Modi, Bilkis among Time 100: Dissenters celebrate while BJP remains silent. Why?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bilkis, an 82-year-old Muslim woman who became the face of the Shaheen Bagh anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Delhi are among those on TIME magazine’s list of 100 “Most Influential People of 2020”.

While PM Modi is listed in the “Leaders” category, Bilkis, a.k.a “Dadi of Shaheen Bagh”, has been featured under “Icons”.

What Time says about Narendra Modi?

Time 100 said about India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he has brought India’s democracy and secular nature into doubt.

The short-profile is written by Time editor at large, Karl Vick.

The Magazine accused Modi’s Hindu-nationalist BJP government of rejecting the country’s pluralism and targeting Muslims, the largest minority in India.

“The crucible of the pandemic became a pretense for stifling dissent. And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow,” the magazine said referring Modi.

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The key to democracy is not, in fact, free elections. Those only tell who got the most votes. More important is the rights of those who did not vote for the winner. India has been the world’s largest democracy for more than seven decades. Its population of 1.3 billion includes Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and other religious sects. All have abided in India, which the Dalai Lama (who has spent most of his life in refuge there) has lauded as “an example of harmony and stability.”

Narendra Modi has brought all that into doubt. Though almost all of India’s Prime Ministers have come from the nearly 80% of the population that is Hindu, only Modi has governed as if no one else matters. First elected on a populist promise of empowerment, his Hindu-­nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rejected not only elitism but also pluralism, specifically targeting India’s Muslims. The crucible of the pandemic became a pretense for stifling dissent. And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow.

What Time says about Bilkis?

Time describes 82-year anti-CAA protester Bilikis as the voice of the marginalized in India and a symbol of resistance “in a nation where the voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics of the Modi regime.”

The profile of Bilkis in the TIME magazine list is written by journalist and author Rana Ayyub.

Time also said “Bilkis gave hope and strength to activists and student leaders who were being thrown behind bars for standing up for the unpopular truth in a democracy that was sliding into authoritarianism, and inspired peaceful copycat protests across the country.”

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When I first met Bilkis, she sat in the midst of a crowd, surrounded by young women who were protesting with placards displaying verses of revolution. With prayer beads in one hand and the national flag in the other, Bilkis became the voice of the marginalized in India, an 82-year-old who would sit at a protest site from 8 a.m. to midnight.

She had been sitting there ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which could block Muslims from citizenship in the country, in December, and she continued through the cold winter. Bilkis, along with thousands of women who joined her in Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, became the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities were being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics of the Modi regime. Bilkis gave hope and strength to activists and student leaders who were being thrown behind bars for standing up for the unpopular truth in a democracy that was sliding into authoritarianism, and inspired peaceful copycat protests across the country.

She said to me as a parting note: “I will sit here till blood stops flowing in my veins so the children of this country and the world breathe the air of justice and equality.” Bilkis deserves recognition so the world acknowledges the power of resistance against tyranny.