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  • Women of Shaheen Bagh in Transnational Digital Publics
  • Emily Edwards (bio) and Sarah Ford (bio)

When the right-wing Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 11, 2019, and quickly followed up the legislative amendment with the implementation of the National Registry of Citizens (NRC), protests blossomed in India and across the globe.1 As a feminist research collective based at Bowling Green State University (BGSU)—including Radhika Gajjala, Oladoyin Olubukola Abiona, and Olayombo Tejumade Raji-Oyelade, along with collaborators at other institutions—we were immediately struck by the images of a specific anti–CAA-NRC protest in Shaheen Bagh neighborhood of Delhi, a protest dominated by images of Muslim women—often mothers and grandmothers—peacefully protesting for weeks in streets. This group of protestors became immediately hyper-visible on social media platforms and mainstream news outlets as the "Women of Shaheen Bagh." [End Page 163]

What spurred such intense national, transnational, and digital protest on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, were the perceived religious biases built into the CAA and NRC. The passage of the CAA effectively functioned to fast-track citizenship for non-Muslim Indians and immigrants from surrounding countries while simultaneously making registration as citizens more difficult for Muslim Indians and Muslim immigrants.2 Conversely, the NRC will function to create a national registry of citizens that essentially excludes from the registry any Muslim Indian who cannot provide approved legal documents to verify their citizenship.3 These initiatives have been led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and members of the BJP who increasingly profess a form of exclusionary religious nationalism that imagines India as a solely Hindu country, expressed as "Hindutva."

Our documentation of the protests on the ground in Shaheen Bagh and on digital platforms from our work as a research collective has focused on both the digital dynamics of the protests as well as the intersections of gender, religion, political subjectivities, and (trans)national activism. More specifically, our research focused on the hyper-visibility of Muslim women in India—the "Women of Shaheen Bagh"—and how their protest and visibility represented a new discursive challenge to the rhetoric of the BJP and suggested the manifestation of a (re)emerging form of gendered political protest in India dominated by previously invisible, subaltern Muslim actors. In tracking the protests, we sought to analyze the significance of the Shaheen Bagh site as a form of gendered political protest led by Muslim women that was also increasingly amplified and mediated by younger, diasporic, progressive social media activists. As such, in our research process we emphasize that the Shaheen Bagh protests are unfolding in digital spaces of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as a co-constitutive phenomena of the protest on the ground. To investigate and document these protest networks, we turned to multiple forms of data collection to capture both the grounded and digital contours of this political activism.

Combing a grounded theory approach to data gathering alongside feminist approaches to data, our research collective began collecting data in myriad ways: individual collection rituals of screen grabbing; scraping hashtags (including #shaheenbagh, #CAA, and #Shaheenbaghprotest) through the platform Netlytic; producing visualizations of digital protest discourse using the data visualization software Gephi; and finally, collecting and coding interviews with both protestors at the Shaheen Bagh site in Delhi and diasporic activists engaged in supporting [End Page 164] the protest digitally.4 These multiple forms of data collection ultimately revealed complex dimensions to the protests not immediately visible through singular forms of data gathering. The articulation of a critical, feminist methodological framework for data gathering provided us with the ability to identify and analyze multiple intersections related to political subjectivity, gender, religion, and secularism in the context of (trans)national physical and digital political activism.

Through our critical, feminist methodological framework articulated in our work as a collective, we were able to capture several themes that emerged over the course of our research into Shaheen Bagh, such as how the protests were strategically amplified by social media activists, as well as being able to consider the tensions between the affordances of digital technologies to function as tools of social change and...

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