Liberation Square

How Shaheen Bagh offers a model for the future

Perhaps the most enduring and intractable aspect of the Shaheen Bagh protest for the Hindu Right is the salience of Muslim women—what the academic Zoya Hasan, in Seema Mustafa’s volume, describes as “the emergence of Muslim women as the strongest voices against the prospect of a Hindu Rashtra.” ishan tankha
31 January, 2021


Reflecting on the present ascendance of Hindu nationalism in Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point, the historian Gyan Prakash wrote:

There is nothing in India like the organic resistance in the United States to Trump’s racist agenda. The reasons are not far to seek. No history of civil rights battles stands behind the granting of equal rights to minorities in postcolonial India. Instead, it was the nationalist struggle against British rule that produced a secular and democratic constitution. But with nationalism now hijacked by Hindu majoritarianism, the defense of minority rights can summon no history of popular struggle on its behalf.

One evening in December 2019, roughly a year after the publication of Prakash’s book, I accompanied a friend to Shaheen Bagh, a Delhi neighbourhood neither of us had visited before. A tent of yellow tarpaulin had been erected on a busy thoroughfare; under it, women sat on battered dhurries in the midst of one of the coldest Delhi winters on record. A wire string separated the women from the men present, who looked beyond them towards a rickety stage where speakers, from both the neighbourhood and far beyond, kept up the protesters’ morale. No more than two hundred people were present. Over the next three months, as I became a regular visitor to Shaheen Bagh, I saw first-hand its exponential and barely believable growth, as a modest protest on a south-Delhi street grew into a national movement and a symbol of the struggle for constitutional rights.