‘What About Women Like Us?’: Seelampur Bangle Makers Fear CAA-NRC
Seelampur’s bangle makers discuss their fears about the CAA and NRC.
Seelampur’s bangle makers discuss their fears about the CAA and NRC.(Illustration: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

‘What About Women Like Us?’: Seelampur Bangle Makers Fear CAA-NRC

The clinking of glass bangles shatters the silence as I look up to find a pensive look on Neelima Baig’s face. Her eyes are hazy and devoid of color, but penetrating still. Her one-room house smells of Fevicol and cough syrup.

“I can’t see properly, the blast furnace has burned the tissues.”
Neelima, an 80-year-old bangle maker

Her 85-year-old elder sister, Waheeda, lies bed-ridden beside her. She too, dedicated her life to the art of bangle-making, before tuberculosis hit her.

Neelima and Waheeda have spent their entire life making bangles.
Neelima and Waheeda have spent their entire life making bangles.
(Illustration: Arnica Kala)

The two women are immigrants from Bangladesh who crossed the borders a long, long time ago with their husbands.

The nexus between politicians, factory owners, and the middlemen has created an adverse scenario for these women but so far, little has been done about the issue of women’s working conditions.

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Now, however, these women fear for entirely different reasons: The Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). But the worst part? They are not even aware of the implications.

Even though they live in a Bangladeshi immigrant dominant area, their contact with the outside world is limited because of old age and stigma.

A hot, dingy cell in North East Delhi has become their home.

“Both of us have two sons each; they don’t live with us anymore. These bangles keep our stomachs filled. There is nothing beyond the factories for us. We have no energy left to go anywhere. We are old, ill, and perhaps dying. The government doesn’t acknowledge us. The men in the factory want to grope us. The middlemen, the policemen, the Sahukars, and even the politicians want to exploit us.”

Neelima only sighed when I told her about the government’s proposed plan.

“How can I fight the Indian court? If it’s Allah’s will that I rather die in a camp, so be it.”
“I asked Muhammad, our neighbor, to take us with him to his village, but his wife threatened to leave him and the children. I cannot blame her. We are indeed a burden.”

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She rubs her eyes with the palm of her hands as if to wipe her tears.

“It is easy for the young to go back and start afresh, but what about socially and financially handicapped old women like us?”

One can only imagine the Baig sisters’ journey if they are deported back to their village with nothing in hand—no money, no food, no house to go back to.

Fear of the Unknown

Moeena, who lives with her son and his wife, has similar fears. Moeena and her husband came here from Bangladesh just after the Liberation War. Mohammad Razhin, her son, tells me,

“My father was a cleaner and rag picker and my mother had always been working at the bangle-making factory. My wife was also born here. How can we be illegal immigrants?”
Mohammad Razhin

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Razhin is a helper at a mechanic shop. His wife, Shazia stays at home to look after their children. They have two sons and a daughter, and Shazia is pregnant with the fourth one. When I asked them if they have paperwork to prove their residence, Shazia told me,

“I have the paperwork, but how will he (husband) bring paperwork? His parents came from Bangladesh and mine didn’t. His father died two years ago and doesn’t even have a death certificate yet. How will he get birth certificate from ages ago?”

“We have the required paperwork for our children, but not for myself and my mother,” Razhin said.

A large number of these women, who often happen to be widows and immigrants, work in the glass polishing, bangle-making industries.

Most of the bangle makers in Seelampur are women. 
Most of the bangle makers in Seelampur are women. 
(Illustration: Arnica Kala)

They manage to earn 30 to 35 rupees per day, a figure that is far from the basic minimum wage of Rs 165. When asked about her salary, Moeena’s son answered on her behalf.

“I collect her salary, she doesn’t know anything about money. Sometimes I have to fight to get her wage because they think I don’t know how much is her due. I don’t waste her money, though. I give some of it to her, and some to my wife. We have to buy food for the entire family. My mother’s hospital expenses are also high. She has blood pressure and sugar.”

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We then get back to discussing the CAA and NRC. I asked him if he knew what it could mean for his family.

“Yes, we know. We know that it is very unfair. Everyone in our community is talking about it. I am scared. I don’t want to be separated from family. What will my wife and kids do without me?,” he said.

His wife continues,

“If he has to go (to Bangladesh), then we will all have to go. His mother’s relatives are still there but the living conditions are very bad.”

The fear of being separated is deep-seated. Moeena starts to cry. She says there is no point in going back to Bangladesh. “I cannot go back without my late husband,” she says.

This family in Seelampur echoes the concerns of several others who have taken to the streets since December 2019 in protest against the CAA and the NRC.

“Don’t deport us. We are as Indian as you are. I was also born here. What is my fault? That I am poor? That I am Muslim?”

Shazia adds, “Don’t separate young children from their father. It is a crime.”

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For the most part of their day, many like the Baig sisters live in anticipation and anxiety.

Migrant workers, whose sustainability depends on daily wage work, face a double-burden – on the one hand, they are discriminated on the basis of their religion, and the other on the basis of their profession.

While many are actively engaging in the discourse on citizenship and resistance, it seems like little is reaching the grassroots level and to the homes of women like Neelima Baig and Waheeda Baig, who are still rendered voiceless.

(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.)

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