Muslim women redefined democracy: Activist, author Bhasha Singh at launch of her book on Shaheen Bagh

The Shaheen Bagh protests redefined what is democracy, and what is the role of Indian Muslim women in democracy, author Bhasha Singh said at the release

Muslim women redefined democracy: Activist, author Bhasha Singh at launch of her book on Shaheen Bagh

Sanjukta Basu

Award winning journalist, documentary film maker and cultural activist Bhasha Singh’s latest book, ‘Shaheen Bagh – Loktantra ki Nai Karwat’ was released on Thursday at the Press Club by eminent guests Syeda Hameed, Sidharth Varadrajan, Gauhar Raza among others. Published by Rajkamal Prakashan the Hindi book documents the indomitable spirit and courage of the anti-CAA protest led by Muslim women at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and similar protests across India which have since become a beacon of hope for secularism, democracy, and people’s movement.

“The Shaheen Bagh protests redefined what is democracy, and what is the role of Indian Muslim women in democracy. From Kerala to Kolkata to Deoband there was almost no state which did not have a Shaheen Bagh protest. The sheer strength of this living history inspired me to document the movement,” author Bhasha Singh said at the release.

“Indian Muslim women have always been side-lined by both the political and community leaders. We could not even access the Muslim women’s voice beyond the Maulana. Journalist would go to Deoband and get a Maulana’s byte and do their stories. Breaking all those barriers these women made a space for themselves. I hope this book would keep the spirit of Shaheen Bagh alive in history,” Singh added.

The author thanked the publisher Rajkamal Prakashan for having the courage to publish the book in Hindi even though it is widely believed that there is no market for such books in the Hindi language.

Activist and former member of National Commission of Woman and Planning Commission Syeda Hameed appreciated the way the book documents the protests through not just words but powerful visuals showcasing the various study circles, libraries and other educational and cultural activities which had become a part of the anti-CAA protests.

She also recalled how during her tenure as NCW Member in the late 90s, Muslim women were ‘be-awaz’ (voiceless) and it took efforts for the NCW to bring them to mainstream. She said that she could not ever imagine that those voiceless women would one day show the nation the truth path to democracy.

“The name of the book, Loktantra ki nai karwat (Democracy’s New Awakening) is truly justified as it tells us tales of women like 101-year-old Hamidulmisa Begum, who camped at the protest site all day and night for weeks and months because she was too old to do a daily shuttle, who had the courage to question the prime minister ‘Who are you to ask me where did I come from, where did my parents and grand parents come from, did we ever ask you that?’” Syeda Hameed said referring to one of the women protesters featured in the book.

Siddharth Varadarajan, Founder and Editor, The Wire, spoke eloquently about the significance of the book at a time when most Indian media are telling only what the government wants to be told, when there are competing narratives, and deliberate suppression of facts with fascist designs.

He applauded the publisher for their courage to publish a book on Shaheen Bagh in the current political environment. “Contemporaneous documentation of the events of our time in the shape of books is imperative when there are constant efforts to delegitimize one of world’s most inspiring democratic movement,” Varadrajan said. “Sections of media, politics and other vested interest groups, some of them having direct link to BJP, repeatedly tried to change the narrative about Shaheen Bagh by calling them ‘anti-national’, giving communal colours to the movement and so on. How the Delhi riots were instigated, how Delhi police helped the rioters, the communal speech given by BJP leaders including Prime Minister Modi – it is imperative to document these events so that the generations to come are able to find the truth,” he added.

Several speakers at the book launch said that one of the strongest features of the Shaheen Bagh protest was the way Muslim women invoked the Constitutional rights, celebrated the national flag, sung the national song and the collective reciting of the Preamble. “I studied law, but even in the law college I cannot remember any of us paying this much attention to the Preamble. At every protest site I visited, I saw large cut out of the Preamble erected, I saw children with the tri-colour painted on their cheeks,” Bhasha Singh said.

“I was born in Allahabad to a Muslim family, studied in Aligarh and grew up in Muslim environment. I cannot remember a single incident in my 65 years of life, when Indian Muslims came out on the streets for Secularism. I remember when there was theft of the holy relic Moi-e-Muqqadas from the Hazratbal Shrine, Muslims all of India came on streets. They came on the street over some issue at Masjid-e-Aqsa, the release of the book Satanic Verses, over some cartoons but all of these were religious event. Shaheen Bagh was the first time that Muslims came on the street for a secular cause,” said Scientist and Poet Gauhar Raza at the book launch.

Speakers at the book launch also emphasized on the fact that the Shaheen Bagh protests showed the path to the farmers protests. “They showed the way that the powers that be can be brought down without resorting to any violence by sheer will power and we finally saw this method of non-violent protests clocking a win in the way farmers protest ended at the repeal of the farm laws,” Gauhar Raza said.

Also present at the event was Rashtriya Janta Dal MP Manoj Jha. “In contemporary India, Shaheen Bagh and Farmers Protests are two events which deepened the democracy. Future generation will take pride in these protests. The ruling regime tried to give a bad name to Shaheen Bagh but the life of a narrative is not chosen by the contemporaries. It is chosen by the historical trajectory through which a nation passes. History will remember these events through the lens of what India once was, an ocean of ideas, and what this regime is trying to make it, a dirty pond. History would be more brutal to this regime than the present TV anchors,” Manoj Jha told National Herald.

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