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‘What led to Shaheen Bagh?’- Report on Karvaan India’s Session with Ziya Us Salam

The women of Shaheen Bagh were not shy of their Muslim identity. Wearing burqa, hijab and offering namaz at the protest site, they made a point that they are not ashamed of their religion and ready to take on the government for their discriminatory policies.

With graffities being removed, tents being uprooted, significant protesters being arrested, what do you do when the government tries to wash away independent India’s biggest movement? You document it. You don’t let people forget a monumental event from the minds of every aware citizen. A movement of this scale, needs to be written in history and read by people everywhere, again and again. A movement of this stature needs to be known by its heartwarming moments and not the narrative that the government and police are trying to create. The significance of immense participation of Muslim women, needs to be accredited. And that’s exactly what Mr. Ziya Us Salam and his wife Uzma Ausaf did. They co-wrote a book titled “Shaheen Bagh- From a protest to a movement”.

On 8th august, Mr. Ziya was invited as a guest speaker to Karvaan India’s online discussion on ‘What led to Shaheen Bagh?’. The session was hosted by Mr. Asad Ashraf via zoom video call. After an introduction to the guest speaker, the host asked the reason for writing this book and if it is because the government is trying to erase the movement. Mr. Ziya concurred with the reason given by the host, but also added that it is only a part of it.  Apart from the deliberate attempt by the government to remove the existence of the protest, he emphasizes that the protest gave voice to Muslim women. With the protest, they were able to break all the misconceptions about them. They turned all the misgivings about them by not only taking part in the movement but also by leading it.

Highlighting the significance of this movement, he said that till now every major movement had been led by men. This is independent India’s first movement which was led by women. Raising a very consequential point, he said these women raised their voice as an Indian as well as a Muslim. They were not shy of their identity. Wearing burqa, hijab and offering namaz at the protest site, they made a point that they are not ashamed of their religion and ready to take on the government for their discriminatory policies.

In a time when any Muslim who speaks of their rights, is told to move to Pakistan, these women chose to sing Urdu songs of resistance. They picked poems by Pakistani poets, when anyone else would have thought twice before doing that. By doing all this, they showed that they are ready to stick their necks out.

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The host then asked Mr. Ziya of what did he figure out while talking to these women and what was their idea behind this movement. To this, Mr. Ziya pointed out that this did not begin as movement. This protest started as an existential crisis. The government introduced such a law that made a mockery of the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. BJP leaders in different parts of the country were making despiteful speeches. As a result of all this, what started as a protest, later became a movement. Being a part of this movement, they upheld the Constitution of India wholeheartedly. For the past 6 years, many symbols including the national flag has been used by Hindutva to claim it as a proof of nationality. This assimilation by Shaheen Bagh movement counters to all. The women showed that the tri-color belonged to Muslims as much as everyone else.


When asked why men were left behind in this movement, Mr. Ziya responded that there is a gross misconception that Muslim men come out on the streets while locking up the women in their homes. It is an insult to every woman, by claiming that they don’t have their own thinking ability. These women, many of whom have their children studying in Jamia. They had seen the police barbarity in close quarters and decided that they can’t stay at home anymore. They realized that it was easy for the police to target students. It was a move that surprised the police, who had been expecting maulanas in skull caps.

With BJP leaders like UP CM, Yogi Adityanath passing out comments that Muslim men are hiding in homes while keeping their women on the streets, the host asked if there is any truth to that. Replying to that, the author asked if anyone with a thinking mind can ever say that women are driven by men and have no thinking ability of their own? Highlighting the importance of women in the protest, he pointed out that in a patriarchal society, when anyone buys a home, it is registered under the name of the men. Even the electricity bill is under a man’s name. So, a man has some papers to prove his citizenship. While on the other hand, women lack all these documents. They do have their Aadhaar cards or passports but under this law, they are not good enough.

Talking about whether CAA is implemented or not, these Muslim women have broken every stereotype against them and showed that they can decide for themselves. It is slap in the face of every person who doubted them or maligned their character.

The host then pointed out that they haven’t talked about the role of 2 IIT pass outs, Asif Mujtaba and Sharjeel Imam, who were pretty active in mobilizing the local women. To this, Mr. Ziya said that it was these two, who took the initiative after December 15 incident. It was Sharjeel Imam who suggested to move the protest from Jamia to Shaheen Bagh. It was a necessary step to protest at Shaheen Bagh, as it would gain attention rather than at Jantar Mantar. Another reason for Shaheen Bagh to be the protest site was that most of the women protesters were in their 60s and 70s. Thus, it was not possible for them to move anywhere else. All these important decisions made Shaheen Bagh, what it became.

When asked how does he sees this crackdown by the govt, Mr. Ziya said that the government doesn’t want to take any chances. If we see this protest in a larger picture, then it will be clear that Muslims have been denied their history and symbols crucial to their community. Just after Babri mosque demolition or the Delhi violence, numerous mosques were attacked. Why did that happen? It’s not like someone was hiding there, still mosques were burnt, attacked and saffron flags were hoisted on the minars. The idea behind all this, was to tell the minority that they can be in this country at the will and mercy of the majority. To all this, Shaheen Bagh stood out like a sore thumb for them. It acted like the biggest adhesive.

Moving on, the host stated that in a protest of this stature, there is an identifiable leader. So why was it missing in this protest? Mr. Ziya reflected that just like Quit India movement, this was also a mass movement. Many politicians came at Shaheen Bagh but they were kept at an arm’s length. Many leaders of AAP and Congress wanted to get close but the protesters maintained the apolitical nature of the movement. It was basically a grass-route movement.

Coming to the last question, the host asked that if it was such a big movement, then why did other political parties disassociate themselves with it. To this Mr. Ziya said that every non- BJP party in the country, is suffering from political paralysis. They don’t know how to counter Hindutva. Being a Muslim in today’s India, is like being an orphan. No one speaks for them, so they don’t expect any support from political parties.

Concluding the session, the host, Mr. Asad, thanked Mr. Ziya for joining in for the conversation and other listeners for being a part of the session.

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