The TIME magazine’s list of 100 most influential people for 2020 is out, and Indians have raised the bar yet again.
This time around, an 82-year old woman, Bilkis Bano, also called the ‘Shaheen Bagh Dadi’ is a part of this coveted list which includes prominent figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana.
“I am very happy that I was honoured in this manner. I did not expect this,” she said, speaking to news agencies.
She also congratulated PM Modi, and said:
“I have read only the Quran Sharif and I have never been to school but today I feel excited and happy. I congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for also being included in this list. He is also my son. So what if I did not give birth to him, my sister has given birth to him. I pray for his long life and happiness.”
She did convey her mixed feelings on this though, stating she would have been even happier if the government had listened to their protests and some change could have come from that.
Her son Manzoor Ahmad told PTI over the phone:
“When we told her that she has been declared as one of the most influential people in the world, she just said “okay”. I am thankful to the almighty. I would have been much happier had our demand been fulfilled…had the government listened to us and given us what we wanted (withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act).”
The 82-year-old conveyed her dismay that they had to stop the protests because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, she is adamant that right now the nation needs to beat COVID-19 and emerge safe from it.
“Our first fight is against coronavirus. The disease should be eliminated from the world.”
Bilkis is the only Indian woman in the list who has been termed an ‘icon’ for her silent revolution against the country’s new citizenship law. Bilkis was the face of the women-led protests in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, a small neighbourhood that became the epicentre of anti-CAA action towards the end of 2019. She had joined hundreds of other Muslim women in a sit-in protest that went on from December till March, morning till midnight, until the Coronavirus pandemic hit India and a nation-wide lockdown was announced. The beloved ‘Dadi’ had no armour, only a huge smile on her face that stayed with her until the protests were disbanded.
TIME’s profile of Bilkis Bano, written by journalist Rana Ayyub, reads, “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 said to me as a parting note: “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.”
Fighting the CAA
The anti-CAA protests were initiated to condemn a new citizenship law passed by the government, as well as possible plans to have a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The infamous Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 grants citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who are illegal immigrants in India, provided they are from Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, or Buddhist communities. The exclusion of Muslims –the largest minority community in India – in the Act was widely criticised, and as an attack on India’s secular constitution. This was the first time in which religion became the ultimate criterion to get citizenship under Indian law.
The CAA had provoked protests from India and abroad, and the United Nations called the new asylum system in India a discriminatory one. The protests against the CAA made headlines with women’s participation in an unprecedented scale as well as the violent suppression of student protests in JNU, Aligarh Muslim University, and Jamia Milia Islamia.
India’s Voice in the Global Map
The TIME list also includes CEO of Google’s parent Alphabet Sundar Pichai, and clinical microbiology professor Ravindra Gupta. Gupta is professor at Cambridge University and has been featured as part of the ‘Pioneers’ category. Indian-origin Gupta came into the limelight for curing London-based patient Eric Castellijo of HIV.
(Edited by Athira Nair)