Faces painted green, white and orange, young boys call out “halla bol” as I make my way through a dense, sweaty, hectic crowd of fruit vendors, chai-wallahs; a Sikh langar set-up, bold graffiti and a free library under a bridge with resistance art strung all over it – towards the big, bright tent that you can spot from a distance.
Men are gathered around the tent, but they quickly split sideways to make way for me. I am a woman, so I am allowed to enter the tent, seemingly the heart of the Shaheen Bagh protest, a secular and sacred space reserved only for women.
A young woman in a yellow suit stands on the stage reading a poem about how neither Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, nor the Hindus (at least not the ones present at Shaheen Bagh) want the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens and how all they seek is a united India.
After reciting the poem, the woman shouts a loud, powerful “Inquilaab” and the entirety of Shaheen Bagh, with all Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, atheists and Hindus present there, erupts into a heartfelt “Zindabad”.
Inside the tent, the women sitting all around me, burst into thunderous, emotional applause. My eyes well up with tears. I have never before been subsumed by energy so honest, so intense, so all encompassing and so feminine. I found myself joining the women in their applause, my heart hammering in my chest with “Inquilaab” and sisterhood.
At a pro-CAA rally in Kanpur on January 22, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath said that women are not at anti-CAA protests on their own. Men, he claimed, fearing for their own safety, lounged under quilts in the comfort of their homes, while women and children scampered about doing their bidding at Shaheen Bagh style women-led protests.
“These people (men) do not have courage to participate in the protests themselves. They know if they indulge in vandalism, their property will be seized. Now what have they done? They started making the women sit at roads. The children have been made to sit. It’s such a big crime that the men are sleeping under the quilt and the women are made to sit at roads. It is shameful,” Adityanath said.
Also read: Illustrations | One Night at Shaheen Bagh
While it is true that this kind of a women-led movement has not been spotted often in the history of India, through his statement, Adityanath seeks to strip the women at the helm off their agency. He’d like to believe, or he’d like the country to believe, that the women who are out protesting – demanding accountability, answers and their rights from the State – are incapable of doing the same on their own accord.
That they are mere puppets of male-folk, debilitated, powerless, dangling on dainty threads wound around the big, fat fingers of big, fat men. By clubbing them together with children, who have joined their families at the protest sites, the UP CM has tried to project adult women as malleable and incapable of independent thought and action.
This is a gross misrepresentation. The fact that women – young and old – choose to sit out on cold, crooked streets through unrelenting, January nights, shows that they know exactly what they are fighting for; that they are done waiting for men to take charge because men in power almost always disappoint – and the chief minister’s peers would probably confirm this if they weren’t so scared of being slapped with sedition or punished for blasphemy.
Women are fully aware of the strength and the resilience they carry inside themselves. Protesting women are not powerless. On the contrary, they are so powerful that angry, intolerant men often resort to desperate lies to discredit their efforts.
When Yogi Adityanath makes misogynist tirades in a jaded bid to attack the masculinity of dissenting males and render protesting females as thoughtless and immaterial, he betrays fear. He provides us with a glimpse of how scared the state exactly is of the power and influence these female protesters command. It is a win for these women because it clearly shows that they are making an impact strong enough to make the men in power dizzy with desperation.
Let us not forget that the ruling party, its ideological parent organisation and followers are among the same people who worship female figures of authority. They celebrate their power by equating the holy land which they reside on with female goddesses. These are the same people who pull out their pitchforks and fibre glass rods in the name of “Bharat Mata” and go running behind dissenters.
How could they, then, honestly believe that women are incapable of deciding for themselves how important a fight for citizenship and the secular fabric of the country can be?
Or is “Bharat Mata” merely a crutch for BJP’s friends and followers, a deity whose name is invoked only in a bid to ward off imminent flak, a mother-figure behind whom they may hide when faced with reaction to devious policies? How different is it then from what Adityanath is accusing the men against CAA/NRC of doing? Is the treatment of “Bharat Mata” by BJP, RSS and “friends of RSS” where he is getting these ideas from?
If only instead of cooking up fantastical theories about protesters and attempting to aggressively quell protests, Adityanath had peacefully heard a dissenting old mother out, he would have known better than to question the strength in her bosom and her intellectual prowess.
Mekhala Saran is a law student, a poet and a freelance journalist. Tweet to her @mekhala_saran.
Featured image: PTI/Arun Sharma