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Ever since the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh last winter, I had wanted to meet with the Shaheen Bagh Dadi Bilkis Bano; I did it this week.
One individual can change the face of an entire movement and create revolution. No one embodies this fact more than Bilkis Bano, better known as Shaheen Bagh Dadi.
I am a human rights activist who has rescued more than 5000 people in the last 8 and half years from social evils like prostitution, forced marriage, organ harvesting, forced marriage, child marriage, begging mafia.
As a human rights activist, every instance of human rights violation affects me. Whether it is incidents of trafficking, injustice against farmers or unconstitutional laws like CAA, that hurt the pluralistic fabric of our society.
In this context, Shaheen Bagh Dadi transpired to me as a symbol of resistance and resolve against insurmountable odds. Her fighting spirit and her courage to stand up for the oppressed, inspired me as an activist.
Hence, I was looking forward to an opportunity to meet her in person and understand her motivations.
Fondly known as Bilkis Dadi/ Shaheen Bagh Dadi, she sat with hundreds of women under a canopied tent and protested for months against the proposed CAA and NRC regulations.
For a long time, I nurtured a desire to meet Dadi and interact with her. I wanted to understand at a personal level what inspired an 82-year-old woman to oppose the government. I was in Bangalore when the protests started and hence, could not be a part of it. But it was something close to my heart and I kept myself updated by regularly interacting with journalists and people on ground. So, when I shifted to Delhi last year, one of the first things I wanted to do was to meet Bilkis Dadi. I found out that a friend had the contact number of Dadi’s son. Through him, we fixed a meeting for the next day at 4pm. I was elated to meet her and could not control my happiness.
The next day we took the Metro to reach Shaheen Bagh. One of my close friends – Zakir – who is also a renowned human rights activist, accompanied me.
We had a little difficulty in finding her house, but as soon as we mentioned “Shaheen Bagh Dadi”, everyone could recognize her and showed us her house. She was extremely popular in the area. But the biggest surprise was still pending. As we walked towards the house, we found her standing at foot of the staircase, waiting for us! She was a bit hunched but did not reflect the lack of energy that should have come with her age. She patted my back and called me “beta”. I was again surprised when she climbed 3 floors with us and did not show any tiredness!
Once inside, she took my hand and we sat on the carpet. She hugged me and told how glad she was that I came. All this while I was silent. I was numbed by the simplicity and humility. Was this the same lady who has been named on the coveted Time magazine, as one of the 100 icons of 2020? It was unbelievable!
I had nothing to say, as she talked about politics of India since pre-Independence. I asked her what she feels about the present situation of the country and the CAA-NRC issue. She told me very clearly that discrimination and prejudice is present within every community, but it is always the Muslims who are singled out. She said that Muslims are targeted more than others, as it easily polarizes people, and therefore, the votes. When I asked her about the farmer bills, she reiterated the need to fight for one’s rights and that there is nothing wrong in it. She highlighted that the CAA-NRC protests were peaceful in nature and every citizen has the fundamental right to protest in that manner.
Dadi said that she believes that as individuals we might follow different religions, but we were same in the eyes of God. She said since she has been in the news, a lot of people come to meet her and take photos with her. She smiled and said that while those gestures are nice, the citizens should not lose track of the bigger picture: to protect the vibrant and pluralistic democracy of India. She urged me to tell my friends and acquaintances being fellow citizens of India, they should not be scared to raise voice whenever the society at large is in danger. Dadi encouraged me by stating that the positions we hold in our professional lives, should not stop us from speaking what is right. We had tea and laughed and joked with Dadi.
Dadi is such an interesting person and she shared so many stories of her childhood! However, as all good things come to end, my meeting with her was also over. Dadi wished me luck and and hugged me again, as I left with my voice choked and heart full of emotions. One thing that I learnt from Dadi was age is just a number and it is never too late to raise voice against injustice. While I took her leave, I remembered the famous saying by Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Images source: Pallabi Ghosh
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A Human Rights Activist with experience in Anti-Trafficking, Child Rights, Migration, and Gender-based
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