Bilkis and her two elderly friends, popularly known as dadis (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh, participated in the agitation from day one and continued till the protesters were evicted
With prayer beads in her right hand, covered in layers of cardigan, and a shawl thrown around her, 82-year-old Bilkis was a permanent face at the controversial roadblock agitation against Citizenship Amendment Act in Shaheen Bagh.
On Wednesday, the TIME Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people of 2020.
Bilkis and her two friends—the group of three elderly women protesters —more popularly known as “dadis” (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh participated in the agitation since the first day and continued till the protesters were evicted on the morning of March 24 following the Covid lockdown. Bilkis was among the few who would reach the protest site at 8am and leave only a little before midnight with prayer breaks throughout the day.
ven as Delhi braved its coldest winter in over a century, 82-year-old Bilkis — with a smile on her face and a shawl around her shoulders — sat with hundreds of women under a canopied tent at the national capital’s Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA/NRC sit-in protest for over three months. Within days, Bilkis and the other elderly women who participated in the protest became the symbol of resistance and hope, and came to be fondly known as the “Dadis of Shaheen Bagh.”
TIME magazine has now included Bilkis in its list of “The 100 Most Influential People of 2020.”
Journalist and author Rana Ayyub, who has penned the piece for TIME magazine, says, “Bilkis became the voice of the marginalised… Became the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics of the Modi regime.”
In January, as the Shaheen Bagh sit-in inspired similar protests across the country, Bilkis had told The Indian Express, “We are old and we are not doing this for ourselves… This is for our children. Why else will we spend our days and nights during the coldest winter of our lives in the open?”
On January 26, Bilkis, along with the mothers of Rohith Vemula and Junaid Khan, hoisted the national flag at Shaheen Bagh as hundreds of people showed up there for Republic Day celebrations. At the time, the resilience of the “Dadis of Shaheen Bagh” was captured in songs, poems, slogans and graffiti as well.
In February, when an armed assailant fired at least two shots barely 50 metres away from the stage at Shaheen Bagh, Bilkis was at her spot near the stage. At the time, she told The Indian Express, “There was panic inside the tent but people eventually calmed down. We walked till the point where cartridges were found and offered prayers… These bullets don’t scare us.”
When asked what motivated these women to sit on the arterial road no. 13 A in Shaheen Bagh through rain and coldest Delhi winter of the century, Bilkis, 82, told HT in January: “This protest is for our rights and mainly our children. We will not give up till the CAA is repealed.”
She was among the many women from Shaheen Bagh, who had stepped out of their houses to agitate against the CAA law which they called “unconstitutional.” For nearly four months, these protesters, most of them residents of the locality, spent their days and nights under a tent on road No.13 A participating in open-mics to express their fears about the new law and discuss various constitutional themes.
On TIME magazine listing the elderly woman in their list of 100 most influential people, Hena Ahmed, who protested at Shaheen Bagh for three months, said, “We are happy that at least someone understood our intentions. The authorities always tried to paint the protests as something wrong. Truth always wins. Bilkis dadi’s name was in the same list as that of our Prime Minister. This means that there was some legitimacy to our movement. Locals who I have been in touch with are happy because of this development and relieved that Shaheen Bagh’s spirit has been recognised.”
On the evening of December 15, 2019 a group of around 50 women occupied road 13A at Shaheen Bagh and demanded the roll back of the amended citizenship law. The numbers increased gradually and more protesters poured in, while police was unable to convince the protesters led by elderly women such as Bilkis to vacate the road.
The sit-in road blockade had led to massive traffic jams in parts of the city because the protesters had blocked an important arterial road between Delhi and Noida, Uttar Pradesh. For nearly four months the Delhi traffic police issued an advisory every morning informing people to avoid the Delhi-Noida road via Shaheen Bagh and also plan their journey after checking the road diversion and traffic on the road.
Bilkis and her two friends also interacted with the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors in February voicing their concerns over the controversial law and demanding government representatives to speak with them on the issue. The protesters could not be persuaded to vacate the road, until the morning of March 24, when the social distancing norms were in force because of Covid-19.
Delhi Police in their charge sheet on the case of conspiracy behind the Delhi riots have claimed that the protest was not a spontaneous but planned and funded by a section of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters. Police have alleged that the road blockades such as the one in Shaheen Bagh, later replicated in other parts of the city, was the spot to make inflammatory speeches against the government and mobilise people for the riots. Police have also said that the alleged conspirators of the riots choose women and children as the faces of the protest to ensure that police found it difficult to evict the protesters by force.
On Monday, while hearing a petition over the Shaheen Bagh blockade, the Supreme Court observed that the right to protest in public place should be balanced with the right of the general public to move freely without hindrance.
Road 13A at Shaheen Bagh is now clear. The anti government messages on the roads and walls have been whitewashed by civic agencies. The shops are finally open. But police are more careful. A group of paramilitary force personnel still patrol road 13 A keeping a careful watch to ensure that no one sits on the road again.