Bilkis Bano, one of the stalwarts of the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protests in Delhi, has been recognized as one of the ‘100 most influential people’ by TIME magazine for the year of 2020. The question that arises, however, is how did an 82-year-old woman from Okhla find her way onto this star-studded list?
Known solely as the ‘dadis of Shaheen Bagh,’ three elderly women showed up to the Shaheen Bagh sit-in through the winter without fail. Multiple media houses focussed on the huddled figures of these wrinkled old women. Bilkis, with her shawls, cardigans, and prayer beads became the face of a rebellion that for some time, became the center of India’s polarized politics. From eight in the morning till midnight every day, one could find Bilkis at the Shaheen bagh sit-in, silently waiting for change with her prayer beads, tricolor, and ceaseless hope.
Through the harsh Delhi winter of 2019, the women of Shaheen Bagh continued their prolonged and peaceful protest against the CAA. The sit-in garnered a lot of media attention and support as well as opposition. A host of women converged on road number 13, under an open tent, to fight against what they believed to be an ‘unconstitutional’ move by the government. These women met with a lot of obstacles, including harsh weather conditions, angry politically-charged shooters, and physical and mental fatigue.
From amidst the freezing wind and din of women, Bilkis’ unwavering stance became her voice.
“I will sit here till blood stops flowing in my veins so the children of this country and the world breathe the air of justice and equality,” she said to Rana Ayyub, the author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up.
After a solid month or two of coverage, the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country have slid out of focus. The fickle attention of the media has been usurped by other news stories over the past few months, but the protestors are still doing their best to raise awareness and fight for justice. Amongst the tumultuous experience, Shaheen Bagh has claimed its spot in history.
It is, perhaps, a bittersweet moment, as Bilkis has made her way into TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, right alongside the man who was the cause of her sit-in and suffering. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who approved of the CAA which sparked a wave of dissent and opposition throughout the country, was also awarded a spot in the prestigious list, but for completely different reasons.
This makes a lot of us wonder what Bilkis is doing on a list alongside PM Modi, Ayushman Khurana, and Sundar Pichai. According to PTI, Bilkis was not as excited about her inclusion in this influential list as one might have expected. Her son told a reporter who called in about the news that she did not react with much excitement.
The ‘dadi’ of Shaheen Bagh was at the protest till the last minute, just before it was called off due to Covid-19. After spending so much time and effort to battle an amendment that alienated a huge part of India’s population, it seems that the dismantling of the protests led to the inevitable disappearance of the issue from everyone’s minds.
“I am thankful to the almighty. I would have been much happier had our demand been fulfilled…had the government listened to us and given us what we wanted,” Bilkis said to her translator after being told that she made it to the TIME list.
She went on to congratulate Narendra Modi for also being included in the list and added that he is also her son.
While people like to attach youthful and fresh faces to events and protests—through history, there have been many elderly women who have been instrumental parts of movements of resistance. From Kasturba Gandhi to Bilkis, countless older women have made their mark in the resistance culture, but are usually forgotten.
This, then, is a win as far as the representation of women, especially elderly women, in political struggles is concerned. Women, through history, have been stereotyped as ‘chatterboxes,’ ‘prone to hysterics,’ and ‘unreasonable,’ which has affected the way society perceives their participation in political and activism-related campaigns. The inclusion of Bilkis on a respectable platform where others may read of her, her participation in an intensely political movement, and of the many women who stand beside her, makes a deep impact on us all.
With her inclusion in the TIME Magazine list, the world will get to know of Bilkis Bano. And the countless women, who have raised their voices in a society where many women and minorities are absent from the popular discourse. Her inclusion alongside Narendra Modi is an ironic reminder of the power and possibility of common platforms in bringing together a people whose politics are as diverse as chalk and cheese.
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