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Women across India have been part of the
protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, but Paromita Bardoloi reports
from a special protest – an all-women protest in Assam.
It’s a cold December in my town. The sun lies gentle. And each day you can hear the footsteps of women on the streets as they go out on protests. Assam has been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act that has been passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 11th of December (and before that by the Lok Sabha).
However there is
something very distinct about our protests: the turnout of female protesters is
almost as much as as male protestors.
I often go out to
protest. However, 21st December was special to me because I attended
an all women protest. I am not sure how many of you have sat in a crowd of
around 500 women in a public space protesting. But if you do, you will notice
that things change when women are in charge.
something so gender specific. When women go out in public spaces, they carry
their homes along. You will see women who clutch their children. Some tie children
to their bosom. Others have brought them along on their backs. And some are
carrying them. But still they come. They come from far, and in hordes. Like a
whirlpool, defying everything. I have been to protests that were open to all
too, but I see that men mostly do come on their own. Women come mostly in
groups or with someone. Women carry their communities along.
children come, food and water come along in little bags. Sometimes we all share
that. Women come with food. Women have to carry so much on their backs, that
sometimes it feels like an unequal battle to begin with. But they still come.
Their voices are registered for generations. Little children learn resistance
as they peep from the bosoms of their mothers.
When women resist, generations wake.
I am writing all about it from a very small town of Assam. In our protests
women from very far flung villages. I asked a 50-year-old woman how she had
travelled so far. She said that she and her neighbours came in the back of a
I asked her if any of them felt worried or unsafe to just board a truck. She said, “No, it’s normal for us. We can board any vehicle and we will reach our destination safe.” I had a conversation with social activist and teacher, Kiranmayee Hazarika Baruah. Baruah was a very active participant in the Assam Andolan of the 70s too. She was 14 then and she is still out on the streets, now at 54.
She says, “During my school days, I used to go on protests to different town with other girls, often leading many women’s groups. Sometimes then too I used to travel to different towns in trucks. And I have been a part of many huge public gatherings. But not once was I molested, inappropriately touched or made to feel uncomfortable. That is why just getting out of the house for women did not feel like a task. Because it was always safe. We never had to think of protecting our own space. For the last 40 years, it has been the same experience.” She also added that Assamese society as a whole is a much more open and liberal one that does not look at women in public spaces with disdain. The social and cultural space for women is open and that makes it easier for women to register themselves in public spaces.
sentiment was echoed when I spoke to the younger girls in the protest. A
20-year-old woman says that it was easier for her to come each day because she
and her friends don’t have to fear for their physical safety. Neither do their
parents push them to stay home. In fact her grandmother had also come along to
protest. For her the public space is not a privilege but a something her
community sees as a given for all.
talking to the women I realized how politically aware they were. They knew why
they were here. Kiranmayee Hazarika Baruah tells me that the Internet has a lot
to contribute to it. Now with a smart phone everyone can access the Internet.
villages now also have direct access to regional news. They are no more
dependent on men to bring them the news and form an opinion. Now they can hear
it on their mobiles.
on CAA began in our regional channels long before the bill was passed in the
Parliament. They talked about it in their kitchens, in their paddy fields and
their neighborhoods long before the national media started raging. This
information on how that one bill can change their lives has made them strongly
oppose the bill.
Internet was shut down for 8 days, yet their opinion was formed long before
When things are peaceful and easy we do not think about heroes much. But
now that as astate we are facing a crisis, Mula Gabhoru a 15th century
Ahom Princess and her bravery are evoked. Mula Gabhoru was a warrior who fought
the Mughals for 5 years after the demise of her husband. She was killed in
protest with songs, dances, poetry and skits another day ends. The place is
cleaned and tidied. Everyone goes back in groups. I ask Baruah again about the
future of these protests. She tells me nothing is definite. It’s going to be a
long way to victory.
The air is
cold. As I also walk back home with my diary I see a group of women getting
into a shared auto, and a young woman who must be in her early twenties raises
a slogan again, “Kune koi Mula nai, hajar Mula ase aguwai (Who said there
is no Mula Gabhoru today, not just one but there are thousands).”
sets. I come home, hopeful.
Women protest. Women rise. The world feels fairer.
All images credited to the author.
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