When the history of this period will be studied it will be written in the name of women- those girls flooding out of the universities at the head of the outpouring of students, the women cramming the streets with colour, the old, wizened ones leading mammoth blockades of streets through nights after night; Muslim housewives running both continual dharnas and their homes; women and young girls mounting the barricades apart from also breaching them.It will also be written that the issue they moved out on was not of women’s rights specifically, but the issue of defining- defending the Idea of India for themselves and their children against the Manuvadis onslaught to create a “Hindu” Rashtra. Thus, their ideas are quite opposing that of the RSS which is in power, while also becoming a nightmare for all casteists, for patriarchal norms and of fundamentalists of all hues. FIRs are being filed against women for leading massive assaults against the ubiquitous Section 144, they are targets of barbaric police violence. When the girls speak of their protest they speak of the right to diversity, the women say they are saving the future of their children. Police violence by the RSS Govt. unleashed on students and on protestors in different parts of Capital city Delhi, not only brings out hundreds of women protestors, but women making videos, women in media and young women lawyers who leave tiny children at home and spend the night at police stations in new forms of legal activism to defend the rights of protestors. The Hindutva assault, armed with state power, subservient judiciary, compromised institutions, black laws, the Enforcement Directorate and servile taxmen, thought they had covered all sources of obstruction enroute to both sale to imperialism and establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. But it does seem that they overlooked the fightback from students in institutions of higher education and especially they seem to have overlooked the country’s women.
Women with their tenacity, organizational and administrative skills tested to limits daily in crores of homes, with the capacity to suffer, to fight for what is dear, to invent, to bring in colour and to innovate. Women who have been fighting at so many levels against different expressions of patriarchy and now seeing a Manuwadicasteist, communalized and patriarchal society being sought to beopenlyreiterated by upturning even lip service to equality of all citizens and equality of gender.
The women are adding to the clarity and maturity of the protestors as also to their endurance, cheek, creativity, tirelessness and refusal to overawed. Probably those are the qualities women brew in their continual struggles in everyday life. Political parties, religious leaders, democratic organizations are all supporters and it is the people who are in the centrestage. It should surprise no body to find that the masses in the centre stage are ringed and thus protected by hand holding women, who further hold ropes around the crowd to do their own “crowd controlling”.
The astonishment at the courage and outpouring of women and girls against CAA and NRC overlooks that their emergence at the forefront began with the abolishing of Article 370 and the crackdown on the people of Kashmir. The first teams from outside the Valley to quietly enter Kashmir and spend time among people in the Valley’s villages, were of various women’s organizations. They did not announce their going unlike the mostly male parliamentary leaders.These women and girls spent time in the Valley’s villages and brought back the experiences of the people and especially of the women and children. Among the first street programmes in the Capital and elsewhere against the attack on Article370 and the basic human rights of the people of Kashmir, were those organized by women organizations and activists. The programmes slowly became general protests. The women on these teams were mostly of various progressive and democratic ideologies and certainly not only drawn from minorities. This is a contribution often missed in the eulogies being rendered currently to the participation of girl students and women.
For these organized women and also students, at least in the Capital city, the immediate precursor to the Kashmir issue was the frustrating fight for justice in the reported sexual harassment case by the erstwhile Chief Justice of India and also the struggles for justice to the survivors of sexual violence backed by state support in the cases of the survivors of Chinmayanand and Senegar,both belonging to the RSS ruling apparatus in UP.
Over the years, women, especially in India’s metropolises and bigger cities have hit the streets in big mobilizations. They were remarkable in the 1980s for demanding laws against dowry, for changes in rape laws. In 2012, young women and men astonished the country by pouring out into the streets against sexual violence as personified in the terrible Nirbhaya gangrape and crystallizing in all aspects of governance and society which enshrine patriarchy.Maybe seen in this context the current scene can be rationalized.
The epicentre of the current upsurge among women is definitely Delhi, where two events ran concurrently since early December 2019, marking the two faces of Hindutva- establishment of Hindu Rashtra and service to corporate. On the one hand was the struggle of JNU students against the raise in hostel fees. This hike became the active face of the bid to forcibly commercialize higher education and take it out of the scope of common people’s children. The students fought back. Alongside, the CAB was introduced on 9th December 2019 in the Lok Sabha and a few days later in December it was an enacted law. Declarations resounded on all India NRC by the Home Minister and NPR with new questions became an immediate question. In this scenario the Central Govt. run Delhi Police ran amuck on the students of JNU, barbarically beating them up at metros after putting off streetlights and calling forth protests from students of other similar universities in the Capital. Simultaneously started protests against CAA as rallies by democratic sections and a mass meeting at Jantar Mantar. Alongside, while serious protests began in Aligarh Muslim University, the students of Jamia began gate protests from 13th December 2018.
