Activism Global

Women at the Forefront of Protests in India Over Citizenship Laws

Women are some of the most vehement opponents of two new laws in India that endanger the citizenship rights of groups such as Muslims, impoverished women, lower castes, and LGBTQ people. Enacted in December 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act accelerates the process to obtain Indian citizenship for undocumented refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The catch? The law fast-tracks citizenship for only those who are non-Muslim.

The other law, called the National Register of Citizens, will compel all those who are residing in India to provide extensive legal documentation proving their citizenship. This law could come into effect as soon as 2021. Opponents of the laws see it as another step taken by the right-wing Indian government to undermine the constitutionally secular nature of the country and transform the meaning of Indian identity into one that is decidedly Hindu.

Since December of 2019, Indians have been protesting in demonstrations across the nation despite arrests, beatings, and murders by the police. Some of the most ardent resistors have been constant sit-ins by women in the Muslim-majority, working-class neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh. Students and grandmothers alike have blocked a major highway in the Indian capital of New Delhi.

The women of Shaheen Bagh have become the face of the Indian resistance to the laws and have also reflected the fear and uncertainty the National Register of Citizens law has created. According to Foreign Policy, in the northeastern state of Assam, 1.9 million people lacked the proper documentation to prove citizenship, and 69 percent of these people were women.

“Women in this country have the vaguest ideas about when they were born or where they were born,” said Kavita Krishnan, a gender activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. “And documents are, of course, totally nonexistent.”

Protests have continued amidst the impending visit of U.S. President Donald Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump. The police used tear gas on protestors in order to disperse the crowds during a demonstration in New Delhi.

Sources: Washington Post, 2/24/20; Foreign Policy, 2/4/20; Al Jazeera, 2/24/20.