash my husband's underwear once the protest is over! He has remained the same.

Nuzhat: (She did not react to this question, but after hearing Shaheen, she remarked): During the protests, we were so free that we didn't have to work very hard; I can't remember where I ate. We were having a great time throughout those days. We were both enjoying our free time and meeting new people.

Do you all know each other from the beginning?

Roma: We didn't know each other (she looked at Saba and Zeba), but during the demonstration, we became friends.

Saba: Our subjects of conversation with each other have also shifted. We used to discuss our daily lives, but now we talk about political meetings as well.

Zeba: We also meet weekly, sometimes every 15 days, and we go everywhere we need to go together. We love our friendship, which began during the demonstration. I think people want to join politics, but people are afraid to do. My husband is afraid for me because of this regime.


The Protest Changed Me

- Hazra

(Hazra was in class 11th when she participated in the sit-in at Ghantaghar. Now she is doing her Bsc from Shia P.G. college, and she is a member of AISA)

The farmers were so brave, and I felt brave just watching them protest. My family was involved in the protest at GhantaGhar, so I joined them. My family now thinks that I can fight anyone, even the police. My family is not afraid to send me anywhere that I can join the protest.  Men at our house have not changed at all, they never cooked food, except my chhote Mama, he makes tea for everyone.

After the protest I changed. I was aware that I can protest. I want to study more, my family is asking to marry but I won't, I will study.

I met many women like Uzma Parveen at the sit-in. She was there with her kid. I got to know my friends from the protest. Now they are now with me in Shia P.G. college. During protests, I saw a very dangerous side of the police and at that very moment I stopped fearing the police. Police tried to disperse us, they threw water on us in January, they tried to march around us to threaten us, as war is going to happen but we also held each other’s hand around Ghantaghar to make the chain to protect each other.  I remained there for 66 days.


They Fear Women’s Wrath

- Iram Rizvi

We sought to create the Ghantaghar demonstration similar to the Shaheen Bagh protest, and we were successful. It wasn't an individual action; it was a movement, and I, along with many other women, demonstrated our sisterhood.

What I can say about myself is that I was a housewife who was quite ordinary, busy taking care of her family, uninterested in politics or anything else, but I had a desire to assist others from the beginning. We chose to sit in Ghantaghar to express our sympathy with Shaheen Bagh. This demonstration increased my abilities to assist others. I've seen a lot of movement.  

My shaky moment came when the police began taking our blankets; some women were terrified because of their uniforms, so some women left their blankets; however, I was not willing to leave my blanket. Soon other women too began demanding their blankets back from the police; at the same time, a crowd of women began yelling, and I shouted, "UP police Kambal Chor! (UP police are blanket thieves."

We also protested at the police station. We also purchased a Rs 20 rope, which we used to surround the Ghantaghar and use as a protective barrier around us. We changed the course of history.  If they dare to pass CAA rules, they will have to deal with the wrath of women on the road. Yogi Ji isn't married, Modiji has abandoned his wife, and they haven't taken care of their wives. How are they going to deal with the rage of protesting women? If they don't want to face the repercussions, they should not do it.