It is significant to discuss here that for the past 77 days, women have been peacefully leading a sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh not only against CAA-NPR-NRC, but also against issues of police brutality that took place at Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU. The women-led protests including children and different categories of population, are also seeking redressal to issues such as women’s safety and price hike on daily commodities.
There is a visible sign of growing women’s consciousness and their active participation in politics. Shaheen Bagh’s efficient protest inspired other cities to protest in similar fashion. Even during the national movement, Gandhi managed to mobilise women in large numbers for his non-violence movement, which we celebrate today as a big achievement.
But today, the mobilisation against the CAA is considered an ‘anti-national’ activity mostly because they belong to a particular community or are against the discrimination of certain community.
Possibly for the first time on a large scale, Muslim women are coming out in public spaces to voice out their concerns. Another significant thing to discuss here is the determination of women to articulate their concerns based on their own experience with the NRC.
Here, it is important to recognise how or why women’s discourse is different. Their discourses address altogether different sets of social issues that are not experienced by men in a patriarchal society where cultural norms and traditional practices differ for both genders.
According to Daljit Singh, a retired teacher from Assam, “Traditionally, in India, it’s largely men who take care of documents. But in the case of NRC or CAA, women too have to prove their identity through legacy documents. Hence, the fear among women.”
Singh’s wife’s name did not come out in the NRC list because she could not produce the evidence of where her grandfather voted, as many documents got destroyed during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. As a result, his entire family became outsiders.
Often, women are at the receiving end, because their social and legal standings in documents are almost non-existential in societies that reduce them into second category citizens —belonging to the head of the family (father before marriage, husband during and son in the case of widow).
Such narratives are important to subvert greater issues of the patriarchal system and its hierarchical power structure that are normalised and carried on by different social structures – caste, class, family and even workplace culture.
Shaheen Bagh has become a symbol of non-violent resistance and an epicentre because of women’s leadership and participation, importantly, not to forget women from different social classes and backgrounds. Women owning their own voice in such discourse is very vital to fight for their own social and political identity.
While Shaheen Bagh represents the voices otherwise unheard or silenced to take the mainstream role, the CAA protest in Assam has a different undertone messages to be deciphered. Though women are taking part in the protest in large numbers, there is a visible lack of active women’s leadership.
In most of the All Assam Student Union (AASU)-led CAA protests, mainly women of higher Hindu castes take part but this “brings no rapture to the caste Hindu Assamese men monopolised narrative of opposition to the CAA.” It lacks the voices of the experiences and traumas faced by different genders, castes and classes.
“For only a transgender, an East Bengal origin Muslim woman residing in the Chars, or a lower-class, lower-caste women who hardly possessed any document and now lives under the fear of detention camps can bring forward the anxieties and the petty politics of documentation regime that the upper caste Hindu Assamese men or women will never really relate to…” says writer Sutputra Radheye from the AASU.
The Shaheen Bagh protest is setting a mark of social and political movement of the subaltern – as women in society and as Muslim women, who are fighting for their political identity and citizenship.
The violence unleashed in different parts of the country will leave a traumatised population among different communities, loss of livelihood for many who have been affected — many will be left without jobs as shopkeepers, as tailors, vegetable sellers and so on. The minorities will be the most affected, with an experience of violence and loss of lives. Despite all these, women have come together to break their silence. Shaheen Bagh will be a symbol of women’s emancipation in days to come.
In a piece titled Citizenship and Its Discontent, Niraja Gopal Jayal says, “Every single dimension of the concept of citizenship is contested in contemporary India: Citizenship as legal status, citizenship as a bundle of rights and entitlements and citizenship as a sense of identity and belonging.”