Women in India have been in the forefront of protests since very early on. For example, the Chipko Movement in 1973, the Narmada Dam protests in 1980s; Indian women have never shied away from raising their voices for the right reasons.
The women’s movements provided a platform for women to come together to raise their voices as one big force to reckon with. These movements created a feeling of oneness, sisterhood and confidence among the women that helped them while fighting for their rights.
Many times, women showed and proved through their protests that they can fare better than their male counterparts and also make staggering changes for the betterment of the lives of the oppressed.
Let us look at some of these mass movements in India that were started or spearheaded by women.
Me Too campaign
The “Me Too” movement in 2018 focussed on the experiences of sexual violence. Inspired by a global campaign [started by Tarana Burke] against sexual harassment and assault, it earned a large response in part because, sadly, sexual harassment and sexual assault impact people every day.
Women across the spectrum opened up to share their stories of abuse by men in power. The movement gained a larger momentum with support from politicians, lawyers, judges, and members from various public institutions and organisations.
Moreover, it gave a platform for the victims to have their voice heard especially for those who had been keeping it in the dark till then. The movement brought the faces of assaulters of various backgrounds for the world to shame.
Justice for Nirbhaya
In 2012, the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old Delhi woman took the country by shock, triggering violent nationwide public protests over how women are treated in India.
Protests broke out across New Delhi, with a collective roar demanding justice and safety for all women in the national capital.
The outrage overflowed across state borders to a point that the police couldn’t control the fury of the protesters who were seeking justice. This was followed by protests held in other cities, including Calcutta, Bangalore, and Mumbai.
Protest against CAA — Shaheen Bagh
The anti-citizenship law demonstrations at the end of 2019 saw women in greater numbers and power. Since December 2019, women of all ages – from students to 90-year-old grandmothers — braved near-freezing temperatures came together to protest against the Modi government’s introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In Shaheen Bagh, a majority-Muslim neighborhood in Delhi, the protests began with a small, peaceful sit-in and candlelit vigil by local women. For 32 days, the protesters have blocked the major highway connecting the Indian capital to Noida.
As the days passed by over 10,000 protesters gathered there every evening from all over the city, while the local women took turns to keep the site — a marquee with a makeshift stage for speakers.
The Shaheen Bagh movement’s novel and enduring strategy has triggered activism elsewhere in the country. Thousands of women in the northern Indian city of Lucknow started their own sit-in in late January. Similar ‘Shaheen Baghs’ have sprung up since, in the cities of Patna and Chennai.
Against the Jamia University Attack
Shortly after the CAA was passed, the police began to crackdown heavily on protesters and dissident voices, including brutal crackdowns in three universities: Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Many young men and women from Shaheen Bagh study in Jamia University, which is just a short drive away.
The brutal attack on the Jamia campus brought more women out onto the streets. Even after a month since protests began in India, the women of Shaheen Bagh are showing no sign of giving up. They went on protesting despite a threat of forceful eviction hanging over their heads.
India's agriculture sector is notoriously male-dominated, but thousands of women have become a pillar of the farmer protests blocking roads into New Delhi in demanding the repeal of the three new farm laws. Women of all occupations and ages are braving the freezing winter temperatures in a bid to make the government withdraw market reforms.
Women have been present in large numbers at the protests being held by farmers at Delhi borders. By having women ride tractors into Delhi on January 26, farm unions don’t just hope to attract eyeballs but also send a message that their families stand behind them in the agitation.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)