In this situation was let loose barbaric police cruelty on the students of Jamia including a frenzied attack on the Library. Students, women, democrats poured out at the police Head quarters the same night keeping vigil till the last student was released from police custody. New forms of police violence were also inaugurated with this- apart from putting off lights before beating, police stopped even senior lawyers of the highest courts from meeting injured and beaten students stuffed into police stations, police were captured on camera systematically wrecking lines of motorcycles and two wheelers to allege student violence, police forcibly entered the Jamia University while its officers were on national television, shaken and angry, denying that they had allowed police to enter. Students trained in the Mass Communication dept of Jamia ensured that graphic images of bruised students including tearful girls emerging into the night from the Library and hostels, hands held up in the air like POWs and also like POWs being prodded by police lathis if they stumbled, flooded smartphones of students countrywide. Women students from Delhi’s institutions of higher learning and totally irrespective of the faith they were born in, ascended the barricades at ITO. Images of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar rubbed shoulders with the Preamble of the Constitution, which went on to become the article of faith of the subsequent days throughout the country. Mothers of students of Jamia, infact mothers from different parts of Delhi whose children were students of any of Delhi’s colleges were in good number at ITO through that night in horror at the attack on the students and the vigil ended only when all students were out of police stations. News percolated of police firing on students at Jamia and of students with bullet injuries.
From then on, there were daily protests in Delhi and the gate of Jamia University became a Centre of protest. In course women at Shaheen Bagh, at some distance from Jamia, began a dharna and they continued it. They created a form that worked for them; they found it difficult to go to central protests what with household chores, small children, school kids who returned home for lunch etc.etc. and so they just decided to sit down at a common spot outside their homes. They were angry mad at the treatment meted out to the students by the police, several homes had children studying in Jamia and for them the CAA and NPR NRC was immediate and living as the situation in Assam had been followed in all homes with anxiety. They came to say typically, “My name is Hindustan, yes I wear a burkha and have kept a roza for my country’s safety today and this is my land. We fought against the British for it and those who didn’t fight are asking us to prove our citizenship? The preamble says we are all equal. I am fighting for my children.” The brutal beating of students and teachers of JNU at the hands of RSS goons backed by police on the issue of the fight against commercialization, helped to make the fightback against the NRC CAA NPR of the RSS Govt more encompassing while also showing how “non communal” was this govt in crushing protest against its agendas for the country. And gradually Shaheen Bagh became the name of a model which has got established in city after city in whichever areas there are large concentrations of Muslim women.
Initially, in Delhi, central night protests at India Gate or ITO were also a feature, more at the former point. The form adopted at India Gate was later to become a pattern; separate groups within one huge space. Some shouting slogans, some singing, some merely exchanging experiences while older citizens and activists stood on the outer rim of the gathering of students of all the universities. Taking turns to walk up to the memorial, light candles, read the Preamble and maybe sing a song or two. Here were regularly present parents of children studying at Jamia; parents of ex students who drove them by repeatedly calling from anywhere between outer Delhi to Bangalore to Los Angeles and threatening to descend if the parents did not represent them in the protests. It is worth remembering that 40% of Jamia students are non minorities. Thus did the bruised citizenry linked to the beaten up, violated and angry students heal itself, it was here that democrats and progressive elements also got a chance to interact with them and hear them pour out their experiences, it was here that groups of students from universities in and around Delhi got the place to join the protests. At any time of the night, half the gathering here were women and girls.
It is not only Muslim women who are in the fight, but in the areas of permanent dharnas they are the bulk. Around them gather hundreds and hundreds of students and women from different sections. Apart from that women are at the head of and even evenly mixed into student marches, citizens’ rallies, protests in different institutions.They are on the streets of Indian cities everywhere, in so many places they are sleeping on the roads night after night after night- these women, many of whom have never put a foot unescorted outside their threshold. In the countrywide horror against this imposition of Hindu Rashtra, the outpouring of democrats, progressives, Dalits, minorities has mingled seamlessly and in this so many patriarchal norms have been just cast asunder in the storm of the movement. When the police come, bruised girls hold out roses or threaten the police by wagging fingers at them or simply sing the national anthem to stall them. Women hold hands and ring assemblies to hold police at bay, or they are simply beaten up while resisting, or cases are heaped on them for organizing protests.
