Charge of the Women Brigade
Across the nation, it is the women who are leading protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act —making the movement all the more poignant
What's common between Delhi's Shaheen Bagh, Kolkata's Park Circus, and Lucknow's Ghanta Ghar? People protesting against CAA, NRC, and NPR? Yes, but more significantly, all these protests are being led by women from the front. Their stoic presence, resilience in the biting cold, their composure even as petty Lucknow police stole their biscuits and quilts — these tough-as-steel women are hard to forget. In the last couple of months, these women have come to represent dissent as well as an indomitable spirit that simply refuses to roll up their mattress and leave.
As we stand on the threshold of our 71st Republic Day, our winter of discontent is yet to thaw into the spring of hope. In spite of days of protest, legal petitions, and fiery arguments, the government stands firm on its decision to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). No rollback, no stay order, no inclusion of Muslims. Even as the who-blinks-first situation unravels, newer protests sites have blossomed across the country in retaliation to the government's intransigence. And we see more signs of our innate 'Indianness' on display — khichdi being served to protesters, warm blankets, cups of 'chai', songs of courage, and a melting pot of citizens of different age groups and religions. Today, we see glimpses of a nation more united than it has ever been in the last few years. And taking the charge of several protests is the Indian woman — strong, brave, immovable.
From the oldest Asma Khatun (90) to sprightly Bilkis (82) — the dadis (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh have caught the attention of the world. And there are others too — young and old — who have gathered to get themselves heard; to fight for India they believe in. They sit from morning till night, sing, pray, sloganeer, and hope that their cries reach the echelons of power. As both sides stand their ground, we really can't tell where this standoff is headed. But I can tell you this that we will remember the role that women are playing in the nationwide protests! From pictures of female students of Jamia Milia Islamia shielding their male counterparts from police batons to a graceful Deepika Padukone lending support to JNU — women from different walks of life have gone that extra mile.
Historically, women have been an integral part of protests in India. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA) had the Rani of Jhansi all-women regiment. Mahatma Gandhi too understood the importance of female participation in his fight against colonial rule. He wanted all Indian women and in particular, those from Ahmedabad, to join the freedom struggle. Jaykumar R Shukla wrote in 'Proceedings of the Indian History Congress', "Gandhi gave a moral and ethical tone to the freedom movement with the result that even the poor and illiterate women and the widows wholeheartedly supported the struggle. Now, their role was not confined to the kitchens, but they came out of the four walls of their house, singing national songs…"
And so, do the women of Shaheen Bagh as they sing the national anthem with pride. No violence, no abusing, no one-upmanship. These women are a constant reminder of what this great nation stands for. It's the women of India who are giving us lessons on the Constitution, on our culture, and the 'Indianness' that has always embraced love, universal brotherhood, and religious tolerance, and shunned communal politics.
Shutapa Paul is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal