It’s been more than 110 days since the Shaheen bagh protest was called off. Ever since, we’ve lived through the aftermath of an anti-Muslim pogrom in the nation’s capital, the unjust arrest of innocent Muslims, and a systematic process of subjugating any assertive voice of dissent.

While the right-wing celebrated this lawful manifestation of anti-Muslim sentiments, the progressive elite exhibited sheer indifference at best. As I begin to introspect the intent, character, accomplishments, and failures of the Shaheen Bagh movement two things need to be urgently highlighted.

  1. Shaheen bagh became what it was not intended to become.
  2. Journalists, authors and the entire secular liberal lobby is trying to set a discourse around Shaheen Bagh that might not necessarily converge with the true narrative.

The idea of Shaheen Bagh was conceived from the idea of a Chakka Jam. The purpose was to block the road which links Mathura road and Kalindi Kunj to Noida while allowing for the movement of school buses and ambulances. The only way one could possibly negotiate with a very powerful and equally oppressive regime was by claiming the public spaces and causing economic disruption.

When Sharjeel Imam, Asif Mujtaba, and a few other students implored the people to indefinitely sit at the protest site on the morning of 16th December, they did not know for how long it could be sustained.

The fact that the people paid no heed to MLA Amanatullah Khan’s suggestion of vacating the road to organize a march outside the home minister’s residency and rather trusted the instinct of a young JNU scholar implied that Muslims were done with politicians politicizing on their bodies.

That itself was the first victory for Shaheen Bagh. While the sit-in on day 1 was primarily staged by Muslim men, it was obvious that no matter how democratic or peaceful the protest is, the image of Muslim men in beards and skull cap occupying the roads of Delhi was sure to unleash police brutality which mind you will hurt no one’s moral conscience.

Therefore to legitimize the protest and ensure its security and survival, Muslim women took the lead. Yet the most endearing thing to observe was the periphery that Muslim men had formed around these protestors. Watching the women in awe and wonder, respecting their assertion and encouraging their freedom while being oblivious of the pivotal role they played.

Here Muslim men and Muslim women were defying gender binaries. Muslim women were indeed shattering the stereotypes associated with their burka and hijab. But is she responsible for shattering the stereotypes associated with her identity in your minds?

For years now the left-liberal media, the progressive civil societies, and even the apparent allies of Indian Muslims have been advocating the cause of Muslim women based on their inherent prejudices against Islam.

Their compulsive need to liberate Muslim women from the shackles of what they infer to be a patriarchal religion and a regressive thought process was somewhat satisfied after seeing Muslim women coming out in Shaheen bagh to fight for their constitutional rights.

Their choice to wear a hijab and stay at home is an outcome of patriarchal conditioning but their participation in public spaces is a result of their newly found wokeness?

However, defining the agency of a Muslim woman based on such islamophobic notions is not only factually incorrect but also derogatory. Their choice to wear a hijab and stay at home is an outcome of patriarchal conditioning but their participation in public spaces is a result of their newly found wokeness?

Selectively enabling her choices to suit your concept of liberation and empowerment is a disservice to the cause of Muslim women and an insult to her capacities. One such woman was Asmat Jamil, organizer of the sit-in protest at Park Circus, Kolkata. She covers her face and hair and is usually engaged in Islamic activities. Despite running several therapeutic groups for Muslim women, she wouldn’t have confirmed to your definition of an empowered woman until she initiated the sit-in at Kolkata’s Shaheen Bagh.

These women are inspired by the legacies of the female companions of Prophet Muhammad and their struggle against the oppressors. Their fight against injustice is driven from the roots of Islam which was the triumph of faith, justice, and truth over tyranny hence they do not need your islamophobic validation to their efforts.

As the movement gained momentum and alike protests were replicated across the country, Shaheen Bagh became the center for evening tea and a photogenic spot for Instagram. Here Lohri was celebrated, havans were made and even the cause of Kashmiri pandits was reverberated to make the protest a little more publicly likable.

While the liberal folks were gushing at the democratic nature of the protest and celebrating its secular spirit, the intent of the protest was killed by this magnificent display of majoritarianism. The purpose of Shaheen Bagh was to establish the status of Muslims as equal Indians, it was their space to assert their identity unapologetically. However for the protest to gain public legitimacy Muslim identity assertion was compromised. You see, minority identity assertion in this country will always be subjected to terms and conditions set by the majority. Secularism will always be achieved at the expense of the minority.

Shaheen Bagh was often hailed for its democratic and inclusive spirit. However, I wonder why was this democracy and inclusivity confined to a Muslim neighborhood. Shaheen Bagh did a tremendous job in politically sensitizing a Muslim neighborhood and engaging Muslims with the nation, however, the purpose of Shaheen Bagh was to mobilize the public against CAA. The job of the progressive class was not to merely respond to SOS but to channelize their energy in rallying the public. Your presence at our protest site was important but it was mandatory for you to organize your own Shaheen Baghs in your own spaces. Your job was to make the marginalized a little less vulnerable by sharing with them the entitlement of your caste and class, perhaps that would have avoided the anti-Muslim pogrom in northeast Delhi. Slogans of Hindu Muslim unity and chants of nationalism were often heard at Shaheen bagh, however, such slogans were as empty as token solidarity of our liberal allies. Shaheen bagh was a stage for the assertion of our Muslimness, a stage for us to claim our rights and embrace our identity. Our allies were supposed to amplify our voice and lend us solidarity but instead, they chose to restructure the Shaheen bagh model and impose their ideas of justice and liberation upon us. Sorry to break your myth dear liberals, but as Sharjeel Imam would say ‘it’s not our [only the minority’s] job to protect the constitution or safeguard the democracy, it’s more than enough if the Muslims can protect their own selves.’

as Sharjeel Imam would say ‘it’s not our [only the minority’s] job to protect the constitution or safeguard the democracy, it’s more than enough if the Muslims can protect their own selves.’

The idea of Shaheen bagh echoed with the cry of ‘no justice no peace’. The idea was to struggle against the fascist state not only for the imposition of CAA but for the systematic oppression since the last 70 years. For the first time since independence, Indian Muslims were able to organize themselves against the state’s tyranny and channelize their helplessness into resistance.

Shaheen Bagh was a struggle against every act of lynching, every state-sponsored communal conflict, a struggle for each innocent Muslim falsely incarcerated by the state.

Shaheen bagh was a rage against the Babri verdict, rage against the discriminatory CAA, and a rage against each time the executive ordained an anti-Muslim law, the judiciary legitimized it and the majority approved it.

This post was originally published on TheMuslimWatch.com

The Muslim Watch

The Muslim Watch is a media platform, initiated by few Muslim students from JNU to counter the mainstream media narratives on Muslims and to come up with an alternative discourse. The aim is to document the atrocities against the Indian Muslims, resurrect prominent historical Muslim figures, create a new language and build a positive narrative for the Muslim community.

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