82-year-old Bilkis Bano famed for CAA-NRC protests in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and an Uyghur economics professor, Ilham Tothi are the persons of 2021 in Muslims 500, a publication that ranks the five hundred most influential Muslims in the world.
Bano, Muslim 500’s woman of the year 2021, who reportedly started the rebellion against Central government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) with a simple Gandhian protest on a road in her locality in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi managed to grab the attention of the world towards the issue.
Initially, a few of Muslim women joined Bano in her protest. But as awareness increased people from different religions, castes and ages joined in to support the cause. The NRC that was opposed had shown its colours, in the state of Assam after Muslims were targetted and asked to prove their citizenship by providing birth certificates. It is worth noting that a major chunk of the country is dealing with documentation crisis and with the addition of NRC, Muslims are most likely to suffer.
People who failed to present the documents were moved into detention centres. The CAA introduced alongside the NRC, protects all, but Muslims and other marginalised groups, from falling prey to the NRC.
Bilkis better known as Dadi, protested against CAA-NRC for 100 days which spread to 12 locations in Delhi and to a large number of cities across the country, involving millions.
The protests subsided with the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. While the cases subsided, the Supreme Court deemed protests in public places to be unacceptable. But determined voices haven’t lost their spirit and the future of the country is yet to be decided.
Ilham Tothi: Uyghur activist
Ilham Tothi, an Uyghur economics educator has allegedly been imprisoned on separatism-related charges since 2014 with no contact with his family for the past three years. Ilham advocated the rights of Uyghurs, their culture and raised questions on the lack of opportunities for them in light of the Chinese government ill-treating them.
After reported clashes between the Uyghurs and the infiltrating Han immigrants in 2009, Tothi was arrested but released within a month due to increasing international pressure. However, he was arrested again in January 2014 and has been imprisoned since then.
In the heavily surveilled Uyghur region, people are reportedly arrested and sent to “re-education camps” if they are found to be displaying “extreme behaviour” which includes fasting during Ramadan, growing a beard, having prayer mats at home, or owning religious scriptures etc.
Ilham’s work has been recognised and he has won a number of awards, collected by his daughter, for promoting the freedom of expression and resistance to oppression. These include the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (2014), the Martin Ennals Award (2016), the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize (2019), and in October 2019, he was awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.