Indians would know what I mean when I say that, by the time I reached the last
month of 2019, I had exhausted the energy to keep up with the news of spreading
communalism (and ‘news’ that spread communalism). The widely prevalent
references to Nazi Germany and concentration camps to discuss the impending
statelessness of millions of Indian Muslims were disconcerting on many counts.
Honestly, it was devastating to have to come to terms that a vast majority of
Indians were so full of hate that they did not care if a section of their
compatriots were disenfranchised or condemned to an even worse fate. Or to have
to accept that Indian Muslims were considered sitting ducks who could be deported
en masse to detention camps without a whimper—as a famously told chronology
would have it.
women have been at the forefront of anti-CAA/NRC protests, Photograph by
when the protests began. It began the day the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019
was passed in the Rajya Sabha—first, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), a central
university in Delhi, spoke up. Women students marched out of their hostels,
braving the rain and biting cold. Three of them—Ayesha Renna, Ladeeda Farzana
and Chanda Yadav—were iconised in a frame, their fists raised in slogans. It
was this defiant image that first caught the attention of students and
multitudes of citizens across the country. They wanted their voices to travel
far, said Ayesha and Ladeeda. It did.
crackdown came soon. First, on a citizen’s march called by students. Then,
inexplicably, mayhem inside the Jamia campus, in the library and mosque, with
studying and praying students brutalised. The images were stark and shocking.
We heard of worse from Aligarh Muslim University and elsewhere in UP. (Later,
as visuals streamed out after an internet shutdown, the police action there
recalled the wanton terror of private militia—‘Ghar Mein Ghus Kar Marenge’
was no longer an empty threat.)
another visual. One of hope this time. Anugya, a law student of JMI, directly addressed (via TV journalists) the
citizens who voted this government in and spoke, in a pained, empathetic voice,
words that touched the nub of the issue: “How shall I study the Constitution
now for my exam?” and “If injustice is done to my comrades, I shall stand by
two emblematic moments. Something was becoming clear already. It was the women
students of Jamia—Muslims and otherwise—who were front and centre. Speaking to
media, raising slogans, making placards, showing a deep resolve to represent
themselves. It’s their voices and youthful idealism that “travelled far”.
truly a time to rejoice. Secularism was neither dead, nor dying anytime soon
in India. For, those who stood up and spoke for it were, in a way, the ones
least expected to do so: university students, a somewhat privileged set. To the
surprise and delight of the older generation of civil liberties and human
rights activists, post-millennials were not self-centred. They proved to be
politically savvy and sharp-spoken. They cared for what is right and what is
true. They cared for ideals. And it was infectious: they made abstract ideals
like constitutional values and solidarity cool again.
Shaheen Bagh showed another way to protest. As I write, scores of sit-INS by
Muslim women are going on across India. There are so many Muslim women with
articulate voices and a confident presence that it’s difficult to single out
some among them as leaders. Their resolute, unafraid presence is providing a
nucleus around which space is being created for others to protest against the
discriminatory law and express solidarity. Their resoluteness is a source of
solace to those sympathisers who have been afraid for Muslims, their confident
assertion of identity a balm for young Muslims sick of the scaremongering about
Islamic radicalism. And their slogans, universal: concern for students,
universities, the future of democracy and the very idea of India.
all, these women make it clear that they are in no need of saviours (The media,
anyway, was behaving like lapdogs of the powerful rather than watchdogs of
democracy). Instead, they are the saviours—Samvidhan Bachane Nikle Hein,
as the slogan went. They question the motives of the government rhetoric of
‘saving Muslim sisters from triple Talaq’. They bunk the majoritarian
nationalism in which Muslims are excluded as outsiders. And they do all this
through a passionate assertion of patriotism and inalienable sense of belonging
to this land—is Zameen Mein Hamare Buzurg Dafn Hein, (our ancestors are
buried in this land), is Zameen Pe Hum Har Roz Paanch Waqt Sajde Karte Hein
(we prostrate five times every day on this land).
It would be
a tragedy to revert to the framework where harmony depended on Muslims being
position Muslims as long-suffering, patient, model citizens who had not
complained so far despite all kinds of harassment and targeting. They inspire
and forge solidarities and represent all groupings of citizens who have
experienced deficit in citizenship—workers’ unions, peasant organisations,
Dalit activists etc. But most importantly, they also represent Muslim
men—breaking the myth of Muslim men (and Islam) as their oppressors. In their
articulations, they lay bare the fact that those on either side of the
‘rich/poor’ or ‘good/bad’ Muslim binaries are characterised by a differential
yet shared experience of everyday prejudice and targeted violence.
consider the success Muslim women have had in creating an audience for their
self-representation, then regardless of the outcomes of the protestor’s core
demands, this movement is already successful, in the same way that Narmada
Bachao Andolan may be considered successful in mainstreaming an
environmentalist critique of top-down development. I feel we are in a moment
when young people, especially young Muslim women, are clarifying and expressing
what a deeper practice of secularism might entail. What others can do is listen
carefully, reflect on their discomfort vis-a-vis these voices and be humble
about their diagnoses and prescriptions.
ourselves in the middle of possibly a movement for equal citizenship—a
broad-based movement whose core is largely comprised of Muslim women. None of
the ‘experienced’ commentators, pundits and public intellectuals had foreseen
how these events would unfold. Let them not pretend that they know what is
best. The spontaneous movement against sexual violence around the Nirbhaya case
quickly caved in to populist, patriarchal calls. So far, an insistence on
equality, an aspiration for an honest practice of secularism and a demand to
confront whipped up communalism and implicit Islamophobia are all alive in this
movement. Would this movement also give in to the demands of mobilisation and
let those take precedence over its crucial values?
verdict has to wait. Yet, to be nervous at this moment about the expression of
Muslim identity by protesters would be to deny Muslims a great historic
opportunity to find their political voice as equal citizens of this country.
This is the voice using which they too can complain that injustice has been
done to them. It would be a great tragedy if we go back to the framework in
which harmony and tolerance was dependent on Muslims being ‘wisely’ silent for
the fear of causing ‘polarisation’, reduced to docile subjects who could only
speak about the Shariah.
the powerful ideas of a time are the ideas of those in power. But this movement
has proved that the powerful ideas of a time can be subverted by those who are
oppressed too. The question that confronts Muslim women is, “How effectively?”
Headline: They Need No Saviours, They Are the Saviours: What the Resolute,
Unafraid Presence of Muslim Women Tells Us
Source: The Outlook India