New Internationalist

Daring to tackle chauvinism

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.

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  1. #1 DR d b trivedi 14 Dec 12



  2. #2 david cohen 16 Dec 12

    One Billion Rising (OBR) will involve people in India who will be protesting
    for the first time in their lives.

    I have seen in my experience--I am now closer to 80 than 70-- how such
    initial engagement changes peoples lives in civil rights, anti-war, fighting
    poverty,women's children's and GLBT rights. Now I see it in Voices of
    Victims in tobacco control including efforts to address the harm caused
    by bidi and gutka use in India.

    OBR, and the other events, historically engage people so oppressive
    cultures, policies and practices change. Charismatic leaders, like
    Kamla Bhasin, inspire others to step up and lead. I had the good
    fortune to work with Kamla who served on an anti-poverty committee
    that I chaired. What Kamla Bhasin, and so many others I have worked
    with in the United States, India and many other countries is by their
    example show people that sense of possibility to change oppression
    and so many other harmful practices and policies from continuing.
    That stepping up is what creates the continuing efforts to
    establish human dignity which in turn means ’never again’ will
    there be violence, manual scavenging and all the other indignities
    that occur too much.

    Washington DC
    December 15, 2012

  3. #3 chandrika sen sharma 19 Dec 12

    Go OBR! Every little step counts

    Chandrika Sen Sharma

    New jersey

  4. #4 tt 28 Dec 12

    Kudos to the OBR campaign. I really do hope it is hugely successful, and finally manages to mainstream the women's movement in India.

    A good analysis of the Indian Patriarchal value system, which lies at the root of the problem.

  5. #5 Eve Hirst 31 Dec 12

    It outrages me to continually read stories of this kind. I am 60 years old and a born and bred British woman, living in the supposedly civilised UK, but that has not excluded me from being on the receiving end of outrageous sexism and aggression during my lifetime. It is inescapable. Just because males are stronger physically the greater majority feel this also gives them intelligence superiority and the male condition tells them they MUST dominate at every level. When I was a little girl I remember men using that kind of power to protect their women and children. These days it is the total opposite and it is used to brutalise and dominate those physically weaker in the most grotesque ways ... beyond words in some parts of the world. I am continually prompted by stories of this kind to ask myself what it is about the other 50% of this planet's population who gently nurture, protect and love that scares men so much they want to wipe them off the face of the earth?

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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