As part of a nationwide commemoration of Savitribai Phule’s birth anniversary, a crowd of 250-300 people constituting womxn and the members of the LGBTQIA+ community gathered at the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue in Mumbai’s Dadar on Friday to protest against the nationwide implementation of the CAA, NRC and NPR. Amidst chants of Jai Bhim, Azadi, Inquilab Zindabad and Hum Ek Hai; and in a beautiful coming together of several streams of the Indian women’s movement that realized sooner rather than later that their core values are one – to fight identity-politics, this protest emphasised on the urgent need for anti-CAA voices to not be divided along the lines of caste, religion, gender and sexuality but rather find commonalities and solidarity within each other’s struggles, and band together to take on their goliath.
The intersectionality and interconnected nature of the branches and off-shoots of the movement are undeniable; the “Hindu rashtra” of the Sangh’s dreams is actually a Hindu-supremacist Brahminical patriarchal nation, heavily inspired by the Manuwadi preachings that leaders like Babasaheb Ambedkar and Savitribai Phule spent their lifetimes contesting. It calls for the segregation of society such that everyone conforms to their gender and caste roles and is further relegated to tiers based on religion and sexuality, making it imperative to fight all forms of oppression in order to dismantle the system at large.
According to Chayanika Shah, a veteran feminist who has been a prominent fixture at several autonomous women’s and human rights movements in India over the past four decades, who now works for Stree Sangam or LABIA, a queer feminist LBT collective, this event was the culmination of concerted efforts by womxn and trans groups who had been stressing upon the need for a separate protest, to highlight the unique predicaments they will undergo if this draconian law is implemented.
While the “target augience” of the NRC and CAA is the muslim community at large, Muslim womxn, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, are poised to become ‘collateral damage’ and will be especially vulnerable to the repercussions of this exercise, as evidenced by the horror stories unfolding in Assam. “In Assam, 69 per cent of the people excluded on the list were women. For various reasons – like being married off young, and natal families not being bothered about their birth and other records thereafter – their documents, and hence, their names on the list, were missing,” explains Shah.
In a tangential way, the government is also reinforcing the institution of family upon the conscience of the nation by summoning proof of ancestry. “For trans people, many have left their familial homes, and do not have documentation and can’t return to retrieve it. Queer and trans people feel it isn’t even right to be identified by their natal and familial ancestories, because their belongings and roots are of a different kind which aren’t recognised yet. The movement compels you to stay with your family and stay on good terms so that you have that paper trail. Had we done that, we would not have been living the way we do now,” she adds.
The original plan was to simply talk about the legacies of Fatima Sheikh and Savitribai Phule – on the latter’s birth anniversary, and then have a sit-down sing-along. But even as other permissions were granted, the permission to use the mic at the protest at the original venue Chaityabhoomi came to be withheld, causing it to be shifted at the eleventh hour – albeit to a nearby location, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue at Shivaji Park, just two to three hundred meters away. A police officer told PTI that the permission was withdrawn because Chaityabhoomi was a “religious place.”
Moments after a male-identifying protestor flagged off the protest, he insisted that the conversation no longer be monopolised by cisgender savarna leaders, and called upon womxn, trans people, queer folks and Muslim women to assume centre stage instead. After a fiery speech, the call to action issued by Maharashtra co-ordinator for National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) Jameela Eathakula, who hails from Andhra Pradesh and resides in a Mankhurd-based slum in Mumbai, was to refuse to show the “Hitlervadi” government your documents when they are summoned.
“Aaj tak aisa mehsoos nahi hua ki hum Muslim hai toh humari jagah alag hai, but Modiji ki upasthiti mein aisa pehli baar ahsas dilaya jaa raha hai. Par jab Hindu Muslim Sikh ne saath mil ke Angrezon ko bhagaya hai, toh yeh goverment kaunsi khet ki mooli hai jo hum nahi bhaga payenge? (In all these years, never have I been made to feel Muslim, or as though we belong to a different tier in society just because we are Muslim. But since Modi has come into existence, I have been othered and made to feel different. But if Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians could come together to drive even the British away, how will this government hold up against our might?),” she told Feminism In India.
A few public figures like actor Saba Azad and stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal also participated in the protests – which saw the former coming to the forefront and addressing the gathering as well. Her enthusiastic solidarity stands in stark contrast to the neutrality and radio silence her contemporaries in the film industry have maintained over the three-week-period since the passing of the CAA in the Rajya Sabha on December 11 last year.
“Being apolitical is the biggest political stance – because you are basically saying that you are okay with the status quo and what is happening in the world around you. You’re siding with the fascists. So many people look up to Bollywood celebrities – their silence is deafening and their lack of solidarity is sickening and heartbreaking. But what would you even expect – when selfies with the PM are being uploaded and jingoistic movies like Uri are being made and released in such divisive times, their allegiances become clear,” she pointed out.
Azad, who recited a (rather catchy) dissent-anthem that was a rendition of the wildly popular Money Heist theme song Bella Ciao, was gearing up to remix a few more bangers with fellow protestors she met only during the event, in order to ramp up ammo for the upcoming protests in the city.
Several cities held simultaneous protests to mark the occasion – including Chennai, Kolkata Ahmedabad, New Delhi – bumping up the unique issues of women and people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community on the main agenda.
All pictures have been provided by the author.
Binjal Shah is an independent journalist covering gender and intersectionality in India. She tweets at @Binjal_S.