The Nanis and Dadis of Shaheen Bagh… not just Dadis

Zehra Naqvi
The Nanis and Dadis of Shaheen Bagh… not just Dadis

The women who are coming out to protest peacefully against CAA and NRC are being referred to as the Dadis of Shaheen Bagh. (File)

This may be considered nit-picking in a people’s movement which has been going on for over a month now, led by women who are sitting in, speaking out and agitating for their idea of India, for safeguarding the multicultural, multi-layered, multi-hued fabric of our nation and preventing it from being captured by a discriminatory majoritarian ideology. The women who, day after day, and night after night, are coming out to protest peacefully against CAA and NRC. The Dadis of Shaheen Bagh, as they are being referred to.

So here is the nit-pick: Shouldn’t the way we refer to them be changed from only Dadis to ‘Nanis and Dadis’ of Shaheen Bagh- given that Nanis are present at the protests as much as the Dadis?

Someone might ask, what’s the difference? How does it matter? In fact, it matters very much indeed. Dadi is a position of privilege. It is the privilege of having borne a male child, the much celebrated offspring in our society, the prized possession—the beta.

Indian society’s penchant for sons needs no introduction. Being the mother of a son myself, I have experienced this privilege first hand. The birth of my son was celebrated by sundry relatives like a major festival, and many of the greetings I received were not just ‘Mubarak ho’ but specifically ‘Beta mubarak ho.’ I am the privileged woman who bore a male child and shall be the future Dadi. My mother, on the other hand, is a pure Nani, for she has given birth to ‘only’ two girls. She has been pitied and consoled all her life for being a young widow with no ‘male protector’. Much head shaking followed by consolatory statements. “Don’t worry, your daughters will become your sons.”

It is apparently an elevation in position for a woman to become a man, for the only way she can be her parents’ strength and support is by ‘becoming a son’. Conversely, to degrade a man’s position or to call him a coward one need only refer to him as ‘womanly’ and ‘effeminate’, firmly cementing the gender hierarchy in society—manhood always being superior to womanhood, always a step higher in the gender ladder.

The son is usually considered a great source of strength and pride for a mother for he it is who will support her in her old age and protect her against all oppression. The mother with no male offspring, on the other hand, is a creature who is showered with sympathy, and such expressions will be found aplenty, “Try again. Next time you’ll bear a son.”

The image of the mother ‘empowered’ through her sons is so tellingly embedded in global psyche -- not just Indian -- that the hugely popular TV show Game of Thrones showed one of its major women characters Daenerys Targaryen as ‘Mother of Dragons’. A male character similarly owning three dragons would probably never have been called ‘Father of Dragons’, because it is primarily the women who are supposed to draw all their power from sons. Men as the sole source of strength for women and women’s value being derived only from their relation to men are those quintessential aspects of patriarchy that have become so normalised in society that they escape our notice altogether.

It is important to emphasise that these observations are in no way meant to minimise or undercut the ongoing movement at Shaheen Bagh and the fight to uphold the idea of India as a nation of unity in diversity. These observations, on the contrary, intend to point out ways to strengthen the movement by shielding it from the unnoticed sneaking in of patriarchy.

Patriarchy needs to be checked the moment it starts creeping in. It is, therefore, imperative to bring the Mothers of Daughters or Nanis in focus as well.

But this brings us to another, equally pertinent question: does a woman’s strength lie only in her ability to give birth and produce offspring - whether male or female? Should she always be identified as a mother or grandmother - is that alone the source of her worth and dignity? Can a woman not voice her opinion and stand up to protest as an individual in her own right?

Perhaps the best way to refer to these steadfast protestors would be simply as ‘Women of Shaheen Bagh.’ But if we do refer to them as mothers and grandmothers, it is important that mothers of daughters be feted and lauded as much as the mothers of sons.