Thursday, 29 September, 2022
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Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, JNU protests show Indian women are far better leaders than we admit

One of the most arresting features of the ongoing citizenship movement is that women in India are rewriting the grammar of politics.

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Let us forget for a moment our like or dislike for the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement in India. Let’s just look at our TV or mobile screens and ask ourselves: when was the last time we saw so many women participate in a nationwide political protest? How often do we see women take to the streets on an issue that is not exclusive to them? Do we remember women being the iconic images of any movement in India? The answers would invite us to think about one of the most arresting features of the ongoing citizenship movement: women are rewriting the grammar of politics.

I first noticed this, much before the famous Shaheen Bagh sit-in, when I visited the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) to address its students on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The talk was held at the university gate, in defiance of the administration’s orders. Halfway through my speech, there was a commotion because the mostly-male audience made way for about 50 women students, who took front seats. I stopped to hear what they were keen to tell me.

The women’s hostel was closed at 5.30 pm. They requested their warden to grant them special permission to attend the meeting. On being refused, they actually broke the lock of the hostel gate and came out, they told me. I invited some of them to speak and was stunned to see how articulate and well-informed they were. What’s more, no one was surprised.

Also read: Why I didn’t call myself a JNU-ite for 37 yrs. But now something has changed: Yogendra Yadav

Removing impediments

Images of the last one month have confirmed that something is changing in India’s political culture: women students of Jamia Millia Islamia protecting their male counterparts from police lynching, women students of Puducherry and Jadavpur universities using their convocation ceremonies to make anti-CAA statements, the poise and resolve of JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh after being hit with a rod by masked men. We do not see such images very often.

And then there are Shaheen Baghs, now springing up all over the country. The idea of organising a sit-in close to the neighbourhood they resided in was a brilliant move because it removed one of the biggest impediments in the way of women’s participation.

I have been to three such protests so far: the original Shaheen Bagh in Delhi’s Okhla, its replicate in Khureji area of east Delhi and the one at Park Circus, Kolkata. Almost all the women in these places are new to any form of protest, not mobilised by any political group. They are mostly middle and lower middle-class women, who are educated. These women are not used to making political speeches, but they know their mind and can speak. Many of them wear hijabs; one slogan I heard in Park Circus was ” hijab pehenne ki azadi “, yet they are anything but shy or tongue-tied. They’ve picked up the art of sloganeering rather quickly. Everywhere I noticed college or school-going students being leaders or coordinating logistics of the protest.

Just public participation of Muslim women in a movement is a radical departure from India’s history of protests.

Outside these earmarked women’s protests, the number of women is noticeably higher in the anti-CAA-NRC movement. And it’s not just because protests in Assam always draw a fair number of women. This time the rest of the country seemed to have picked up from Assam. All the assemblies at Jantar Mantar, India Gate or Gateway of India had visible presence of women, mostly non-Muslims.

Also read: In 2020, don’t rely on routine rallies and marches. Modi’s India needs new ways to protest

Changing rules of the game

To be sure, this change is gradual, not radical. Some of the post-namaz rallies and marches organised by community organisations were still all-men affairs. Women’s protests still observe a strict gender division of Janana-Mardana. Most speakers in women’s congregations are still men. There is some mention of women’s special difficulties in obtaining papers, but the rest of the agenda is not very different from the male voice.

It is also true that putting women in the foreground is partly strategic because this limits police aggression and the optics invite greater sympathy.

Yet the rules of the game are changing. Once women learn to step out of the boundaries of their homes, they cannot be pushed back to their private lives. In a short period, they have learnt to resist attempts of backseat driving by neighbourhood men. It is clear that there are far more natural women leaders in Indian society than our public life is willing to admit.

