Since mid-December, Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in south Delhi, has been the site of a women-led protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. I first visited the Shaheen Bagh protest site on 19 December 2019. “Amit Shah has said he won’t go back even an inch on the CAA,” a woman protestor spoke into a mic, referring to the home minister. “We too want to tell him we won’t budge even a millimetre from here.” Since the women of Shaheen Bagh started their indefinite sit-in, their protest has received much public attention. As people across Delhi joined in, a movement began to be built.
But who are these women who have blocked a highway—the GD Birla Marg—for more than a month now? To better understand them and their mobilisation efforts, it is important to understand the locality.
In Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area, comprising localities such as Batla House, Zakir Nagar, Ghaffar Manzil, Noor Nagar and other smaller localities, Shaheen Bagh is the newest inhabitation. Until around 1985, the area consisted of small vegetable farms. Around this time, members of the Hindu Gujjar community started to divide the land into plots for sale. Since the rest of Jamia Nagar had become densely populated, people began purchasing these cheaper plots. Many people earning petro-dollars in Arab countries bought property here. Until 1990, there were kacha lanes, or dirt roads, no sewer lines and no electricity, and just about fifty to sixty houses. Since water accumulated in the vacant plots, mosquitoes and insects swarmed the area. Idris Sahib, a Shaheen Bagh resident who lived in the area in 1990, told me half in jest that the “the mosquito nets would blacken from outside.” He added, “Since there was no electricity, we would kill mosquitoes within our nets in torch-light.”