What explains why this has happened. The continued economic crisis, the failure of polices which involve open sale to imperialism and the growing joblessness and price rise are leading to the fading of bright orange tinge of the saffron rule and also of the RSS Govt’s ability to sound convincing. The RSS Govt has also moved fast on its social agenda. Muslim women were silent when their petitions to the Supreme Court against triple talaq were used as a weapon by the RSS Central Govt to demonize men; the Court had already extended protection to the women by setting aside the practice. For Muslims the ground slipped under their feet at the brutal subservient one sidedness of the Supreme Court on the Babri Masjid issue, a subservience which flew in the face of the constitutional edicts quoted in the Judgement. The CAA and the reality of the Assam situation and the violation with impunity by RSS Central Govt’s police of Jamia and of the students there, has made issues immediate for Muslim women. While the VC of AMU called in the police against his own students, the VC of Jamia promised her students that the University would move the courts for lodging FIRs against the police- there is difference in response though both VCs were handpicked by the RSS Central Govt. and both have seen equal police barbarity against their respective students.
In the same economic milieu see what is happening to all students and all women. Everywhere there is turmoil in higher education, against contract teachers, commercialization and privatization and both students and teachers are fighting. The experience of the Supreme Court staffer in her complaint of sexual harassment by the Chief Justice has been mentioned. Women in the country seethed against the situation in UP where functionaries of the RSS had state support in cases of sexual violence against young women. In the Senegar case especially, the impunity of the RSS Govts came vividly alive as the young upper caste survivor fought for life in hospital and her cases were transferred to Delhi due to the anger of women’s protests. The impunity of the RSS matched its display of the same in the Kathua rape case of a little child. Sexual violence against women continues countrywide and all that remains of the mighty outbursts of 2012 are rulers’generated hysteria for hanging and very little changed in the anti women routinejustice delivery system despite promises. These practical issues along with the continual harping on ‘Hindu’ rashtra brings out clearly to women the life of bahu beti izzat designated for them, and what such a feudal ideology means for all women even apart from the Dalit women- ‘dholaurnari’ future being perfectly visible. In cities they are coming out in numbers along with the Muslim women; the students, the intellectual and middle class working women, even the mothers of students.
And so Hindutva fascism is being confronted in cities by a democratic upsurgeby students, youth, citizens and by a huge number of women. The Muslim women especially have created the Shaheen Bagh model, democratizing protest by innovating a form conducive to allowing continual and mass protest by whole families. This the most creative act in an atmosphere of general outburst of people’s creativity and innovation in both forms of struggle and of coping with repression are concerned. To be there is to get a sense of being in a festival; the veritable ‘festival of the people’. The women in these protests are exhibiting mind blowing sagacity, grace, wisdom and courage; Society forgets that they have just blown up their everyday skills in running homes and families onto a social scale. These protests are also thus consigning so many patriarchal notions of society, families and communities into the historical dustbins; equations cannot possibly go back to the old in families and communities, such a shake has been given to them by the practical movement. For the women who are participating, it is liberating but they see it as inevitable- it is for their children, it is to assert this is their motherland.
The symbol for the movement in general has become the Preamble (not just the Constitution though it too is in focus) and it is the basis to assert an Idea of India. Some discussion must be there on why that has caught the imagination of such an upsurge and is satisfying the aspirations of this movement. The Constitution has contradictory strands, even the RSS Govt. manages to quote from it to justify some steps. The Preamble of course is the statement of intent, so it is more valid. It is also a document written in the spirit of the years after the defeat of Hitler at the hands of the Red Army, when a third of the world was red and egalitarianism was the aspiration of the people worldwide including India. India, with the immediacy of the naval mutiny, of the Telangana Armed Struggle upholding the promise of a new democratic India, and other such. Thus the promises of Justice and Equality- social, economic and political, capture the imagination of India today just as much as does the acceptance of India’s diversity and promise of equal place for all.
The outpouring is doubtlessly democratizing society, is bringing many many sections of women, especially Muslim women,into the movement debating the Idea of India. Some new icons have been mainstreamed, like Savitri bai Phule, while some continue, like Gandhi and Ambedkar. Songs of progressive poets have become the anthems, songs and slogans speak of social and economic equality and of the concerns of common people. It is the people’s challenge to Fascism; the ruling class political parties are mainly relegated to supporting from outside and they definitely neither lead it nor can control it. The flavour of the movement is progressive, Left; for all people, against social stratifications and economic ones too. The revolutionary movement has a massive challenge before it. This movement has possibilities and is pregnant with opportunities.
About the women and especially the massive number of ordinary Muslim housewives out fighting, there is need for comprehending the potential of what is on. Women have this massive burden of feudal patriarchy to fight, but for them, complete liberation from patriarchy will be synonymous with communism and the end of private property. Their stakes in the struggle against Hindutva Fascism, which wants to rejuvenate feudal patriarchal relations and casteism besides exterminating minorities, are very high. The women’s outpouring must become part of the torrent of movements needed to go beyond just fighting back Fascism and bring genuine or new democratic revolution. The place of revolutionary women and organizations is within this current movement and the direction is towards strengthening it by strengthening ourselves.