Bilkis, an 82-year-old woman who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood, was among the Indians featured on the Time magazine list of “The 100 Most Influential People of 2020”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bollywood actor Ayushman Khurana, Professor of Clinical Microbiology Ravindra Gupta, and Google Chief Executive officer Sundar Pichai also made it to the list.
Bilkis, along with more than a thousand other women, became the symbol of resistance in a country where the “voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned” by the Modi government, wrote journalist Rana Ayyub. “Bilkis gave hope and strength to activists and student leaders who were being thrown behind bars for standing up for the unpopular truth in a democracy that was sliding into authoritarianism, and inspired peaceful copycat protests across the country,” Ayyub wrote.
Bilkis told her, “I will sit here till blood stops flowing in my veins so the children of this country and the world breathe the air of justice and equality.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. It has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. Protests against the Act started in Delhi in mid-December and spread across the country.
Recently, the Delhi Police have alleged that organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protests also conspired to overthrow the government, and sparked the communal violence in the city which broke out in February. Many organisers and youth leaders involved in the protests are in police custody.
Narendra Modi also featured on Time’s list. His inclusion in the list, however, was not due to his or the Centre’s achievements but in connection with the government’s alleged targeting of India’s Muslims, according to a piece written by Karl Vick, a correspondent of Time.
Vick wrote that India, the world’s largest democracy, comprises various sects, including Hindu, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and others. The Dalai Lama, who has spent a long time in India in refuge, has praised the country as “an example of harmony and stability,” Vick wrote.
“Narendra Modi has brought all that into doubt,” he said. “Though almost all of India’s Prime Ministers have come from the nearly 80% of the population that is Hindu, only Modi has governed as if no one else matters.”
The Time correspondent also accused the prime minister and his “Hindu-nationalist” Bhartiya Janata Party of rejecting elitism and pluralism, especially targeting India’s Muslims. “The crucible of the pandemic became a pretense for stifling dissent,” Vick said. “And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow.”
Actor Ayushmann Khurrana was the only Bollywood actor to be a part of the list. “Where male protagonist roles often fall into the trap of stereotypical masculinity, Ayushmann has successfully and convincingly transformed into characters who challenge those very stereotypes,” actor Deepika Padukone wrote about the Vicky Donor star.
Indian-origin Professor Ravindra Gupta, a pioneer in the research of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, made it to the list. Adam Castillejo, the second person ever to be functionally cured of HIV, spoke about Gupta’s dedication to finding a cure for the virus for everyone.
“He was thoughtful and compassionate, and his accomplishments – now including oversight of the stem-cell treatments I received from a donor with a rare gene mutation, which led to my remission –clearly earned him respect and admiration from his colleagues in the HIV research community,” Castillejo said in his piece about Gupta. “Now he has mine, as well.”
JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon wrote about Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, saying that his American story represents the best of what we aspire for the society. “He used his natural gifts and strong work ethic to rise through the ranks of Google [now Alphabet] by leading many of their most successful products, such as Drive, Gmail and Maps, and officially took the reins of the company in December,” Dimon wrote.
China President Xi Jingping, United States President Donald Trump, German leader Ursula von der Leyen, Black Lives Matter Founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, Alibaba Group Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang, musician Megan Thee Stallion, tennis star Naomi Osaka, US Federal Reserve Chairperson Jeremy Powell, singer Selena Gomez, actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among many who features on the list.