Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

Bilkis in a local mosque in Kurana village after being named by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 September 2020

Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

  • US magazine hails Bilkis, 82, as ‘symbol of resistance’ over citizenship protests

NEW DELHI: As the black SUV pulled up outside her village, 82-year-old Bilkis could see a group of people waiting with garlands and big smiles on their faces.

They approached her one by one, and as she slowly stepped out of the car, some greeted her with a “namaste” or “salaam,” while others queued to take a selfie.

It has been a week since Bilkis was named by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people for 2020 list, but the “dadi” (grandmother) of Kurana village, nearly 70 km west of New Delhi, says she is still getting used to all the attention.

“This is new to me. I have never experienced anything like this in my life,” she said.

“I was born in this village and married here, too, but never greeted this way by the villagers. It seems I have done something that has touched them,“ Bilkis, who uses one name, told Arab News.

A mother of six and grandmother of 17, Bilkis has never been to school, and can neither read nor write.

But she gained prominence earlier this year when she joined several other young and older women in a three-month demonstration in New Delhi’s Muslim-dominated Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), while braving harsh winter temperatures in the capital.

“I sat on the street from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for 101 days without a break,” Bilkis said.

On Sept. 22, Time magazine honored her for being “the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities are being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime.

More accolades are in order.

On Tuesday, a women’s group said the magazine’s “recognition of Bilkis comes at a dark time when anyone who stands for justice, equality and democratic rights are being put behind bars.”

According to Annie Raja, general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, Bilkis represents the “resolve of the women to safeguard democracy and the secularism of the constitution.” 

The CAA grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. 

It is part of a proposed National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an initiative to identify “genuine citizens” of India. 

However, many Muslims fear the exercise will leave them “stateless” and drive them out of the country.

Opposing the move, Indians from all walks of life, faiths and communities began protesting last December, culminating in violent clashes with police at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia University in March.

“When I saw students on TV being beaten by police for protesting against the CAA, I decided to join the protest in Shaheen Bagh,” Bilkis said.

For three months, protesters occupied one of the capital’s busiest areas, with the sit-in ending on March 25 after the government announced a nationwide lockdown to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Bilkis said she didn’t expect the protests would last that long, but would “do it all over again” if necessary. 

“I was born here and I will die here,” Bilkis said, referring to Kurana village, where she has lived for more than 70 years.

“I am not fighting for myself, I have lived my life, but I am fighting for the new generation who have their whole life in front of them. We are the citizens of the country. Our forefathers were born here. Where will we go if we leave?”

She blamed the government for encouraging religious violence in New Delhi in February when more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives.

“This government is creating a wall of hatred and has arrested innocent people. They should be released. This is an atrocity against the students,” she said.

“Hindus and Muslims have existed together in harmony for ages; why does the government want to create religious disharmony?” she said.

A young villager, Zaid Khan, who has been listening to Bilkis, nods his head before sharing his opinion.

“Dadi (grandma) is fighting for us, and we have to stand by her. I am happy the issue is being highlighted again. The law has only one aim — to target Muslims,” Khan said.

Manzoor Ahmad, Bilkis’ son, said that while the entire family is proud of her achievements, their “real win” would be for the CAA to be withdrawn.

Bilkis joins other Indian women, including Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, and celebrated lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, to be featured by Time magazine in recent years.


Biden slams Trump friendship with ‘thug’ Kim

Updated 13 min 10 sec ago

Biden slams Trump friendship with ‘thug’ Kim

  • Trump insists that he has avoided war through his summits with Kim Jong Un
  • Trump calls India, China air ‘filthy’ as he hits Biden’s stance on climate change

NASHVILLE, USA: Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Thursday denounced President Donald Trump for befriending North Korea’s “thug” leader, likening his diplomacy to working with Hitler.
In a sharp clash in their final presidential debate, Biden attacked Trump’s insistence that he has avoided war through his summits with Kim Jong Un.
“He’s talked about his good buddy, who’s a thug,” Biden said of the young North Korean leader.
“That’s like saying we had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe — the rest of Europe. Come on.”
But Biden indicated he was also willing to meet with Kim, saying his condition would be that Pyongyang works to make the Korean peninsula “a nuclear-free zone.”
Trump said that former president Barack Obama had left him “a mess” on North Korea and had warned him of the risk of “nuclear war.”
After the summits, “we have a very good relationship. And there’s no war,” said Trump, who also played down North Korea’s recent unveiling of a massive new long-range missile at a military parade.
“He didn’t like Obama,” Trump said of Kim not meeting the former president. “He didn’t like him. He wouldn’t do it.”
Biden, who was vice president under Obama, hit back that Obama would not meet Kim because he was pushing stronger sanctions.
“President Obama said we’re going to talk about denuclearization. We’re not going to legitimize you.”
Trump first met in June 2018 with Kim in Singapore, the first-ever summit between the countries still technically at war, and later said that the two leaders “fell in love.”
The two leaders have met two more times and North Korea has since held off on nuclear and missile tests but analysts say Pyongyang has kept advancing its weapons programs.

Climate change
On climate change, Trump described the air in India and China as “filthy” as he denounced Biden’s plans to tackle the controversial issue.
“Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India — it’s filthy. The air is filthy,” Trump said.
Trump charged that Biden’s climate plan was an “economic disaster” for oil states such as Texas and Oklahoma.
Biden said that climate change is “an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it.”
“We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years,” he said.
The planet has already warmed by around one degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, enough to boost the intensity of deadly heat waves, droughts and tropical storms.
Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, which aims to cap global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius.
Trump’s remarks come days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper visit New Delhi for talks on building the growing US-India partnership.
At the first presidential debate, Trump also spoke critically of India, questioning its coronavirus data amid criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.