Months after thousands of people protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the TIME Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People features Bilkis, the 82-year-old who came to be known as the ‘Dadi of Shaheen Bagh’.
Also included in the list is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but because of his ruling BJP government rejecting pluralism and targeting Muslims.
About Bilkis, journalist Rana Ayyub wrote that she, along with thousands of women who joined her in Shaheen Bagh, became the symbol of resistance “in a nation where the voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics of the Modi regime”.
“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.”
Ayyub shared what Bilkis once told her: “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.”
The Shaheen Bagh protest began after the Delhi Police’s brutal crackdown on Jamia students in December and inspired several peaceful protests in other parts of the country. The protest site was cleared in March in the wake of the pandemic.
On Modi, Karl Vick, TIME’s editor at large, wrote that “though almost all of India’s Prime Ministers have come from the nearly 80% of the population that is Hindu, only Modi has governed as if no one else matters.”
Vick said that BJP “rejected not only elitism but also pluralism, specifically targeting India’s Muslims” and added that the pandemic became a pretence for stifling dissent. “And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow.”
The Guardian, in its editorial earlier this month, criticised the Prime Minister over what it said was “his denial about India’s Covid crisis”. Other international media outlets also questioned the government over the little planning and notice for the national lockdown which was announced in March.
Some of the other people on the TIME list are actor Ayushmann Khurrana, US President Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
On the far-right Brazilian president Bolsonaro, TIME’s international editor Dan Stewart wrote: “To his base, he can simply do no wrong. It’s the rest of Brazil, and the world, that is left to count the cost.”