It’s a gloomy afternoon. The absence of the sun can be felt as the frigid air stings our cheeks. Undeterred by the biting cold, hundreds of women have been gathering at Khureji Khas since 18 January to register their dissent against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Chants of “hum ek hai” (we are one) linger in the bamboo tent, which is decorated with posters and national flags. While Shaheen Bagh has become the epicentre of anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests, a similar sentiment has been echoing among women at Khureji Khas.
The movement, which started as a small awareness campaign seeking to put an end to the misinformation, has now grown into a key anti-CAA protest site.
Around 1,500 women have been participating at this peaceful gathering on all the days.
Just like Shaheen Bagh, these women are leading the sit-in protest from the frontline. Women from all walks of life and age groups gather under one roof every day to register their dissent. Interestingly, a few have quit their jobs to join the protest against the new citizenship law.
One of them is 28-year-old Mehnaaz Sheikh, who recently quit her job. Mehnaaz, a resident of Khureji, was an English teacher at a private school.
“The principal was ready to grant me leave but asked me to specify the dates. I didn’t have an answer. I decided to quit the job after the police assaulted us on Wednesday. My country is my priority.”Mehnaaz Sheikh, a protester
On being asked about her family’s reaction over her decision, she replies,
“Jab wajood nahi rahega toh ghar, paisa aur job ka kya karenge” (What good will a house, money and a job bring if our existence is in danger?)Mehnaaz Sheikh
“Even though my family is financially stable, I have always wanted to be independent. This is a sacrifice I made for my country,” she adds.
While sharing her experience, Mehnaaz is offered tea by a girl. Braving the winter cold, she holds the paper cup between her palms to absorb its warmth.
“The police have given us multiple warnings. They say that miscreants can enter our protest and harm us, so we must evacuate this place. If they are so keen on protecting us, why not send two of their constables?”Mehnaaz Sheikh, a protester
Just like Mehnaaz, 32-year-old Sadaf, who was working as a receptionist in a private firm, put down her papers. She had to convince her family to let her work in the first place, but after seeing the dadis of Shaheen Bagh, she too decided to quit.
“I couldn’t sleep all night as working within the comfort of my office didn’t feel right. So, I decided to quit my job to join the movement.”Sadaf, a protester at Khureji Khas
Sadaf has been participating in protests across the city ever since. “I stay at these protests all night. I barely know people in my locality, but these women have now become a part of my family,” she says.
Thirty-year-old Nazia is another woman who decided to leave her job to participate in the protests. Like Mehnaaz and Sadaf, she too says that quitting her job was a sacrifice she made for her country.
“I love being around kids. They teach us so much. But it’s for their better future I decided to leave my job.”Nazia, a protester at Khureji Khas
“For me, the world revolved around work and home, but for these protests, I have been staying out till 5 am. In these 30 days I have seen parts of Delhi I had never heard of.”
Defying Gender Roles
There is hardly any place to walk inside the tent. There is a makeshift stage where women wait for their turn to address the crowd. Everyone greets each other with hugs and broad smiles. For a lot of these women, convincing their families to let them work had been a difficult task.
While there are many male relatives at the protest site, these women do not fear defying gender roles for a larger cause. They juggle between participating in protests and completing household duties, no matter how sleep deprived they feel.
Naima, a homemaker, rocks her sleeping baby in her arms. She says she wishes to give her child a future where his loyalty towards the country will not be questioned. As she participates in the protest for 12 hours, her household duties, she says, have taken a backseat.
“My family members have been so supportive. They have pushed me to take part in the protests.”Naima, a homemaker & protester
‘Misinformation Cannot Deter Us’
Several attempts have been made to malign and discredit the protest at Khureji Khas with rumours doing rounds that the women were paid to protest. Shama, a middle-aged woman, dismisses these allegations. “I have everything, why would I come here for money,” she asks.
Overhearing our conversation, a woman from the back shouts, “I’ll give them Rs 2,000 if they (ministers) are willing to come here and hear our ordeal!”
She recounts news from her hometown in Muzzafarnagar and tears up.
“My relative was beaten and his body was not even returned. Maa ki badua lagegi unhe. (they’ll bear the brunt of a mother’s curse). I do not fear them anymore.”a protester at Khureji Khas
Khureji’s women have faced criticism with many saying that the protests have resulted in traffic jams and caused disruption of movement. To shield protests at Khureji, committees were formed to ensure the smooth functioning of the demonstrations. “We have legal, medical, traffic, security and stage committees,” says Amaantullah, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia.
As we exit the tent, chants of ‘Azaadi’ resonate in the air, reminding us of an India that is led by its women.
(The authors are masters’ students of Convergent Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)