The women of Mumbai Bagh have found a new expression for their protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). About 40 women have been making an ‘Azaadi Quilt’, with motifs and slogans in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu embroidered on them, through the efforts of a group called ‘Amplifying Mumbai Bagh’.
The ‘Azaadi Quilt’ has been in the making for almost a week now. On March 14 and 15, visitors to Mumbai Bagh can also contribute to stitching the quilt, as observers or participants. They are expected to bring basic embroidery equipment along with them and ideas on what they would like to make.
‘Amplifying Mumbai Bagh’ is a group initiated by a 42-year-old homeopathic doctor, Dr Vasika Seliya, who resides and runs her clinic in Nagpada. Seliya got together young girls at Mumbai Bagh to engage in creative outlets, such as drawing or painting, during the sit-in protests. “I wanted to get older women also involved and many of them know embroidery,” Seliya said, adding that the idea was given to her by Mumbai-based artist Shrujana Niranjani Shridhar.
Seliya embroidered in Urdu, ‘main azaad hoon, main azaad rahoongi’ (I am free, I will be free) and other women followed suit. In the style of a patchwork quilt, many individual pieces of chindi (scrap fabric) are stitched together to form a larger piece. The women have used coloured threads, sequins and applique to convey different kinds of freedoms, right from the freedom to live in India to freedom from disease. Besides the obvious “No NRC CAA” slogans, there is also “mehengai se azaadi” (freedom from expense) and “ched chad se azaadi”.
Artist Indu Harikumar, 40, was invited by ‘Amplifying Mumbai Bagh’ to join in. Harikumar is known for her online dialogues on sexuality and has previously used embroidery in her works. “If you look at it, embroidery is considered women’s work and not an art form. I also find it therapeutic. Often you can escape into a different world through a needle and thread,” Harikumar said.
The ‘Azaadi Quilt’ is made during the day, while the stitching of a new “night quilt” will be initiated on the theme of love and unity.
The quilts will be displayed on one of the walls of Mumbai Bagh, with the idea of making it an open art gallery. Harikumar said, “The goal is to create something that embodies and documents the multi-layered freedoms that women from all communities are seeking, and what the protests stand for in a broader sense.”
Seliya said that the women of Mumbai Bagh will continue to make the quilt despite fears of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. She said that the women will use sanitisers and also make cloth masks out of chindi.
According to her, there is no turning back for Mumbai Bagh, and she is certain that many more will join them on the weekend. “If we die like this, we will die with dignity. At least we will die as Indians,” she said.
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