TIME, the famous American news magazine, assembles an annual listicle of 100 (often known as TIME 100) most influential people in the world in its efforts to recognise and acknowledge the participants for changing the worldregardless of the consequences of their actions.

This year in TIME 100 2020 list, alongside US politician Kamala Harris, businesswoman Mackenzie Scott, singer Selena Gomez and tennis star Naomi Osaka, there was a surprise entry of a relatively unknown woman from India: Bilkis (often lovingly referred to as Bilkis Dadi). 

So, who is Bilkis? 

In December 2019, both the houses of the Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (“CAA”) which provoked a feeling of religious persecution.

Islam is the second-largest religion in India, with approximately 172 million people identifying themselves as adherents of Islam and yet the word ‘Muslim’ got ‘slipped’ while drafting the CAA. This agitated the nation and led to nationwide protests. 

On 14 December 2019, the Shaheen Bagh protest took birth, when 10 to 15 local Muslim women began a blockade of Kalindi Kunj Road, a six-lane highway bordering the Muslim-dominated neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in southeast Delhi. Contrary to the violence witnessed in other parts of the country, the movement at Shaheen Bagh was a sit-in peaceful protest. 

There was one woman who became the face of the Shaheen Bagh movement– an 82-year-old lady named Bilkis. She was seen at the forefront of the protests at Shaheen Bagh with hundreds of other women under a canopied tent opposing the unjust and discriminatory law. Even as Delhi braved its coldest winter in over a century, Bilkis didn’t move and sat right there with her wrinkled face and sparkling eyes shining with grit and determination to uphold the fight for a secular India. 

Within days, Bilkis and the other elderly women who participated in the protest became the symbol of resistance and hope, and were fondly named as the Dadis of Shaheen Bagh by various social media platforms. 

The movement took an artistic turn when protest art became the voice of resistance and dissent. The area where the women were having a sit-down was covered in murals, graffiti, posters and banners giving out messages of equality, togetherness, peace and fight against injustices. Between 2 and 8 February 2020, a musical and cultural event, Artists Against Communalism, was also held. Celebrities and artists like Ankur Tewari – music director of the movie Gully Boy, Singer Prateek Kuhad, Comedian Kusha Kapila, and others performed/attended the event. This had become one of the longest sit-in protests of this magnitude in modern India.

Inspired by Shaheen Bagh, similar styles of peaceful demonstrations were organised in Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

After almost 101 days, on 24 March 2020, Delhi Police finally vacated the site due to coronavirus pandemic.

Bilkis during her protests on the streets of Delhi. Picture Courtesy : AFP

TIME’s Ranna Ayyub on Bilkis

Ranna Ayyub, a journalist and an author who has penned the piece for TIME magazine portrayed Bilkis as representative of an ostracized minority: “With prayer beads in one hand and the national flag in the other, Bilkis became the voice of the marginalized in India.”

Ranna views Bilkis as someone who deserves recognition so that the world acknowledges the power of resistance against tyranny.

Bilkis – an epitome of humility & selflessness

Undoubtedly being recognized in TIME 100 is an honour for life.

But on being asked about how she feels on receiving the said recognition, Bilkis replied unassumingly and in a trembling voice-“I am thankful to the Almighty. I would have been much happier had our demand been fulfilled…had the government listened to us and given us what we wanted (withdrawal of the CAA)”.

Her response is a reflection of utmost humility and selflessness.

Muslim Women Breaking Age-Old Walls 

During the movement, India experienced something completely unprecedented and which is not much talked about.

Most of the women that joined the Shaheen Bagh protest were hijab- and burqa-wearing Muslim homemakers.

Muslim women are usually judged as powerless and oppressed and in an immediate need of a saviour to liberate them from the clutches of their regressive traditions. And here they were, changing history and inspiring over 1.3 billion people of our country. They were challenging the long-established tradition of patriarchy prevalent in the Indian Muslim community. 

It is truly unfortunate that a movement which is celebrated and applauded at a global stage has been recently criminalised by the Indian government. But if the resilience and determinedness of Bilkis Dadi has taught us anything, its that when there is hatred and vitriol being lobbed at you, fight it by promoting peace and love. It will always win in the end.