As protests continue against India's contentious anti-secular Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that excludes Muslim refugees and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), some of the key images of demonstrators are that of young women on the front lines - dancing and singing, holding witty posters, protecting male protesters from police brutality, handing out roses to the police and gathering in public places in large numbers across the country.
The women who have taken to the streets are unafraid and willing to stand up for this nation, Priyanka Singh 24, who has attended all the protests in Mumbai told us - "My biggest fear was that my parents would find out and not allow me to step out. They did find out. But I don't care anymore, this is bigger than my parents stringent ideologies. They're both bhakts, they will never understand - this bigger than their small minds."
Fatima Khan, 21, another woman who has also attended all the Mumbai protests tells us that it has been difficult for her to step out of the house, she's run out of excuses and if her parents find out she may be on house arrest for a while. "It's difficult, but it's nothing compared to the brutal attacks and police violence unleashed on students. We have to be there, I have to be there. I won't forgive myself if I don't try to save my brothers and sisters."
Women like Priyanka and Fatima have been out on the street for days - starting from 12th December when the law was passed. The 2012 anti-rape movement in India garnered mass support and stirred the consciousness of many students at that time. Since then, women's participation at demonstrations has grown with the help of women-led movements.
Ruqqaiyya Sheikh, 21 says "Where was the media when women stood up for protests against curfews when women stood in protest during the #MeTooMovement, we aren't mobilizing just now, the media is forced to hear us now because we aren't going to remain silent anymore."
These CAA protests have many women organizing, contributing and educating in different ways. Apart from running errands like organising snacks, warm clothes, and mics for protesters and making posters, women students are compiling contact details of doctors, lawyers and police stations for emergency help. They have also individually organized women's rallies and continue to do so.
Shaheen Bagh Protests: The Core Of Women Power
The best exhibit of the women's revolutions sits at Shaheen Bagh. For over 3 weeks now, these women have occupied a part of the main highway, blocking traffic between the capital and Noida, a satellite city. And they don't plan on going anywhere. Away from the limelight of protests in Central Delhi - dominated largely by English-speaking protesters from higher socioeconomic backgrounds - Shaheen Bagh has become a symbol for more vulnerable communities on the fringes of the city.
Shaheen Bagh is barely 2km (1.2 miles) from Jamia Millia Islamia, a predominantly Muslim university, which was the site of a brutal police crackdown on December 15. Over 100 students were injured when police stormed the campus with tear gas and batons following clashes at an area close to the university. Police ransacked the campus, broke windows in the library and even fired tear gas inside a reading room. Many of the students injured and detained had not been involved in the protest.
The Jamia crackdown catalysed the protest at Shaheen Bagh, with a large number of its students having links to the community. Daily protests also take place at Jamia, but they generally end up moving to Shaheen Bagh by the end of the day. The women sit in protest while the men stand outside a neat perimeter, looking on with keen interest and trying their best to support the women.
Other Areas And Events That Show Women Solidarity
During the Jamia crackdown and police brutality, women surrounded their male colleagues forming chains, to protect them - since the police can't beat up women. Later that night, the same women were seen at a rally against CAA leading the rally with slogans of azaadi.
In one of the protests at Delhi, a young protestor walked up to policemen and handed them flowers, as a symbol of showing the protestors come with peace. She was met with a lot of resistance for the action, but the main purpose was to signify that they're on the same side.
In Bangalore, where protesters gathered defying prohibitory orders, a group of women formed a human chain to protect the male protesters from getting detained. The incident happened during a protest held at Government Arts College women. “We found out this loophole and thought that this would be the perfect way to stop the police from detaining anyone. We stood our ground for one and a half hour until we all decided to disperse,” one of the protestors was quoted saying.
Nida, 25 who has attended a few protests in Mumbai says, "There's nothing I wouldn't do for this country if standing up against a forceful regime means being beaten up or worse, even killed, I will do it. I am not scared. We are not scared, we are going to make our voices heard even if it takes our life."