Archive of Dissent

Documenting Shaheen Bagh’s women-led sit-in

01 December 2023
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What is the significance of recording a contemporary resistance movement? How do the palpably silent, desensationalised images in the photographer Prarthna Singh’s Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh—Every Evening, Shaheen Baghweave together narratives of resistance? The photographs, starkly devoid of dramatic hues, bear witness to the movement’s feminist defiance and unyielding resilience. They depict a form of dissent divergent from the usual sights of contemporary protests. Absent are the frenzied visuals of social upheaval—instead, Singh’s photographs present the record of a serene, steadfast and potent resistance against a challenge to the fundamental rights of Indian citizens. The unassuming composition of the work inevitably draws the focus towards the significance of archiving such a movement. At the same time, it evokes the question: what is the implication of this deliberate simplicity within the aesthetics of global resistance movements?

India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the government’s proposition for establishing a National Register of Citizens provoked a countrywide wave of protests towards the end of 2019. A few Muslim women convened on a major road in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood for a peaceful sit-in on 15 December, the same day as the Delhi Police’s assault on students of Jamia Millia Islamia. What started as an imperceptible sit-in became a remarkable display of nonviolent, inclusive feminist emancipation over a period of 101 days.

Urged on by this display of egalitarian solidarity, and responding to the nationwide unrest, Singh travelled back home to Delhi and joined the Shaheen Bagh protest in early January 2020. “The tent became a feminist site of resistance, steadily developing an organic network,” Singh told me, reflecting on what she witnessed there. “From grandmothers to newborns, women in Shaheen Bagh exercised their agency as citizens willing to organise to protect their democracy in nonviolent, gentle ways.”

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    Prarthna Singh is a photographer currently based out of Mumbai. Singh's works explore female identity in contemporary India, within the intersection of gender and nation.

    Keywords: Shaheen Bagh Anti-CAA Protests anti-Muslim pogrom women Jamia Millia Islamia