Bilkis, an 82-year-old woman who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood, on Thursday said she was happy to be featured in Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People of 2020, but said she would have been happier if her demands had been met, PTI reported.
She was referring to her protest, along with more than thousand others, demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“I am thankful to the almighty,” the 82-year-old woman said. “I would have been much happier had our demand been fulfilled…had the government listened to us and given us what we wanted.”
When asked if she would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi if invited, Bilkis said yes, NDTV reported. “ “Modi ji is like my son,” she said. “I am like his mother. I didn’t give birth to him... my sister did. [But] he is like my child.”
Bilkis congratulated the prime minister for being featured on the Time magazine’s list and also spoke about the coronavirus pandemic. “Our first fight is against coronavirus,” she said. “The disease should be eliminated from the world.”
She expressed sadness for having to call off the protest due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. “I was there till the end,” she added.
Bilkis’ son Manzoor Ahmad said that his mother was not excited about being featured on the list. “When we told her that she has been declared as one of the most influential people in the world, she just said ‘okay’,” he said.
Ahmad also spoke about Bilkis’ commitment to the protest. “It was so cold and she was running a fever, despite that she went there to support other women,” he said, adding that all women in the family took turns to take part in the protest.
One of the protesters at Shaheen Bagh told Hindustan Times that local residents were happy with Bilkis and the protest making its way to the Time magazine’s list. “We are happy that at least someone understood our intentions,” Hema Ahmad said. “The authorities always tried to paint the protests as something wrong. Truth always wins. Bilkis dadi’s [grandmother] 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.”
Bilkis along with her two friends, 90-year-old Asma Khatoon and 75-year-old Sarwari, are referred to as the “dadis of Shaheen Bagh.”
In the Time magazine list, journalist Rana Ayyub wrote that 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 Narendra Modi government. “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,” she had written.
Bilkis’ inclusion in the list was because of her participation in the Shaheen Bagh protest. On December 15, 2019, a group of around 50 women had occupied a road at Shaheen Bagh, demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Gradually, the numbers increased as more protesters joined as police failed to convince the protesters to vacate the road. The protests that started in Delhi in mid-December also spread across the country.
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.
Recently, the Delhi Police have alleged that organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protests 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.