“In good hands”: Women against exclusionary Citizenship Amendment Act



This presentation has emerged in the context of the imposition of an exclusionary citizenship amendment legislation on December 12, 2019 in India, when the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from neighbouring countries, excluding Muslims specifically. In protest, a nearly unknown locality in Delhi, Shaheen Bagh, witnessed a show of dissent through a series of performances by local and national level performers, a number of large and colourful art installations, graffiti, temporary libraries and reading rooms. These innovative expressions of protest asserted that “the relation between urban processes and city forms is a volatile one, and this volatility in turn has a decisive effect on how the poor emerge as political actors (Das and Randeria 2015: S3).

"Acts of mapping, drawing, scaling and rendering visual, [therefore,] are particular acts that spatialise government” (Bhan 2016: 131). The Indian state, like all others, reserves the rights to classify its citizens into categories such as the lawful citizen, the migrant, the squatter, the refugee, the insurgent or the outsider. On the other hand, the residents / citizens (or others aspiring to be so) build “a paper trail of their lives” (ibid) by accumulating documents such as the Citizens’ unique identification Card, voter identification card (with photos) , income tax payee’s card, ration card / or other food distribution eligibility proofs, school leaving final certificates, bank accounts and other documents that would prove their addresses, that would help them prove their claim as a citizen.

This research analyses the widespread concerns around upholding the values of the Indian constitution. The city of Delhi where the dissent started, was joined by other new sites of protest, where especially the women became the face of insurgent citizenship in resisting the unprecedented assault by the Indian state on democratic participatory processes across the board. Civil society organisations, NGOs, universities, dissenters were at the receiving end of this assault. At the peak of the revolt spreading all over India – which saw unimaginable violence being unleashed on its participants in waves –, women gave lead to the movement as guards of the Indian constitution. This ongoing revolt is seen in this essay as an irreversible shift in public and private perception of women in grassroot movements in India – both by and about their roles in society. Though the protest was brought to a violent end by police and political interventions, the society – with all its patriarchal biases, grudgingly had to accept women as leaders and not just meek, absent and unseen half of the citizenry.

This talk argues that this unfinished story of claiming citizenship rights remains crystalized as the memories of women’s performance of citizenship that were the principle mobilizational force for the public show of protest. It also anticipates a larger participation of women as the upholders of the culture of humanism and secularism, whereby the nation’s democratic fabric shall get nurtured in future “in good hands” of the women, given their sustained struggle against all odds.

Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (Jawaharlal Nehru University)


Faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is a dancer/choreographer and a social anthropologist, working currently on changing landscapes of dance in India; Performance of identity, citizenship and crisis in democracy; and Resisting neo-colonization in writing dance. Dancing Modernity: Uday Shankar and his Transcultural Experimentations (2022), Alice Boner Across Geographies and Arts (2021), and Being Rama: Playing a God in the Changing Times (2021) are her recent-most publications.