“When I was growing up, protest was an alien idea to me”, 82-year-old Bilkis Bano, a strong critic of India’s new citizenship law, told VICE News.
TIME magazine has named Bilkis Bano as one of the 100 most influential people in the world this year. “Some people tried to kill my voice when they attempted to diffuse the protests. Now people are visiting me to hear my voice all over again. I feel fortunate,” she said.
The octogenarian, along with hundreds of women, participated in the sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh area of New Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed by the Indian government in December 2019.
The controversial law hastens the process for non-Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority nations to gain Indian citizenship but has no provision for naturalisation of Muslims. Many see the law as discriminatory against Muslims and not in sync with India’s secular traditions.
“Bilkis, along with thousands of women who joined her in Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, became the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics of the Modi regime,” noted TIME.
Peaceful protests at Shaheen Bagh hit global and national headlines for the resilience shown by Muslim women.
Elderly women like Bikis Bano became popular as dadis (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh.
Earlier this year, the protest site had to be cleared because of COVID-19.
Bilkis Bano never received formal education. Hailing from a small village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, she spent her life raising her six children, farming and rearing cattle.
Sitting on a cot at a small apartment at Shaheen Bagh, she seemed as determined and resilient in her protest as before. “I will wait for COVID-19 to leave the country to resume my protest. The pandemic cannot halt our fight,” she said.
The protest in Shaheen Bagh started following a huge crackdown on students of New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University who were protesting against the citizenship law.
“They (government) don’t give our children any money for basic sustenance or education. What right do they have to beat them?” sadked Bilkis Bano.