15, hundreds of Muslim women have been camping at a crossroads near New Delhi
known as Shaheen Bagh. They have braved the frigid winter temperatures, the
coldest in more than a century, to protest a law they believe discriminates
against them as a minority in Hindu-majority India.
Citizenship Amendment Act, passed on Dec. 12, grants citizenship to refugees
from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan but excludes Muslims. The law has
triggered massive demonstrations across the country, many of them led by
university students, but the protest in Shaheen Bagh has caught everyone’s
attention because it has become a unifying rally led by women in a fragmented
Bagh protest remarkably has attracted Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and
other religious minorities. These women represent nearly 600 million Indian
women who believe in the democratic foundations of free speech, liberty,
equality and religious freedom — ideals that seem to have come under threat by
the citizenship law.
On Jan. 12,
tens of thousands of people flooded this crossroads, and multi-faith religious
services were held there in solidarity. The protest has inspired other women
across India, who have started similar demonstrations in Kanpur, Allahabad and
Patna. But is the government paying attention?
Bagh protest reminds us that it is impossible to turn India’s religiously
pluralistic society into a one-faith nation, which many believe is the subtle
motivation behind the bill. Those protesting are fighting for the long history
of India as a religiously diverse nation. The protest was initiated by a
diverse group of Muslim women, from septuagenarians to young mothers cradling
their children. Some of them wear hijabs; others don’t. And some are
college-educated, while primary school is the highest educational attainment of
aim to expose the lies that religious extremists have circulated in recent
years — mainly that India’s democratic foundation has not worked for its
multi-religious society and that Indians of minority faiths are anti-national.
example, the Christian, Hindu and Sikh women speak of the warm street
hospitality they receive from the Muslim women when they join the protest.
There is no discord between these faith communities. They are united in their
fear and determined in their aspirations. The women share tea and snacks and
care for one another. The images and actions of this protest break the
stereotype propagated by some in India that Indian Muslims are susceptible to
At the same
time, these women leave little room for anybody to question their allegiance to
India. They poignantly sing the national anthem and read out the preamble of
the constitution while holding a picture of B.R. Ambedkar, architect of the
Indian Constitution. In all of the protests across India, you’ll find banners
with pictures of this leader of India’s lower castes known as Dalits. Ambedkar,
whose work in the West was eclipsed by Mahatma Gandhi’s fame, has become a
unifying personality of modern-day India. He deserves recognition for his
contribution to the world’s largest democracy.
among the protesters are the young, educated Muslim women who articulate their
patriotism and opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act. This is a new
defining development for India — the rise of young women. Across India, many of
the protests against the law are characterized by young people who have formed
their own groups and are distrustful of politicians and political parties.
Student protests, such as those in Hong Kong, have become a hallmark of social
movements in modern politics. Though the state can unleash arrests and even
violence, it cannot contain them because young people are informed, mobile and
committed to the cause of freedom and equality.
government may try to break up the Shaheen Bagh protest on the grounds that it
is blocking public transportation and creating an inconvenience by increasing
travel time around New Delhi. But a smarter approach would be to reach out to
these women and listen to what they are saying. Their protest, like others
around the nation, is a cry from Muslims who want to maintain their dignity as
Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens have
created uncertainty for millions of Muslims about their future as Indian
citizens. This is alarming, particularly among the poor, who often don’t have
birth certificates to prove their citizenship antecedents.
Christian leader, my hope is that those who are in power will change the law
and make it inclusive by including Muslims who have sought refuge from
religious persecution in India. Persecution does not know a minority or
majority; it knows only those who are different and stand up for freedom of
thought and life.
Minister Narendra Modi, a patriotic defender of India’s culture, is more than
able to reach out to the women of India and change the narrative by directing
his government to change the Citizenship Amendment Act. By doing this, he would
defend in front of a watching world Hindu culture’s finest traditions:
inclusivity and mutual respect.
Joseph D’Souza is founder of Dignity Freedom
Network, which delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcasts of
South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and
president of the All India Christian Council.
Headline: Protesting women in India are uniting Muslims, Hindus and religious
Source: The Hill