The first comprehensive book on one of the most importantcivil rights movements in the history of Independent India.
On 15 December 2019, police in riot gear stormed Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and attacked unarmed students protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which makes religion a factor in the process of granting Indian citizenship. In neighbouring Shaheen Bagh, mothers and other relatives and friends of the students came out into the streets in outrage and anguish. They sat on a main road demanding repeal of the CAA, which, twinned with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), could make Indian Muslims aliens in theirown homeland. Within days, similar protests broke out across the country. Free India had never seen anything like it.
Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India examines how the sit-in by a small group of Muslim women—many of whom had stepped out of their homes alone for the first time—united millions of Indians of different faiths and ideologies in defence of the principles of liberty, equality and secularism enshrined in our Constitution. It also throws up many important questions: Can the Shaheen Bagh protests reverse the damage done to our democracy in recent years? How did the non-violent movement sustain itself despite vilification, threats and persecution by the establishment? Is this movement the beginning of new solidarities in our society? Will it survive the aftermath of the communal violence that devastated northeast Delhi in February 2020, and the witch-hunt that was launched under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown?
This necessary collection comprises interviews with some of the brave women at the core of the protests; ground reports and photographs by journalists like Seema Mustafa, Seemi Pasha, Nazes Afroz and Mustafa Quraishi; and essays by thinkers, writers, lawyers and activists, including Nayantara Sahgal, Harsh Mander, Subhashini Ali, Nandita Haksar, Zoya Hasan, Apoorvanand, Enakshi Ganguly, Sharik Laliwala and Nizam Pasha. It is a book that must be read by everyone who cares about India’s democracy and its future.
‘But strangely enough, I find all my identities under threat today. As a woman, as a journalist, as a Muslim, as a secularist, as a liberal and even as an Indian because the Idea of India as envisaged by those who led the struggle for Independence, and enshrined in the Constitution with all its guarantees and its protection, is under threat.’
A fascinating account of an audacious woman’s journey and a rapidly vanishing way of life, Azadi’s Daughter is both a personal memoir and a political commentary. Journalist Seema Mustafa writes evocatively of the secular, pluralist India of the 1960s and ’70s, chronicling her life as a Muslim woman born into the nationalist, progressive Kidwai family in Lucknow. As a child, her life was untouched by communalism, and even as she realizes that this was not the case for many, her book is a testament to the syncretic nature of secularism, in which a staunchly Muslim household was not limited to conservative interpretations of Islam.
Seema Mustafa incisively charts the events which have slowly begun to erode this tolerant, diverse ethos—the government’s handling of the Shah Bano case in the 1980s, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the 1990s, the mass arrests and torture of Indian Muslim youth in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings, and the Gujarat riots of the 2000s. She also examines the current state of secularism where people face marginalization and the threat of violence merely for exercising their right to religion, to livelihood and even to what they eat.
This book should set to rest lazy assumptions about Indian Muslims, and women in particular. Even as it highlights the dominant concerns of Indian Muslims—security, employment, education, housing—it also underlines their abiding faith in Indian democracy and its pluralistic ethos. A memoir that defies old assumptions and prejudices, Azadi’s Daughter is an important account of Indian Muslims in the modern world.