New Delhi        -        With a toothless grin and a clenched fist raised to the heavens, 90-year-old AsmaKhatun chanted exuberantly. “Azadi,” she cried, using the Hindi word for freedom and joining a loud chorus that rang out across ShaheenBagh, a neighbourhood in South Delhi that over the past few weeks has become a nationwide symbol of resistance.

In her nine decades, Khatun has lived through British colonial rule, the war of independence and India’s bloody partition with Pakistan, but as a housewife she had always stayed behind closed doors and barely brushed with politics. That was until last month.

For over 40 days, the frail but feisty 90-year-old has been camped out on the streets day and night, side by side with hundreds of women and braving Delhi’s coldest temperatures for more than a century. “I am old, my bones hurt in the cold and my children are very worried about my health, but I am sitting here because I will not stand by as MrModi tries to break up India, to tell me that this is not my home after 90 years,” said Khatun.

She added defiantly: “Scared? Who said anything about fear. I have never been in a protest before but I will not be moving and if I die here, then I will die fighting for my children and my country.”

The unrest that engulfed India last month after the passing of a new citizenship law that many believe openly discriminates against Muslims and undermines the secular foundations of India’s constitution has shown no sign of abating. Every week, millions have continued to take to the streets against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and what many see as an unacceptable attempt by the prime minister, NarendraModi, and his BJP government to implement their Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] agenda and redefine India as a purely Hindu country. While the government has attempted to quash the protests, with bans on gatherings of more than four people and increasing police violence and torture, it has only fuelled the fire of discontent across India.

Strikingly, the loudest voices of dissent have largely been women. From activists and lawyers to students, housewives and grandmothers, both Hindu and Muslim, women across India have been at the forefront of the resistance to the new citizenship law, and a nationwide citizenship test, known as the NRC, which could result in millions of Muslims being declared illegal aliens in their own country. For many, it is the first time they have had any political engagement at all.

The female-driven political awakening sparked by the CAA has been most jubilantly epitomised by the gathering at the Muslim-majority neighbourhood of ShaheenBagh that began in late December, when hundreds of women blocked a main road and began a sit-in demonstration against the new citizenship law. Since then, numbers have swelled, drawing in a cross-generational, largely female crowd unlike any protest seen in India before.