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Religion, Legal reform

The resistance strikes back: women’s protest strategies against backlash in India

This article is part of the 2021 Gender & Development special issue ‘Feminist protests and politics in a world in crisis’.


The Shaheen Bagh site epitomised the longest sit-in intergenerational protests in India since Independence. Especially novel about these protests was the presence and leadership of first-time Muslim women protestors. Shaheen Bagh also inspired other sit-ins across the country, including several across Delhi. Yet, nowhere except Shaheen Bagh did the struggle last as long, with the participation of as many over a continuous and significant period of time. This article will explore who these women of Shaheen Bagh were, and how and why they came together to protest a proposed change in India’s citizenship rights. It will draw on interviews, field observations, and published material, to delineate the new forms of protest and strategies used by the women in Shaheen Bagh in response to what I term ‘cyclical’ backlash by the state. The article will underscore the organically evolving nature of the strategies that women in Shaheen Bagh adopted, and highlight how the use of physical, digital, and figurative space became the hallmark of women’s organising in this protest. In light of continuing state intolerance and shrinking space for civil society, this article concludes with reflections on lessons that future feminist resistance and organising can draw from this analysis, to be able to strike back against this backlash.