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Monday, January 25, 2021

Changing the grammar of protests: women take charge with peaceful sit-ins

Several sit-ins and demonstrations led by women began sprouting in different parts of Uttar Pradesh in January, beginning with Mansoor Ali Park in Prayagraj on January 12.

Written by Asad Rehman | Lucknow | December 31, 2020 9:02:49 am
Women protesting against CAA and NRC at Lucknow's Ghanta Ghar on the eve of Republic Day 2020. (Express Photo: Vishal Srivastav)

What began as violent protests against the BJP government’s move to amend the citizenship law – Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – and its proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the last weeks of 2019 soon metamorphosed into non-violent sit-ins across Uttar Pradesh that were led by women, mostly from the Muslim community.

Following the footsteps of hundreds of women in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, several sit-ins and demonstrations led by women began sprouting in different parts of Uttar Pradesh in January, beginning with Mansoor Ali Park in Prayagraj on January 12. Several hundred women squatted at Lucknow’s iconic Ghanta Ghar to protest against the CAA and NRC.

In the violence that preceded the peaceful protests, at least 20 people were killed.

Following the violence, the baton for protests was taken over by the women across the state – in Kanpur, Saharanpur, Azamgarh, Moradabad, Varanasi, and Sambhal.

Protests against the CAA and NRC at Ghanta Ghar in January. (Express Photo: Vishal Srivastav)

“We are emulating the protest led by women in Shaheen Bagh. If women in Delhi can sit outside in this biting cold, then why can’t we. We will sit here for 24 hours and continue our protest in the coming days. It will not stop,” Sarah Ahmad, one of the women leading the protests in Prayagraj told The Indian Express in January.

Women from different walks of life and from across all age-groups joined the protest, holding “Save the Constitution” placards and portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr BR Ambedkar. They changed the grammar of protest with songs, poems and creative posters.

However, it was not as if their protests went on smoothly. There were many instances of run-ins with the police. The most serious one was reported from Azamgarh where police lathicharged protesting women. There were allegations of police pelting stones at them.

Police denied the charges and lodged a case of sedition and other offences against 35 protesters. Cases were lodged against protesters wherever such sit-ins were held. While police did not arrest any woman from the protest site, some of the men seen near the protest were arrested.

The outbreak of Covid-19 brought an abrupt end to these demonstrations. However, the woman protesters told The Indian Express that if the government decides to conduct the nationwide NRC exercise, they will resume their protest.

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