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Co-Written by Badre  Alam Khan & Sanjay Kumar 

 “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”  (BR Ambedkar)

  Since the BJP government has passed the anti-constitutional CAA in Parliament on 12th December 2019; massive protests triggered and as a result currently, India is witnessing unprecedented protests in the history of Independent democratic India. As earlier, we have noted that it is plausible to say that the protests have taken shape and now acquired the ‘Pan- Indian’ character because of all section of society and different shades of political thinking be it Ambedkarites, Feminists, Left forces and Muslim masses are widely participating and in which Muslim women are leading the ongoing protests at several places especially Shaheen Bagh. However, stand taken by the Supreme Court (while hearing this case, on 22th Jan 2019, the apex court has not put a stay on said Act and might be given to the larger constitutional bench  and demanded from exiting government to give the report  within four weeks) is disappointed and not satisfactory to the protesting masses. The legal luminaries have expressed their opinion that given the huge unrest and keeping the landscape of ongoing protests at the nation-wide in mind, it was expected that the apex court will put a stay on unconstitutional and religiously biased Act like the CAA.

In what follows, we are not going to discuss the legalities and illegalities related to the said Act, our focus will be confine to explore the proactive and pivotal role played by Muslim women in particular and non-Muslims in general. After the misogynist remarks made by the BJP leaders and spokespersons (communal forces have made allegations that those Muslim women protesting at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere are coming to the protests sites by taking money Rs. 5,00 not thereby exercising their political agency). However, counter-response has been given by the Muslim women themselves. While asking the response to the some Muslim female students at Jamia, they expressed sadly that when Muslim women confine at home, the same communal forces blamed that Muslim men are suppressing their women. However, when we are protesting against the CAA and NPR-NRC, the same BJP leaders are saying that they are coming not by their choice but by taking money (they called pejoratively   Muslim women protestors as rented one), this is sheer hypocrisy added by female students at the Jamia’s protest site. On this anti-women remarks, Shaheen Bagh Muslim women have also expressed their deep concern and filed defamations and demanded legal actions against those communal forces who are demonizing and undermining our genuine struggles against the unconstitutional Act like CAA and NPR-NRC unnecessary exercise. Before coming to these anti-women attitudes of communal leaders, let us unfold more deeply events , programmes, public talks, and cultural activities at the protests sites in which Muslims and other women are at the forefront. Ever since Muslim women have started protesting on the streets and places like Shaheen Bagh,(which is most vibrant and inclusive in nature and continue unabated for last more than 40 days), Jamia and Khureji ( located in East Delhi)  and elsewhere  against the said Act in an unprecedented manner,  since  the history of post-Independent secular India. Women protesters are holding Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Gandhi and Savitribai Phule portraits and raising the slogans like ‘Save constitution’, ‘Save India’ and say no to the CAA, NRC, and NPR. In additions to that, they are raising the slogans like Azadi not form India (as wrongly interpreted by the BJP leaders and as a result the current UP CM Adityanath Yogi who said that whosoever are raising the slogan like Azadi will face legal consequences and charges like sedition will be imposed on them) but from discriminations, casteism, corruptions, unemployment, hunger and stoking communal hatred amongst masses.  Before coming to current ongoing protests, let’s explore the women’s political agency and their role in several social movements from historical perspectives.

Dalit and Muslim women 

The Non-Brahmin and anti-caste movements led by the Bahujan icons like Phule, Periyar, and Ambedkar along with subaltern women who had played pioneer role against the struggle of upper-caste hegemony in public sphere had in-fact positively contributed to political consciousness by providing education to the female students in context of colonial India. For example, Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh were the leading Indian woman who significantly took part in said movements and for the first time both women had opened the school and taught as a teacher to female students in colonial India. In doing so, these heroic women had fought against the bigotry of ‘Brahminical patriarchy’ and vehemently challenged the caste system which was and still deeply entrenched in the psyche of male-dominated Indian society. Historically speaking, during the 1920s and 1930s, these women were also part of the larger Dalit movements who fought with inhuman practices like untouchability and casteism along with Bahujan icons as stated above. During the ‘Mahad Satyagraha’ in 1927, along with Babasaheb Ambedkar, the lower caste women organizations (like Scheduled Caste Women’s Federation, SCWF) had also played a pivotal role which was fought for the right to drink water from public tanks. Similarly, Fatima Sheikh and a committed Muslim woman like Bi-Amma (mother of Maulana Jauhar saheb who played a vital role in the anti- colonial struggles and one of the important stalwart of Jamia Millia Islamia) and other Muslim women who participated in anti-colonial struggle launched by Mahatma Gandhi and contributed a lot to Jamia financially. To put it differently, the present Muslim and other secular-minded women are fighting, a second unfinished agenda of freedom struggle by registering their protests against the present ruling dispensation around the CAA-NPR-NRC in non-violent form and using Gandhian methods. In doing so, they are raising the slogans like Kal hum logo ne gore se lade thei aur aaj hum apne chore se lad rahe hai (during anti-colonial struggle we fought with English rule and now we are fighting against the present ruling thefts).

