Women Against CAA, NRC: Breaking the Patriarchy From Within

In the wake of protests across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, one question that has haunted many among the youth is: “Do our parents still support the right wing?”

The answer has sadly been ‘yes’ for most of us, considering the number of protestors in comparison to the population of the country. The cynic in me is stuck in the quicksand of the fact that this government came into power with a clear majority – not once, but twice.

In my own house too, one morning after I posted a bunch of informational links as well as opinion pieces on understanding the bills, my family labeled me an ‘urban naxal’. A clear replacement, only in terminology for the existing ‘anti-national’ which buzzed around for a long time until the rise of ‘urban naxals’ on godi media channels.

When I shared my experience on ‘Periodlogue’ (a women-centric mental health support group), a number of women came forward with similar stories. It was then that I was inducted into a group of women who are fighting a battle to have their opinion heard, so that they may oppose injustices within the household before stepping out to the streets to exercise their right to dissent.

While talking to friends and extended family, and seeing posts on social media, I came across large numbers of women that were going against the norm to protest. Even women from ‘Sanghi’ families are using their privilege to puncture the patriarchy from within to add their voices to the cause.

Also read: A Letter to My Recently Turned Silent Friend

The narrative often thrown at women for suppression in a violent patriarchy is that they are “too educated” and this is exactly what is happening within households across the country today.

Fathers, uncles and brothers go around telling sisters and daughters things such as, “Tumne dekha hi kya hai? (What have you ever seen in life?)”.

All this, and more derision tossed towards ‘western’ thoughts, is used to demean the world view and political stance of women. Such times are a good representation of the larger scale of the problem – if one cannot even hold opposing views in the supposed ‘safe space’ of home, is the violent crushing of dissent in broad daylight that much of a surprise?

Resistance in any form in such times becomes an act of courage. Praneeta Katdare, a professor of psychology in Mumbai, in response to my experience on the support group, said that she couldn’t go to the protest because her mother heard her tell her friends that she was going.

Shorya Mittal, an engineering student, narrated an incident where she was at her maternal grandparent’s house and a debate started between her and her ‘Sanghi’ family. Isha Yadav, a PhD candidate in gender studies shared how she has been constantly bullied by cousins her age who are bhakts.

Many women from privileged backgrounds face these situations on a daily basis. Some of my cousins, who are students, have been threatened to be cut off by their immediate family if they don’t shut up. Financial dependence is one of the key reasons why women shy away from expressing their opinions. But when we do, we are treated like lesser beings and our experiences as well as knowledge of the world are deemed invalid.

So many women I know personally and professionally have fought with their families and showed up at protests. It’s essential to recognise the dual battles these women are fighting so that we can keep at it. We have seen women protestors from different religious backgrounds, ethnicity, and class unite.

It’s essential to recognise the dual battles these women are fighting so that we can keep at it.

Standing at the forefront in the current political climate oftentimes to protect the interests of the male protestors in violent situations requires immense strength that should be recognised. Such courage is a reminder – not just of the fearlessness women carry, but more so an example of using one’s privilege to do better.

Keeping in mind the fact that some of these women come from families that turn a blind eye to the brutality of the government and are dependent on state-sponsored media outlets, the effort to reach out, educating oneself and fighting back are necessary for the maintenance of democracy and initiating change.

Women know what it’s like to be not heard, and us showing up creates ripples in the establishment.

Despite the backlash faced both outside and inside, the contribution of these women is also an example for other people who ask questions such as, “So what can we do if we are the majority?”, or “Are you going to blame us for being born Hindu?” when their bigotry or silence in such an environment is called out or criticised.

There is so much we can do with the protection we have just as a result of the privilege. Even starting conversations on the family WhatsApp groups with uncles who are clearly Islamophobic in times of such brutality is an act of resistance. Our sisters and brothers from the less privileged and unprotected communities have put their lives on the line for years, and continue to do so now. This is the least we can and must do.

Also read: My Anti-CAA Protest – A Love Story

We must acknowledge the abuse of power by upper-class men and women that has landed us here in the first place hence coming out to join hands, creates if anything, a small dent in that hierarchy. Muslim women in particular have broken all stereotypes established by the media to lead the protests and that in itself is a reminder for women across religions, caste and cultures to step out for the sake of sisterhood.

The widespread use of WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media outlets to spread communal hate along with misinformation is one of the key tenets of keeping power away from the people. It takes immense mental strength to even fight strangers on the internet about political opinions, so some of the biggest battles are to be fought at home. I am making a case to say, we need to have these discussions at home because anytime else is already too late.

Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s statement at this time is an essential reminder. He insisted, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

The intersectional feminism we talk about at conferences has an urgent need to be demonstrated now. Fighting back while knowing you’re rupturing the Brahmanical patriarchy and that you will face a backlash from your own community can be hard. But knowing there are other women out there who are doing the same, or better, gives us all the courage to do more.

With all that privilege, if you are someone who still hasn’t reflected on your ideals or spoken up, when will you?

To the women fighting oppressive regimes – both in their internal and external worlds – know that we are here and we see you.

Gauri Awasthi is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the United States. She believes storytelling can change the world. She also runs a vegan blog for climate change.

All photos by Ali Monis Naqvi