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How Women Led India’s Story Of Resistance In 2020

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In what has been a year of global upheaval, India’s story reads rather differently from all other countries across the world. While the forefront was hogged by fatalities from coronavirus, our year was blocked end-to-end by protests thrumming in the background, which became a reality months before the pandemic did. From January through December, social issues, including, but transcending beyond the extent of the virus, kept citizens of the country occupied in demanding better from our democracy and doing better by it.

Here are 10 raging protests that made headlines in India this year:

1. Shaheen Bagh Anti-CAA-NRC Protests

India spilled over into 2020 tailing on the end of the previous year that saw national protests break out against the centre’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens proposals. The nation was gripped with fear of certain sections of the country losing out on citizenship, which led to wide agitation. At the heart of it was Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area, where women leading a months-long sit-in protest symbolised the pulse of the movement.

82-year-old Bilkis Bano, fondly known as the Shaheen Bagh Dadi, became the face of this protest, going on to feature on BBC and TIME’s global lists of the most influential women. In many other cities like Calcutta, Bangalore, and Mumbai, the anti-CAA-NRC protests were also led by students. Read more here.

2. JNU Violence, Other Student Protests

The first week of the new year was marred by a violent incident at India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, where masked miscreants initiated bloody attacks against several students on campus, on the night of January 5. According to reports, the attack had erupted following a clash between political oppositions in the university.

In a stunning move of solidarity, Deepika Padukone had visited JNU to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with student leader Aishe Ghosh and other students. Other institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia had also protested the JNU violence. Read more here.

3. Migrant Workers Protests

When the coronavirus lockdown was announced in the first half of 2020, migrant labourers from across the span of India began the arduous journey back home, in the face of lost livelihood and employment. The migrant workers crisis was dubbed one of the worst exoduses ever, with thousands travelling miles on foot and impoverished.

Their plight had sparked off wide calls for reform in policies for the poor, demanding better foresight and action by the government. Several migrant workers had even staged protests demanding to be sent back home with due process. Read more here.

4. Doctors Protests

Throughout the pandemic, at various junctures, frontline health workers and medical professionals have staged strikes and protests, demanding better facilities at COVID-19 hospitals. In October, many ‘Covid Warriors’ even brought notice to the fact that they were being severely underpaid by authorities. One of the hospitals leading the fight was Delhi’s civic-run Hindu Rao Hospital, where staff, lab workers, aside from doctors, had reportedly not been paid for months.

The Indian Medical Association, in support of doctors, had said, “To feign that the statistics of the total number of doctors and healthcare workers infected by Covid-19 doesn’t merit the attention of the nation is abominable.”

5. Political Prisoners Protests

The Delhi Riots in February this year had led to the arrest and detention of several student activists, on grounds that they were allegedly involved in inciting violence in the worst communal riots the capital had ever seen. Their arrests were compounded by their alleged support of the anti CAA-NRC protests across India. Prominent names involved were Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Umar Khalid, and others.

On social media and off, there was widespread demand for these ‘political prisoners’ to be released. Safoora Zargar, pregnant at 23 weeks in jail, was also counted among those whose imprisonment was allegedly called “unlawful.” While these women were granted bail, Khalid is still in detention. Read more here.

6. JEE/NEET Protests

The JEE-NEET protests were led primarily by students who were to appear for these national competitive exams in the month of September. Many had objected to being physically present for the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination Mains) and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET (UG), in lieu of the pandemic, asking for the exams to be postponed. Students had even brought attention to the fact that not everyone possessed the means of movement or travel amidst the pandemic.

Several political leaders had also echoed the plight of students, with the protests receiving support from 17-year-old Swede child activist Greta Thunberg as well. Read more here.

7. Hathras Gangrape Protests

In the crime case that shook the nation to its core, the Hathras gangrape case from Uttar Pradesh was understood as one of the most heinous events of the year. The rape and consequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit girl had prompted widespread anguish and backlash against the Yogi Adityanath government, which was criticised for its lapses in women’s safety policies.

Protests had broken out in several cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, demanding action against the criminals and the state government itself. Many Dalit speakers had taken the forefront at the time, bringing notice to the caste angle of the crime. Read a piece by Cynthia Stephen here.

8. LSR Student Protests

The unfortunate suicide of a young student of India’s leading Lady Shri Ram College For Women shocked the nation in November. The 19-year-old, who was in the second year of her BSc Mathematics (Honours) at LSR, hailed from Telangana and was reportedly the recipient of the government’s ‘Inspire’ scholarship, awarded to her for topping class XII results, but hadn’t received the scholarship amount.

She left behind a note citing financial difficulties. Her death had compelled many to term it an “institutional murder” with protests by students of Delhi University and Ambedkar University. Read more here.

9. Nurses Protests

In yet another issue of unrest among the medical professionals of the country, nurses from Delhi and Maharashtra went on strike to make their demands heard. In Delhi, nurses of AIIMS reported discrimination in the salary structure, inadequate hospital services, and reservations. More than 5000 people had taken part in this protest amid the pandemic.

Meanwhile, over in Maharashtra, nurses had raised alarm in August around the issue of job risks, asking for permanent posts and better COVID-19 equipment. Though they resumed work later, they reportedly continued to don black ribbons as a mark of their anguish.

10. Anti-Farm Laws Protests

And now, with the anti-farm reform protests helmed by the anna-daatas of our country intensifying at the national capital in the thick of winter, 2020 is wrapping up on a high similar to what it began on. Farmers of India, primarily from farming states of Punjab and Haryana, reached Delhi’s Singhu Border to dissent the centre’s controversial farm laws that will allegedly compromise their agrarian livelihoods.

With the sit-in resistance clocking in on a full month, the protest site has been visited by several celebrities like Diljit Dosanjh and Swara Bhasker. Several inspiring stories are emerging from the farmers’ protests, such as this one about two Chandigarh friends donating essentials to protestors and this one about farmer widows joining the movement. It makes one believe in the power of protests to divide, yet unite.

Views expressed are the author’s own.