Reading and writing – with dreary regularity – about rape and violence against women leaves me emotionally and physically drained, disgusted and deeply depressed. Now suddenly here’s something to bring us all hope again. South Asian women’s groups have pooled their collective enthusiasm, anger and creativity to come up with a new campaign, One Billion Rising (OBR), to protest gender violence. Getting new emails every day from women all over South Asia describing their OBR plans is energizing. In south India, Trivandrum, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are hosting major events. And in the north, there’s marching, dancing and singing in the mountains and in the plains. Tibetan women are holding an event in Dharamshala, and pahari (mountain) women from the Himalayan heights join their sisters in the plains, all with one voice, one demand: stop violence against women.
In noisy Dhaka, the procession plans to march in total silence. There’s much discussion about plans from Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Protest can take myriad forms.
The Delhi YWCA organized a soul-wrenching Sufi gospel concert led by Sonam Kalra and her talented team. They rendered an incredible combination of gospel songs, poetry and verses ranging from Kabir to classics like Amazing Grace and Abide with Me. Organizer Leila Passah writes, ‘The songs, powerful words of hope from different scriptures, allowed us to send prayers for rivers of love, peace and justice. Where there is hatred let us sings songs of love.’
The Trivandrum YWCA will partner with the India Chapter of the IAWRT (International Association of Women in Radio and Television) to organize a ‘No More Violence Film Festival’. The indefatigable Leila Passah writes, ‘I am in the North-East (another set of indescribable hills!) and we will be cooking and dining with sex workers, HIV-positive women and other marginalized communities as part of the workshop. We will do our little bit in Aizawl, for sure. We also have a round-table with the press, ministers, police, activists and NGOs on “development and advocacy” in the North-East.’
From Britain, Karin Heiseck announced a 24 November London march to ‘Reclaim the Night’. The Indian response was immediate. Kamla Bhasin, one of the chief OBR organizers, replied, ‘What British feminists are planning in London is great. I feel we South Asians should also “Reclaim the Night”, as we have done in the past. ‘Let us all plan it together on the same night, all over South Asia. Let us RECLAIM THE NIGHT, THE STREETS, ROADS, EVERYTHING WHICH RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO US!!’
To me, hope lies in the enormous awareness which must come about as a result of the campaign. The OBR aims to reach, inform and hopefully influence the media, planners, teachers, academics, police, television and film folk, women and men activists, schools and colleges, as well as ordinary citizens. It’s using song, dance, plays, street theatre, community activities, workshops, discussion groups and the media to send out the message that the violence must stop. Hope lies in the creativity and determination on display. Kamla Bhasin wrote a poem and Mallika Sarabhai choreographed a dance around it. The women and men are young, old, eminent writers and filmmakers, a famous danseuse, singers, theatre personalities, actors. They belong to all creeds, colours, shapes and sizes, different ideologies and political paths. But they share one thing – the desire for an end to gender violence.
I’m specially pleased that in this forum, there will be plenty of music, dancing and singing. I’ve watched exhausted feminist friends fighting dowry deaths, female foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, domestic violence and rape for decades now. We need to bring in forms of protest that revitalize and energize us, as we continue to fight our good fights.
So let’s wish the OBR good luck, great success. Let’s urge them to keep dancing and singing as they fight. It will surely be a wonderful sight to watch One Billion Rising. Even more wonderful to be a part of it all.