Thousands of activists are braving one of India’s coldest winters to fight against new citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims
On the evening of December 15, scores of people gathered in Delhi to participate in a peaceful sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, a working-class Muslim neighbourhood in India.
The crowd were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act: a law passed in India last month that will grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but block naturalisation for Muslims, who comprise 13.4% of India’s population. One month in, and thousands of protesters remain on the occupied road – led predominantly by hijab and burqa-clad Muslim women.
They are fighting to have the CAA revoked, as they fear its implementation could put many Muslims at risk of being pushed out of the country or into detention centres.
Not only has the Shaheen Bagh demonstration made national headlines, but it’s also inspired similar protests in cities across India. While some of these have descended into violence, the packed site in Shaheen Bagh has remained peaceful.
Speaking to the BBC, Syeda Hameed, founder of Delhi-based Muslim Women’s Forum explained the significance of so many ordinary Muslim women lending their voices to national debate: ‘These women are not activists. This is the first time they have come out on a national issue which cuts across religious lines and I think that’s important. Although it’s something to do with the victimisation of [the] Muslim community, it’s still a secular issue.’
Media reports claim the police will try and persuade the remaining protesters at Shaheen Bagh to call an end to their sit-in, which has forced commuters to take alternative routes every day for the last month. The sit-in came about in December after a protest by students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University clashed with police, resulting in officers later entering the campus and assaulting both members of staff and students.
‘The law violates the constitution’, university student Humaira Sayed told the BBC. ‘It may target Muslims at the moment but we’re convinced it will gradually target other communities too. As a Muslim I know I have to be here for my brothers, sisters, the community and for everyone else.’