Shaheen Bagh’s Women Have Transformed Who Speaks For India’s Muslims, Says NYU Anthropologist

Betwa Sharma
Women hold Valentines Day placards during a sit in protest against CAA, NRC and NPR at Shaheen Bagh on February 13, 2020. They have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come and talk to them.

NEW DELHI — For Dina M. Siddiqi, a professor of anthropology at New York University, the women of Shaheen Bagh have changed who speaks for Muslims in India.

“What has really been undermined is going to the usual guys about what Muslims think in India and what they prioritise,” said Siddiqi, an expert in gender and feminism in South Asia. “I think that has really gone. These women are very eloquent about what they think should be done and what they want.”

The women of Shaheen Bagh — Muslim women who challenged the Narendra Modi government and Parliament over a problematic citizenship law — have passed into folklore for galvanising lakhs of people who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). 

Hundreds of women have sat on a public road in a locality called Shaheen Bagh in south Delhi, demanding lawmakers to repeal the CAA, which critics say makes religion the basis of granting Indian citizenship. When combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise to identify people living without documents, critics say, the CAA discriminates against Indian Muslims. Women of all ages have sat, sang, spoken and sloganeered, day and night since December, even on nights when the temperature dropped to 2 degrees Celsius. They have moved thousands, and, on some days, lakhs of people into making their way to the vibrant protest site in the nation’s capital. They have inspired other Muslim women to lead the anti-CAA protests in cities across the country. 

This unprecedented sit-in has also triggered commentary about the empowerment of Muslim women in India. What that means and will these two months on the frontline wrought any change for them were among the questions that HuffPost India asked Professor Siddiqi, who has family roots in Bangladesh, and who visited Shaheen Bagh in January.

 While pointing out that there cannot be one voice that speaks for a community as diverse as Indian Muslims, and there is “no one Muslim woman’s voice in...

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