Five minutes from the Mumbai Central station, over 200 women occupied a street, Mordell Road, to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act on Monday. It was the eighth day of the protest, which has come to be known as “Mumbai Bagh” after Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, where a protest similarly led by women is nearing two months.
Several Muslim women wearing hats handpainted with the slogan “No NRC, No CAA, No NPR” spoke out eloquently against what they described as the “unjust, unconstitutional and discriminatory” law.
Asked if the protest had a leadership, a woman in her 80s, standing tall with the aid of a stick, said, “This is a people’s movement. There are just people here, no one is in charge. The people here are taking charge of the country because those in power have failed them miserably.”
That it was an organic movement was apparent from the diversity. Women of all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds were in attendance; many were missing work or bunking school. Some had brought along their kids who were painting pictures espousing unity, acceptance and resistance. Older women sat at one end of the street discussing what those in power were supposed to do, while schoolgirls at the other end shouted slogans that reverberated through the street and beyond, drowning the everyday noise of Mumbai Central.
A visitor arrived, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. He gave the protesters a that neither the citizenship law nor the NRC would be implemented in the state and urged the women to withdraw their protest.
It quickly became clear though that the women weren’t only fighting for themselves as Deshmukh might have assumed; they were also standing in solidarity with people across the country who would be affected by this exclusionary law, with the protesters in Jamia, JNU, Shaheen Bagh, and wherever else such resistance movements have sprouted.
“People get confused when they hear my name but we need to understand that this interweaving of multiple identities exemplifies India,” said one protester, Neha Khan. “We have lived together in peace and harmony for years. Prime ministers have come and gone, but the situation was never this bad. The fear amongst the Muslims today is unprecedented. If you want to bring a law welcoming immigrants, why exclude only us? We have all grown up in schools where we vowed at morning assemblies that all Indians are our brothers and sisters. It causes me great pain to see the country in such a state now.”
Fatima, who had come to the protest with her children and mother-in-law, said, “We want more people to show up to the protests because this issue is bigger than the CAA. This is about our government going against our constitution, against what our freedom fighters had envisioned for us.”
Countering what she described as propaganda that protesters against the citizenship law were being “paid”, Fatima said, “The government cannot fathom that people are out here of their own will, of their own accord. They simply don’t understand where we are coming from, and they don’t want to understand. They can never feel for us because their job is to monger hate, to marginalise people. On this Republic Day, I felt extreme anguish seeing how the state had made a mockery of what Gandhi and Ambedkar envisioned for our nation.”
Her mother-in-law chipped in, “Repeal this citizenship law, and save our constitution. The whole world is watching us and we have to do the right thing. We’ll keep fighting and won’t move until the bill is scrapped.”
A 73-year-old woman who had come from Delhi asked in frustration, “Why are Muslim women always put on the line? Be it Ram Mandir, triple talaq or Section 370. Why are you putting us on the line? We don’t want to stand on the line but our prime minister leaves us no option but to fight against NRC and CAA until it’s taken back.”
Chants of “hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge” – we won’t show papers – rang through the protester. Tricolours fluttered in the air as a group of teenage girls read out the Indian constitution, their voices straining from days of protesting but growing louder with every repetition.