Pune, Maharashtra's cultural capital, is witnessing a heroic struggle of women, similar to those happening across the country.
"I am here for my children and grandchildren. I am here for my country. I am 70 now and will die sooner rather than later. But it is my duty to stand up for my country for the rest of my life; I won't go back now," says Banu Shaikh of Kondhwa, in Pune. Shaikh has been sitting in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the past 23 days. "I will not accept this Act and will fight against it; whatever time it takes," she says.
Protests against CAA and NRC have spread across the country, and Maharashtra is no exception. The state is witnessing mega marches, rallies and meetings.
In Pune's Kondhwa, hundreds of women have hit the streets. They sit in protest all day and through the night. There is diversity here, too. From women in their late-teens to 75-year-olds, there are many well- educated women, those who own businesses, and housewives who have never been to a protest in their life.
"We have never been out on the streets for protests. But, by bringing this Act, the Modi government has forced us. It is like a battle for life. How come they ask us for proof of residence in our own country? This is discrimination and against the idea of the Constitution," says Yasmin Firdaus.
The interesting part is the women’s engagement with the Constitution-- that they’ve begun to read and imbibe. When they now speak about the issue during an interaction, they back their arguments with articles from the Constitution.
Firdaus Fatima mentioned Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution. "When did you read that?" NewsClick asked. “We have read the Constitution for the first time. We read it here aloud and try and understand it. Now, all these women are well informed about the related acts in the book. It feels good to know about all of this," added Firdaus.
Muslim organisations in Pune have come together to launch a forum called the 'Kul E Jamat Tanjeem'. The women protesters are now reaching out to different gullies and mohallas and informing people about the provisions of CAA and how it is against the Constitution.
"Just sitting here is one form of protest. At the same time, we are taking part in awareness campaigns. We are getting a positive response in different bastis," says Minaj Shaikh, a pharmacist. "I’ve been here for all these days despite knowing that it is affecting my business. But Acts of this ilk will try to erase us from everything. It is a direct attack on our existence and we have to stand against it," she adds.
Tehseen Shaikh, a stock-trader, points out that "the Government is busy trying to create a rift between Hindus and Muslims and to corner us further. Why?”
She says that the feeling of being cornered for no reason is hurting the community with each passing day. “This has to be stopped at some point and we think that the time has come to stand up against these consistent attacks," she adds.
The women have also been introduced to poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz for the first time, courtesy the agitation. "We had never heard of him. But he was also fighting against a dictator in his country when he wrote that inspirational poem. We now sing 'Hum Dekhenge' every day. We know it by heart now," says Tehseen.
A slew of divisive issues pushed forward by the Narendra Modi government, backed by a large section of the media, is also being questioned here. The women speak in a straight-forward manner about the role that a section of the media has played in creating the current polarisation across India.
"Day and night, few media people just portray us as anti-national. They are more interested in Hindu vs Muslim issues. The average Hindu or Muslim does not want riots," says Areeba Mirza.
Incidents of firing, first at Delhi’s Jamia Millia and later at Shaheen Bagh are being seen here as well-choreographed attempts at scaring the community.
"What are they doing other than terrorising people? They should have focused on issues like unemployment and the economy, but as they lack the skills to handle these things, they are deflecting public attention by bringing communal issues to the fore. All these incidents clearly indicate that," said Tehzeeb Shaikh, a tax consultant.
"Instead of spending their energy for all this, the government should have made taxation rules easier and smoothed out the process. It would have won them votes as well as hearts," she adds.
When NewsClick visited the protest site, it was the 23rd day since the sit-in protest began. The Government has shown no inclination or willingness to step back or even talk to the agitators. When asked how long they were willing to sit in protest, Mehrunnisa Shaikh put it simply: "We will sit here. For whatever time it takes. We will have to put our foot down and come together to prevent them from making such laws. Else, there will be no place for us in the future. We have no option.”