Since 28 days around 200 women from Shaheen Bagh, a residential locality near Jamia Millia University, have been sitting on a street in Delhi’s bitter cold. This sea of women, young and old, are protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“I won’t show you my papers. I don’t care how long it takes. I will be here till the government withdraws the CAA and the NRC. I was born here and I will die here, it doesn’t matter,” says 82-year-old Bilkis.
Pictures by: Shrey Gupta
Her two friends, 90-year-old Asma Khatoon and 75-year-old Sarvari nod in support. The three have become famous as the Dadis of Shaheen Bagh.
The protest initially began on 15 December when the police barged into Jamia Millia University and beat up students. Hundreds of women from neighbouring Jamia Nagar descended on an arterial road that connects East Delhi to Noida in an incredible show of solidarity with the students.
The dharna by this sea of women hasn’t flagged for a single day. The atmosphere is of camaraderie and hope. Children, with anti-CAA or anti-NRC painted across their faces, run in and out of the shamiana, rigged up across the road.
Tarina Ahmed, a young woman clad in a burqa, steps on to a makeshift stage. She says, “Why do they use tear gas on us? Why do they beat us? Who fights the weak? They have shown us that we are not weak. See how our sisters and their little children sit in the bitter cold at this venue. They have forced us to come out of our homes.” The women cheer in approval.
“People have taken notice of Shaheen Bagh. Many netas are attempting to push their own agenda or spread rumours or try and hijack this protest. It won’t work. We don’t have any leaders here. The women are our leaders. They are the ones on stage,” says Tarina.
The CAA provides preferential citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians who are facing religious persecution in the three countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It makes religion, for the first time, a criteria for citizenship. The NRC, on the other hand, has run into controversy because it asks citizens questions about parentage. It can declare any person a ‘doubtful’ citizen if papers to substantiate their answers aren’t provided.
“This government is trying to remove poor people from this country, irrespective of religion if they don’t have papers. Why? We are as much citizens of India as the people in government. Our fathers and forefathers have shed their blood for this country,” says 50-year-old Mehrunissa, who works in a canteen at Jama Masjid in the Walled City and has taken leave to be at Shaheen Bagh.
The common sentiment amongst the women of Shaheen Bagh is this: We are ready to face beatings and bullets but we won’t move till the government removes these discriminatory laws.