Shaheen Bagh redefining perception of Muslim women in Indian society

A spontaneous protest initiative at Shaheen Bagh has now become a movement inspiring many others in various parts of the country

Mohd Naushad Khan Feb 10, 2020
Shaheen Bagh

A spontaneous protest initiative at Shaheen Bagh has now become a movement inspiring many others in various parts of the country. The protest at Shaheen Bagh, in a corner of the Indian capital, has gradually become the face and voice of women’s resistance across India. 

Attacks by political parties, conspiracy theories and severe weather conditions have failed to shake their resolve and determination. The women of Shaheen Bagh are redefining the perception of women and creating their own history, despite all odds.

Notably, the women at Shaheen Bagh have played an instrumental role in shaping the nature of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and had a multiplying effect elsewhere in the country, resisting the social and political onslaught daily. Their will, determination and courage are bringing a kind of social transformation. The women here are disproving age-old notions of a dominant patriarchy, leading by example and guiding others with their innovative, inclusive approach. They have struggled 24/7 to maintain communal harmony, brotherhood and the pluralistic and inclusive nature of the protest despite strong efforts to malign them and thwart their protests.

According to senior journalist Ziya Us Salam, author of “Women in Masjid,” the Shaheen Bagh women have altered the discourse about Muslim women. Often painted as helpless and exploited beings living under the shadow of instant triple talaq, they have, with their peaceful and prolonged protest, not only silenced critics, but given hope to women of all communities. They have proven the Muslim community’s abiding love for our national symbols and told the world that Muslim women have their own independent thought process.

Banojyotsna Lahiri, a Delhi-based independent researcher and lecturer in sociology, says, “The Indian Muslim women have been regularly featuring in the news for the last few years. The ruling regime and the media, large parts of which has turned into largely a propaganda machinery of the former, kept portraying them as 'weak, vulnerable, backward, underdeveloped, discriminated, violated, uneducated, meek, voiceless, dependent, confined and in dire need of protection'.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi was their self-declared guardian, destined to protect these helpless women from the clutches of a male-dominated community. The media, however, was reluctant to juxtapose the plight of the Muslim women with the status of their Hindu counterpart, lest it exposes the patriarchy that is all prevalent irrespective of community.  

“The media also forgot to ask the opinion of the Muslim women, whether they chose their new declared guardian at all. Much to the disappointment of the mainstream media and the dominant right-wing majoritarian common sense, the Muslim women post Shaheen Bagh are the unflinching leaders and the vanguard of the biggest mass movement that the country has witnessed since independence, that is ongoing against CAA-NRC-NPR. Their leadership, their organizational capacity, their vocal outburst, their clarity of thoughts, their imagination to broadbase the movement, their sensitivity towards opposing voices, their patience, their constant physical presence outdoors in inclement weather, all have busted the above mentioned  myths about the 'poor vulnerable' Muslim women,” said Lahiri, adding that "their unity is unprecedented. They sit and listen to every speech, they read in the libraries that are springing up. They are changing themselves, while being the vanguard that is right now democratising and changing all of us across the country.”

Maryam Siddiqui, a student of Jamia Milia Islamia believes, “Islam has given a very high status to women. The image of Muslim women that the mainstream media portrays is often that of an oppressed and tied person and no voice of her own. The Muslim women-led protest at Shaheen Bagh against the perceived discrimination caused by CAA and NRC has proved otherwise.  It is a testimony to the strong voice, will and determination of Muslim women. These women have made Shaheen Bagh famous everywhere, sitting peacefully in their burqas and hijabs, spreading the message of love, non-violence and equality,” said Siddiqui.                    

(The writer is a Delhi based journalist)

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