In a similar way, in the Civil Rights movements, the African-American women remained backbone and they had played a key role to intensify the movement in the USA against racism and white supremacy. As a result of this movement, Civil rights Act was passed in the US. During the 1950s-60s, lots of black women had played a key role as far as fighting against racism and white male supremacy is concerned. Besides Martin Luther who was a committed civil rights activist, the role of black women to fight against racism and demanded equal rights, freedom for African-Americans would not be undermined in the history of anti-racism and the civil rights movement.

Women’s movements in post-independent India

In a similar vein, women in India had also played and participated significantly in people’s struggle, as a result, a wide range of social movements took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For instance, social activists like Medha Patekar, the leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan who foregrounded the issues of development vs. displacement discourse along with environmental and tribal questions in the larger public domain.  Similarly, Sharmila Irom had played vital role and protested  several years against the draconian law like AFSPA ( Arm force special power Act) in context of North East. In addition to this, environmental movement such as Chipko Andolan which took place in Uttrakhand in the late 1970s, in which  tribal women took an active part against the unfettered commercialization of forest resources. In this movement, ordinary tribal women had played the most active role to save the environment from the encroachment by industrial bourgeoisie who were eager to extract and exploit the forest resources. In short, Dalits, Tribals and Muslim women from the colonial to post-colonial India, played a major role in anti-colonial struggles.  For instance, like Bi-Amma and other Muslim women who were associated directly or indirectly with Jamia had vehemently participated in the freedom movement.  In a similar way, like Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh who fought against Brahminical patriarchy. A well-known social activist Medha Patekar and tribal women of Uttrakhand had made possible and protected environment from commercial exploitations as stated earlier. Having underlined these movements in which women belonging to marginalized classes played a pivotal role; now let us turn to discuss the present ongoing protests against the anti-democratic and unconstitutional Act like CAA along with the unnecessary and much expensive exercise like NRC-NPR put forward by the present ruling dispensation.

Protests against the CA A and NRC-NPR 

Ever Since the BJP government came into power in 2014, women have become more politically active and from Rohith Vemula’s movement (who became the victim of institutional murder in Hyderabad university because of his radical political stance taken by him against the communal forces) to recent ongoing protests against the CAA and NPR-NRC and female students from JMI, JNU, AMU, and DU, etc. are playing a proactive role and opposing the said anti-constitutional Act vigorously.

As regular visitors of Jamia and Shaheen Bagh protests sites, our discussion will be touch upon Muslim women’s participations in ongoing protests at both places. Muslim women’s are not only regularly coming out in the large numbers to participate in these ongoing protests but they are also demolishing the stereotypical images of hitherto as subjugated Muslim women constructed by communal forces and upper-caste dominated corporate media too. The recent patriarchal comments made by the BJP’s IT cell head and spokesperson like Sambit Patra against mainly  of Shaheen Bagh women’s protestors can be cited here as a case in point. A section of liberals in India (like Shashi Tharoor, a senior Congress leader who said on social media that on the plank of Islamic extremism, we cannot fight with Hindu extremists forces) and more importantly the Hindu Right-wing often made criticism against Muslim women for wearing “Burka”, “Hijab”, covering Veils and appearing “more religious” and raising Islamic slogans like Insha-Allaha and La-illaha in the protests sites.  Contrary to the Hindu Right and the so-called secularist like Tharoor, in our view the protests against the CAA and the NRC-NPR at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh are going on accordance with constitutional values like secularism, pluralism and diversity rather than on sectarian, illiberal and Islamists lines often blamed by communal forces.

