One Billion Rising has inspired a variety of reactions, including in the arts. Photo: One Billion Rising.
We’re in the midst of One Billion Rising (OBR), a campaign organized by South Asian feminists. Getting daily messages about the protests, demonstrations, theatre, art and candlelit processions infects everyone that receives them – the excitement and passion is palpable. You can feel the power in every single email replete with poetry and pictures. Although it’s a South Asian movement, women and men the world over have rallied around offering messages and expressions of solidarity. At the last count, 77 countries were part of the movement, simultaneously organizing OBR events.
It’s incredibly inspiring and moving. And I feel we are seeing some impact in India too. The newspapers are covering it. And more, events are being organized in small towns and villages, creating awareness in places where the concept of gender or women’s rights is unknown.
Yet a few days ago in Bangalore, a 32-year-old Manipuri woman (from northeast India and therefore part of a minority) had a terrible, though not uncommon, experience. Her car was rear-ended by a biker. When she protested he began screaming abuse at her. A mob gathered and took his side (she is an outsider, not one of ‘us’ Kannadigas, she looks different, doesn’t know the local language). A police constable arrived and ordered her to move her car. The mob started abusing her, groping her. The cop did nothing. Later she told the police and the media that he slapped her. The story went viral and thousands have rallied round her expressing solidarity, outrage and anger.
Many women have shared their stories of injustice and abuse. Male drivers apparently find it really difficult to cope with women in smart cars who overtake them, drive confidently and don’t automatically give way when threatened by male chauvinism. Stories abound now on the internet about the abuse mobile women face every day in Bangalore.
The heartening thing is that thousands of people have voiced their support for the young woman. She said she was encouraged by the unconditional solidarity pledged to fighting for justice on her behalf. A petition has been sent to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, as well as the Chief of Police. What does it say about our society, that a mob can turn against a lone woman? What makes a policeman, supposedly here to protect citizens, turn predator? He dared to condone a violent mob and apparently slap a hapless victim because thousands of policemen like him have done similar – no, worse – things, and got away with it.
Vasanth Kannabiran, a well-known woman activist, writes: ‘The OBR does sound festive and it becomes easy to forget the scale of violence against women. That the singing and dancing is a form of protest can get lost in more sombre realities. Regardless, one must go on. I admire your spirit and energy as always.’ Her words came back to me as I read the Bangalore story of one more woman abused even as the OBR protests reverberated in Kabul and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.
I’m reminded too of Kamla Bhasin, a woman whose indefatigable spirit I admire enormously, saying ‘I’ve worked for the cause of women for over 40 years. Yet dowry deaths and female infanticide continue.’ Kamla is one of the key organizers of One Billion Rising. I believe it is because of women like her that we continue to fight, to organize and to hope. One Billion Rising gives us all hope for change. Hope that we make this country, other South Asian countries, indeed, the whole world, a safer, more just place for future generations of women.
I pray that Bangalore takes up this issue of injustice to prove to our sister from Manipur that justice is possible here. That all of us are ashamed of the mob and the policeman who attacked her. We are not them. But mere words are not enough. We need action from the Chief Minister and the Chief of Bangalore police to prove that Bangalore cares.