Shaheen Bagh Is Defying The Norms Of Political Narratives, And How!

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.

A protester at Shaheen Bagh holds up a placard with Faiz’s poetry. (Photo: Mubeen Siddiqui/Instagram)

Why Is The Shaheen Bagh Protest Significant For Women?

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.”

Featured image provided by YKA User Archita Joshi.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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