The movement for equal citizenship in India for all communities could well be a turning point in the movement towards equal citizenship for all genders.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Also read: The one taboo word that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi supporters hate today


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  1. Feminazis post(eg zaira wasim,sonam kapoor,swara bhaskar,jasleen kaur,rohtak girls,virat kohli,arvind kejriwal,rekha sharma,swati maliwal,barkha dutta and so on)
    Leader is leader because of their quality not because of their reproductive organs😂😂😂
    Women are safe because of femunazis govt abd they jnoq how to take advantage of gender.
    Stupid post😂😂😂
    How do reproductive organs define leadershio qualities.😂😂😂

  2. When this people we’re hiding in Delhi shikh brother killing and kashmiri pandit we’re theow from Kashmir ?

  3. This is nothing but hypothesis of opposition. Left and Congress because people have rejected this people now modi is taking one by one step whichever not taken in last so many year , now this people is , creating disturb in country and spoil our country name , modi govt has taken 370 , ram mandir and caa. So on. . now they think modi will come in 24 and 29 so they miss guide muslim

  4. What you have to say or write about when social media is abound with the stories of “paid protesters’ who are paid daily wages to be present shift-wise on protesting sight . I was thinking only leftist journalists are paid stooges of politicians, now it is becoming clear that leftist will be using hired demonstrators and write articles in praise of them. By over communalising CCA protest your wish to over throw democratically elected government enjoying the support of masses has already gone bust and defeated. Wait for some another opportunity and time. BJP will implement its own agenda, which some people like you think is communal , while many other think and appreciate as NATIONALISTIC– which has got approval by voters in Election 2019 .

    • say, each domonstrator gets the minimum wage – it is estimated that there are 1/2 a lac on any given day – can you calculate how much money that would represent? do the math!!! if the opposition had so much money would it not have spent that on elections like BJP?

  5. Women are certainly becoming loudmouths, going by what we see on TV channels, and news websites. This is not the image of aaam indian women Mr.Yogendra yadav!

  6. Shaheen baag protest is strikingly same with 1990 Kashmiri Pandits exodus. Women are being used as a shield in both cases. Women were shouting Azadi slogan then and so is now.

  7. Yogendra is being dishonest combining all the CAA protests. The protest in Assam is so that it includes no immigrants. The protest at Shaheen Bagh is for including all immigrants. The Liberals- Communists are delighted because CAA or No CAA, they hate PM Narendra Modi. Liberal democracy in India will not survive if those protesting at Jamaia, AMU & Shaheen Bagh succeed

  8. Lage raho Yogendra bhai, shayad kisi din aapki pasand ki sarkar aajaye. If you r dreaming of overthowing this democratically elected govt, it is not going to happen. You will have to wait till 2024. Just stating a fact.

    • Yogendra Yadav is a failed politician because of the dishonesty he practices. His being unhappy with BJP government is absolute normal behaviour. He was unhappy in AAP and kicked out by Kejriwal. He was unhappy with Congress governments since he entered public life . He’ll most likely be unhappy even if his own party comes to power because governing is foreign to his mind set. He can’t overcome the urge to prove others wrong i.e. a true hypocrite.

    • For Yogendra Yadav even a crook or a goon can become a great leader if he/she vehemently protests against the government irrespective of the objectives of protests.

  9. Let his party first elect a woman president and let he first accept a woman as his leader. Otherwise Yogendra Yadav would remain a political crook.

  10. Of course women are at the forefront. It is as much an existentialist crisis for us as it is for the muslims, tribals and the poor. Not only do women typically lack documents, especially after marriage, they are also disempowered because ancestry is traced exclusively through paternal line – maternal line is not accepted (at least was not in Assam). Today, there are four (not mutually exclusive) strands to the protests – liberal secularists including Gandhian Socialists and Marxists, Muslims of all hue, the North-East, and women. A fifth strand – representing tribals and dalits is represented by Mevani and Azad but the rank-and-file are not so visible yet. The union of these 5 strands can be a powerfully potent force.

  11. Men or women, we have certainly lit a prairie fire. And are then surprised how high the flames are leaping. Some things do not come from reading an intelligence briefing. I think so often of Sardar Patel nowadays, a vision that could encompass all of the nation whose map he worked so diligently to put together, instead of the multicoloured jigsaw puzzle it could have become.

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