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Muslim women come up with ‘Mumbai Bagh’ in solidarity with Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh

'Mumbai Bagh' women have been sitting in protest against CAA-NRC for 11 days, say they won't give until their Shaheen Bagh counterparts also call off agitation.

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Mumbai: The sea of women in black cannot be missed. Seated on a half-a-kilometre stretch of Morland Road in Nagpada are hundreds of burqa-clad Muslim women protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

This bustling part of the metropolis located in central Mumbai is home to a Muslim majority, whose women are sitting in protest on an under-construction road. The protesters have given the area a new name — Mumbai Bagh — in solidarity with the women protesting against CAA-NRC in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.

The atmosphere is jovial. The sense of camaraderie is overwhelming. These women have been protesting for the last 11 days and seem to be in no mood to relent anytime soon. The spark lit by 15 women who stretched out a bedsheet on Morland Road at 10 pm on 26 January and sat on it, signalling the beginning of the protest, has now turned into a fire. It is focussed on pressurising the Narendra Modi-led central government to withdraw the CAA and stop implementation of the NRC.    

The 2,000-odd women who protest at the site in shifts devised according to the needs of their families are from Nagpada, Agripada, Madanpura and other places close by. Lending support to the protest are other women from all walks of life and cutting across the religious divide. 

Women at the protest site
Women at the protest site | Photo: Haima Deshpande | ThePrint

‘Want Ambedkar’s law back’

Eighty-year-old Kulsum has been a regular at the protest site for the beginning. After finishing her household chores, she reaches the site at noon and sits with the women until 10 pm. She goes back home and is back the next day. Standing 5 feet tall, Kulsum’s feet, unused to the stress of long-distance walking and sitting for extended periods — are swollen. But she hasn’t given up. “I want Ambedkar’s law back, not this new law. I fear for the future generations of my family,” said Kulsum.

Some distance away, sit Khairunissa (70) and Kamrunissa (85) wearing white caps with anti-CAA-NRC slogans holding on to the Tricolour. They too have been sitting in protest since 26 January. Previously unknown to each other, they struck up a friendship on the protest mat. “I have lived my life in India. I am here for my children. They should not be thrown out of their own country,” said Kamrunissa. 

Kamrunissa (R) Khairunissa at the protest site
Kamrunissa (R) and Khairunissa at the protest site | Photo: Haima Deshpande | ThePrint

The protesting women have among themselves planned their vigil timetable ensuring that the site always has at least 400-500 women at any given time. The schedule has been worked around the water supply schedule in the area, children’s school hours, cooking and household responsibilities. A majority of them cook only once a day so they can reach the protest site well in time to relieve those who need to go home. They confess the support their families gives them the strength to carry on. 

Both sides of Morland Road are lined with shops selling a variety of wares. The shopkeepers ensure the women are safe and protected, though their presence on the road is an inconvenience to business. The hotels abounding Nagpada and its surrounding areas provide a continuous flow of packed food and drinking water to the women as a voluntary service. 

The police posse in the area keeps a strict vigil on those entering the venue. They have barricaded the venue and collected the name and contact details of everyone including those who live in the apartment blocks on Morland Road. A policeman in plainclothes also shoots video of the whole proceedings.

When this reporter visited the area, policewomen posted at the barricaded entrance of Morland Road could be seen refusing to let women residents living on both sides of the road enter their apartment blocks. Though several women pleaded to be allowed to go to their houses, the policewomen continued to act tough, followed by frayed tempers and arguments. “The police are trying to anger the residents of the area by not allowing them into their houses. This way the residents will get angry at the protesters and demand that they move out,” said a shopowner.

Shopkeepers stock up food for the protesters
Shopkeepers stock up food for the protesters | Photo: Haima Deshpande | ThePrint


Also read: Shaheen Bagh will not be seen as a national threat next week. Here’s why


‘Pressure from local leaders’ to stop helping protesters

According to one of the shopkeepers, local leaders belonging to various political parties are pressurising them to stop helping the protesters. “They are threatening to make the police file cases against us. Our sisters are protesting for us. Their success is our success,” said the shopkeeper, who did not wish to be named.    

Mehr Ansari (33), a fashion designer and beautician, is a volunteer at the site. “We will not vacate this site until the Maharashtra government does not pass a resolution that CAA and NRC will not be implemented in Maharashtra. We want legislative assurances not mere words,” she said. 

