What Shaheen Bagh Means to Me, My 12-Yr-Old Niece & Gloria Steinem

Everywhere I went, I was offered a platform, friendship & hospitality – a circle of women to sit with after I spoke.

Published
Women
4 min read
Image of journalist Ruchira Gupta (extreme R) with the ‘Dabang Dadis’ of Shaheen Bagh (on the L) and an image of feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the background.
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Seven brave women in Shaheen Bagh, sitting a 100-feet apart, in the middle of hundreds of slippers, each pair symbolising a woman who could not attend because of the coronavirus lockdown, were arrested on 24 March. They were released after about 24 hours.

The shamiana, the art installations of the Map of India and the Gateway of India, the posters, slogans, drawings, were all dismantled and ripped apart.

The beautiful murals by the Jamia students protesting the police assaults on their peers were also defaced. All signs of the peaceful, non-violent, over a 100 day-old sit-in protest against the NRC-CAA by elderly women, teenage girls and young students were removed.

These women had inspired young and old alike, across India and even across the world, to resist injustice with Gandhian non-violence.

American Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem’s Message to Shaheen Bagh Women

I will only share a few words and memories on what Shaheen Bagh meant to me, my 12-year-old niece Aanya, and feminist leader Gloria Steinem.

Feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, sent a special message to the women of Shaheen Bagh from the United States: “... Your example of a democratic, peaceful and sustained protest is giving all of us here courage, thousands of miles away. I pledge to spread your spirit in my country”.

Here is a link to the video message.

The Hindi translation of Steinem’s anthology of collected essays, ‘Wajood Aurat Ka’, published by Rajkamal, which I have edited, was released by the famous ‘Dabang Dadis’ of Shaheen Bagh on Women’s Day this year, that is, 8 March. I read from one of the essays titled, ‘If Hitler were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On’, and the eldest of the ‘Dabang Dadis’, Bilkis, Asma Khatun and 75-year-old Noornissa, joined me on stage. They pledged solidarity with the women of the US in return.

I also played a beautiful song composed by the protesting women of Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow, who had started a protest outside the clock tower, in solidarity with the women of Shaheen Bagh.

When they heard about the book release on International Women’s Day, they asked me to give their salaams to their Shaheen Bagh sisters. They composed and sent me the song at 1:30 AM, saluting the Shaheen Bagh women. As I stood on stage and played the song from the phone on the microphone, I really felt that sisterhood was global.

‘The Many Shaheen Baghs Across the Country Gave Me New Hope’

Thousands of Shaheen Baghs have sprung all over the country. Some I travelled to, to 13 cities over the last three months, attending multiple Shaheen Baghs. In Patna at Noorpur, one young woman asked me if I had read the Manusmriti, in Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow, I heard the slogan: Hum Sawal Karte Hain ( We ask questions); in Ranchi, the women said that the men wanted then to form a committee, and some wanted to join the committee. Their response was that anyone who cooks and sweeps can join the committee. In Park Street, Kolkata, after I spoke, the women asked me to come and stay with them in Ripon Street. They said ‘nobody will be able to attack you, they won’t even be able to harm a hair on your head...’; a student from Bilal Bagh in Bengaluru even asked me write something in her book.

Everywhere I went, I was offered a platform, friendship and hospitality – tea, water, a circle of women to sit with after I spoke… solidarity.

I had felt very alone in the years after testifying about the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But it was only these three months, attending some of the Shaheen Baghs across the country, I finally did not feel alone. I felt hopeful.

A 12-Year-Old’s Tryst With Shaheen Bagh & What It Stands For

When my 12-year-old niece wanted to spend time with me, I took her to experience the greatest resistance of her time. I took her to Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh on 8 March on International Women’s Day, and explained that the women had begun the sit-in protest after the Delhi Police went in with guns into a university library and beat up students. Her shock was palpable. “How can you take guns into a library?” “How can there be guns where there are books?”

I did not know how to respond. I explained that some of the same university students were protesting a law that required Muslims to prove their citizenship with all kinds of papers, failing which they would be treated as illegal immigrants and locked up in detention camps. “Will they be like the German concentration camps during Hitler’s time,” she asked.

We first went to the make-shift library at Shaheen Bagh. A girl was reading. My niece went over to talk to her and found that her name was Areeba Khan.

She asked her age. “Twelve,” said Areeba. “Oh, wow, I am 12 too,” said my niece Aanya. In that moment religion, geography and class disappeared.

They began chatting. My niece asked Areeba, “Do you think you will succeed?” To which Areeba replied, “Yes we will, because we have justice, and the Constitution of India on our side.”

(Ruchira Gupta is a journalist, activist, and the President and founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a grassroots movement to end sex trafficking. She tweets @Ruchiragupta. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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