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Muslim Women Protest in India          01/24 06:37

   NEW DELHI (AP) -- In the Indian capital's Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, beside 
open sewers and dangerously dangling electricity wires, a group of Muslim women 
in colorful headscarves sit in resistance to a new citizenship law that has 
unleashed protests across the country. 

   For more than a month the women have taken turns maintaining an around the 
clock sit-in on a highway that passes through their neighborhood. They sing 
songs of protest and chant anti-government slogans, some cradling babies, 
others laying down rugs to make space for more people to sit.

   The movement has slowly spread nationwide, with many women across the 
country staging their own sit-ins.

   Through numerous police barricades, women trickle in from the winding 
arterial alleys of Shaheen Bagh with children in hand, as poets and singers 
take the makeshift stage, drawing rapturous applause.

   The neighborhood rings with chants of "Inquilab Zindabad," which means "long 
live the revolution!"

   As night draws closer, women as old as 90 huddle together under warm 
blankets, falling asleep on cheap mattresses.

   The women, like demonstrators elsewhere in the country, have been demanding 
the revocation of the citizenship law approved last month. The law provides a 
fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some 
neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.

   Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different 
faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as 
part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.

   "Someone had to tell the government that their black laws won't be accepted. 
So, as mothers, we decided to protest," said Najma Khatoon, 62.

   Khatoon and other protesters in Shaheen Bagh view the citizenship law as 
part of a bigger plan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist 
government to implement a nationwide register of citizens, which they fear 
could lead to the deportation and detention of Muslims.

   Modi and other leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party have repeatedly said 
Indian citizens won't be affected by the new law, and that if a nationwide 
register is ever conducted, there will be no religion column.

   The gathering at Shaheen Bagh started with a handful of women appalled by 
the violence at a nearby Muslim university during protests against the law on 
Dec. 15. 

   A common refrain among the women at Shaheen Bagh is that they are there to 
ensure that the secular India plotted out by independence-era leaders remains 
for younger generations.

   A makeshift library houses people who read about the constitution. The space 
is decorated with art and installations --- from a mock detention camp to a 
mini replica of India Gate, Delhi's famous World War I monument, inscribed not 
with the names of soldiers but of those killed in the nationwide protests.

   What would halt the protests --- short of a revocation of the law by the 
Supreme Court, where it has been challenged in nearly 60 petitions --- is 
unclear. But there is no indication the women will up and leave anytime soon.

   Leaders from Modi's party have blamed the protests on provocateurs 
deliberately misleading poor, uneducated people.

   The women braving unusually cold winter nights seem undeterred.

   "Modi's actions have stirred our blood," said Asma Khatoon, an octogenarian. 
"We don't feel cold anymore." ___ Associated Press journalists Rishi Lekhi and 
Rishabh R. Jain contributed to this report.


(KR)

 
 
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