“Our sisters at Shaheen Bagh give us strength. They have been fired at but they have not moved. We will be here until the Shaheen Bagh sisters do not call off their protest,” said Mehr.         

A team of women volunteers are present round the clock and keep a lookout for medical emergencies.

“This protest has helped the Muslim community come together among themselves and with the non-Muslims,” said Juveriya Khan (20), a medical student from Badlupura in Nagpada.

She goes home for an hour every day to freshen up and even sleeps at the site with the night protesters. “I started researching the speeches of the Home Minister and Modiji after the Shaheen Bagh protest started. Why is Modiji not revealing the truth? We are also a part of this country. So, why is Modiji not worried about our community?” Juveriya asked. 

Juveriya Khan
Medical student Juveriya Khan at ‘Mumbai Bagh’ | Photo: Haima Deshpande | ThePrint

She said her support to the protest is for the implementation of “that Article in the Constitution which grants us all equality”. It is also an inner anger that is fuelling the fire of the protesters.

According to social activist Feroze Mithiborwala, a Mumbai Bagh Committee comprising some local politicians and Muslim maulvis has been set up by those who planned this women’s protest. “There are no women in this committee. The women are not consulted but only told what to do,” said Mithiborwala. 

“Anger is building up against the committee as the women do not want these leaders to compromise their protest,” said Mithiborwala.     

The entire area is dotted with the national flag of India. Photographs of Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Mahatma Gandhi and Savitribai Phule are also prominently displayed at strategic points.    

According to the volunteers, over three-fourths of the protesting women are educated who speak English. They belong to well-to-do families or are working professionals. The melange consists of homemakers, management graduates, software professionals, self-employed professionals, financial consultants, marketing executives etc., all trying to make the protest a success.    

The protesters are clued in to the latest happenings across the country pertaining to anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests. Most of them have started reading the political pages in newspapers, something they had not done before. “We had left politics to the men in the family, thinking it will not affect us. Today, the fear of being thrown out of my own country because I am a Muslim has made me read and understand the politics printed in the newspapers,” said Nazia (35), a financial consultant with a multi-national company. 

Like her, there are many who have fine-tuned their understanding of not just politics but also their own status as Muslims. “Woh todenge, hum jodenge (they will break, we will unite)” is the slogan that rents the air. At a far corner, a non-Muslim girl is teaching guided meditation to a group of protesters to help them get over stress. 

Road leading to protest site
The road leading to protest site in Nagpada  | Photo: Haima Deshpande | ThePrint


Also read: How Modi, Shah & Yogi couldn’t stop talking about Shaheen Bagh in Delhi election rallies


Anger against local politicians

Mithiborwala and his team of volunteers from the areas surrounding Nagpada keep the women “protected” from the political manoeuvres of the local politicians. These politicians have tried to manipulate the protesters through intimidation. “They tell the women that the police will file cases against them if they do not call off the protest. For many of them, the longest distance they have travelled is to the local market from their homes,” said Mithiborwala. “They are very strong and are rooted to the spot. They make sure that the numbers here are always large so that the police cannot manhandle them or move them out.”  

The male volunteers at Mumbai Bagh call themselves “malis” or “baghbans”. 

The police have denied permission to put up a large tent in the area or use megaphones. When it gets too hot under the sun, the women move into shady areas but do not leave the venue.

Hum jeetenge,” Kulsum said with confidence.


Also read: Why Shaheen Bagh protesters need not worry about Delhi election


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. So refreshing to see women out like this – we are all so used to being the only woman visible, be it at a protest or be it in an evening bus, it is like a blast of fresh air to be among sisters. These women, mums and grandmums and young rebels, they will themselves never be the same again. In fighting for their brothers and for the country, they are also freeing themselves. And leaders like Ajay Bhisht are shit scared about what would happen if good high caste ladies join in to demand their own rights.

  2. The more protests like these will happen, BJP will get more votes. Polarisation is being complete now. This will harm Muslims more than it does to Hindus.

  3. A quiet, peaceful revolution, orderly, constitutional. It would be facile not to look beyond and see where it could lead to if anguished cries from the heart are not heard and responded to with empathy and respect.

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