Muslim women in New Delhi protest against the anti-Muslim law

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Muslim women in New Delhi protest against the anti-Muslim law

Husna Rizvi writes about the militant women at the centre of India’s protest.


Demonstrators at a protest against a new citizenship law in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, India January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A district of Dehli is at the centre of India’s demonstrations. The protests are against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The district is Shaheen Bagh. Mostly Muslim women started a 100 day, 24 hour a day road blockade. The women included new mothers with their children and 90-year-olds. They worked together against the CAA law. The law gives citizenship only to non-Muslims who arrived in India before December, 2014 after fleeing from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh because of religious persecution.

In the Muslim-majority, working-class district of Shaheen Bagh people quickly came out on to the streets. They brought a tent, mattresses, and blankets. Caravan magazine says there were as many as 22,000 on some evenings. There were demonstrations against the CAA in other parts of Delhi and other cities.

‘Everyone comes,’ local resident Hazra Musrat told Caravan. ‘My husband is a mechanical engineer. He doesn’t ask me not to go. I go home for an hour at night, eat dinner with my family, then come back, and sit here till 2 am. We take shifts.’


Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. January, 4th 2020. Source: WikiCommons

Children as young as six went on to the stage to sing Azadi, or Freedom songs. The protestors were angry about the CAA and the police brutality against students at the Jamia Millia Islamia university. But many protestors were happy as they made speeches, offered prayers, ate meals together, and read the Indian constitution to show how they belonged to India.

The national secretary of the Hindu nationalist BJP party complained that Shaheen Bagh was like Islamic State and talked about ‘shooting traitors’. But the protestors started their own library. They decorated it with the faces of the Dalit feminist, Babytai Kamble and American civil-rights activist, Rosa Parks.

The library was to remember the fourth anniversary of the death of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad. Rohith Vemula’s suicide led to nationwide protests about discrimination against the caste system, transgender persons, women, and Dalits.

The militant women organizers understood the risks. In early March 2020, the dangers of the Shaheen Bagh demonstration were worse when mobs with stones, guns, and daggers in North Dehli killed 53.

‘I leave my children at home every day to come here. But in the last few days… I don’t know if I will come back,’ Mona Ahmed told The Siasat Daily. The Print wrote about the mob violence, ‘The reason for the violence is clear – to make sure there will not be another Shaheen Bagh.’

The authorities cleared Shaheen Bagh for a coronavirus lockdown in late March. But organizers promised they’ll return once more to the anti-CAA protest.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)