Anti-CAA protests have shown women can lead
Akhtarista Ansari is not new to protest. In 2017, she marched against discriminatory hostel timings at Jamia Millia Islamia where she studies. Earlier, she was part of a demonstration to demand that the university set up a gender sensitisation committee against sexual harassment.
So, it seemed natural for the 19-year-old Sociology (hons) student to participate in a march led by women against Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens on December 12. “It was the first protest led by the girl’s hostel, which was later joined by all,” she says. Akhtarista is one of the four women students, along with Chanda Yadav, Ladeeda Farsana and Ayesha Renna, who can be seen protecting a male student from a police beating on December 15 on what is now a viral video. As the police, including a man in plainclothes, rain blows on the male student, the women encircle him, shouting at the police, “Go back, go back.”
When her parents who live in Jharkhand heard about the incident, they were worried. Come home, her father, a retired railways employee, said. But, says Akhtarista, “The way the police attacked us and ransacked our library has only made us stronger.” The women have received a lot of abuse online, she says, but equally, they have received messages of solidarity from around the world.
The women are in no mood to back off. Mothers with babies, domestic workers and schoolgirls among them are on the streets. “We’ve organised protests before, but nothing on this scale,” says Hina Kausar, a research scholar.
“Muslim women don’t come out on the street easily,” says Sakina Parveen, a social worker who lives near Shaheen Bagh. “But they understand this issue and this is why they are here in such large numbers.”
Headlines have been eloquent about this “women-led” protest. But women have always protested, perhaps because few men understand oppression the way most women do. They were at the forefront of the Independence movement. They marched against dowry and sati. And they came out in large numbers when protests broke out after the December 2012 gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi. But, says Akhtarista, “Women tend to speak up only when it involves women’s issues. The time has come for women to speak up on all issues.”
In a world dominated by men, where male actors and athletes are paid far more and given more media attention than women; where men lead corporations and politics; where one gender dominates science and research, women tend to be invisible. In such a world, finding role models can be hard for young women.
The photographs emerging from the protest — not just the iconic video featuring the four but also women breaking stereotypes in all— women protests, offering roses to police, giving clear soundbytes, or just claiming their place on the streets — show courage and tenacity, clarity and commitment. More important, they tell us that women belong and, yes, they can lead.