By drawing the lesson which had been taught by Babasaheb Ambedkar long ago, in the form of Constitutional morality; Muslim Women are also exercising their political agency and subjectivities on lines of ‘constitutional morality’ and going beyond caste and patriarchal values and deeply committed to foreground constitutional values mainly mentioned in the Preamble of our Constitution. They [Muslim women] are exposing the hypocrisy and debunking communal narratives, created by the current ruling dispensation (since Indian Parliament had passed the law on the instant Triple talaq, the  BJP-RSS combine claimed that PM Modi has done historic job as far as the empowerment of Muslims women is concerned) and started asking hard questions amidst ongoing protests. If the BJP-RSS combine is genuinely committed to save Muslim women from the clutches of Muslim male patriarchy, why they are now commenting and passing undemocratic/misogynists statements (to note that the BJP leaders and spokespersons have made the statement that Muslim women who are protesting against the said Act are taking money and hence, not coming out at protests sites by their will for sake of exercising their independent agency) on us when we are fighting against the said Act. In short, the BJP-RSS claim about the being savior of Muslim women (after passing the instance triple talaq, the present Home Minister Amit Shah had also expressed that this law is the historical in nature which will empower our Muslim Women hitherto victim of appeasement politics done by the Congress party) is nothing but utter hypocrisy and their double standards towards Muslim women has now clearly been exposed, expressed by Muslim women protesting at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh.

Contrary to allegations of communal forces at protests sites such as Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, Khureji (it is located in East Delhi and others places women are drawing inspirations and making  another Shaheen Bagh everywhere) and elsewhere, women protesters are clearly articulating their own political agency and strongly resisting communally biased Act like CAA as well as proposed exercise like NRC-NRP which will negatively affect every section of society especially under-privileged class irrespective of caste, creed, religion, ethnicity and gender in times to come. While protesting against the said Act, Muslim women said that we are here for not only register our protest but also demand our citizenship rights to recognize as active citizen of India which is granted by our Constitution. Moreover, Muslim women who are fighting on the streets and at protests sites want to recognize not only a citizen of India but committed to defending the idea of secularism, freedom, socialism, social justice, equality clearly stated in the Preamble of our Constitution from the onslaught of the RSS-BJP combine. It is pertinent to note that women’s protesters with the help of male friends are not only participating but also managing and organizing different programmes like writing slogans on walls, making posters and organizing events like reading books ( to note that  in name of  Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh, a library is open at protest site). Besides, there is a place called India Reads and Resists is open where every evening at Shaheen Bagh kids with their mothers are joining the protest and participating in writing revolutionary slogans like Inqulab Zindabad, save India, Save Secularism, Save Constitution, we shall fight and we shall win, and Hume lake rehege Azadi like Ambedkar wali, Baght Singh wali, Asfaquallah wali, and Gandhi wali.

The BJP-RSS leaders try to paint all those who are protesting against unconstitutional CAA and NRC-NPR as anti-nationals, Islamists, pro-Pakistan and urban Naxals who became frustrated when Modi got elected as PM in 2019 with huge public mandate.  However, as regular visitors of these protests sites, we would like to underline that the ongoing protests are leaderless as happening in world-wide (Hongkong in China, Lebanon, Iraq and west Asia countries) and not singlehandedly guided by any single party lines (Congress, Left and social justice parties)  as the Hindu Right often made statements in the public sphere. The present ongoing protests are continued to boost the morale of the people who are getting awareness while visiting at protests sites. Every-day kids with their mothers are coming at protests sites, raising slogans as stated above and hoping that something positive outcomes will emerge in times to come. Let us end this essay by citing the couplet expressed angrily by Daadi Amma of Shaheen Bagh which has become a popular slogan in public domain and has been written on the several posters at the protest site.

Tere Ghrur ko Jalaugee, Wo- Aagh Hu Mein,

                          Aakar Dekho Mujhe, Mein Shaheen Bagh Hu. 

Badre Alam Khan is a Research Scholar at University of Delhi and Sanjay Kumar is a Post-Doctorate Fellow at JNU.


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