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One Billion Rose on February 14 2013


February 14 2013. No this is not about Valentine’s Day. I was in Ahmedabad for the One Billion Rising (OBR) event. As I entered the Gujarat Vidyapith Sports Ground , there was a feeling of historicity. An international video stream was showing on large screens to throbbing music. I climbed up the steep steps to get a better view of the audience. The music, the visuals, the emotion, was phenomenal.

It touched an inner core. Brought tears to my eyes. I wished desperately that my family were here. Most of all I missed my daughter. With all my heart, I desperately wanted her to be there with me.

Ahmedabad a world textile and handicraft centre, is always awash with vibrant colours. Not so predictable were the colours of the One Billion Rising people. OBR India had asked for people to wear reds and pinks. Eve Ensler, who founded the global campaign, had asked for red and black.

Women celebrate at Ahmedabad Rising
Celebrating at Ahmedabad Rising Jennifer Schwarz

Women, men and children were present in abundant supply. They came in all shapes and sizes. Village women in dazzling conventional attire, the famous Gujarati saris with mirror work, tie-dye in myriad hues. Girls and boys in totally contemporary clothes: Western jeans and tees, skimpy tops, skirts and dresses, heralding the modernization of the state, juxtaposed with totally traditional saris and salwar kurtas. Then there were Muslim women covered from head to toe in black burqas or chadors.

But wait. Unpredictably, most were sporting OBR colours. I spotted one person with pink sandals, then another with candy floss pink nail polish and pink ‘bling’ shoes, next a confection of pink chiffon peeping out from beneath another burkha. I thought three cheers for these feisty women.

There was a lot of red and black. But the pinks prevailed. Soft pinks, strawberry and peach. Shocking pink, magenta, mauves and bordering on purple. I remembered The Colour Purple somberly and thought how appropriate. Everyone seemed determined to make a statement.

The grounds were packed. I don’t think anyone took a headcount, but there were easily close to 10,000 people. As the music reverberated, the pull was irresistible. Everyone got into the swing of things. Mallika Sarabhai internationally acclaimed danseuse, actress, writer and activist, led the dancing.

It soon warmed up and by the end of the evening, the grounds swelled with people, young and old, men and women, dancing the garba, bhangra or anything really, depending on the music. I’d never imagine I would see Muslim burqa clad women dancing the garba. But there they were, with their men. For OBR and Ahmedabad, for secular Gujarat, it was a victory beyond words.

Behind the exhilarating music and dancing was a seriousness of purpose. Women spoke passionately, sharing their experiences, their pain. Manjula Pradeep, gutsy dalit activist, spoke powerfully. She’s used her own personal history of childhood abuse to fight sexual abuse and rape within the dalit community. The crowd cheered lustily.

A US soldier spoke movingly about the need to honour women, about the tenderness he felt while caring for his daughter and the importance of spreading awareness about gender issues. Posters proclaimed ‘Real Men don’t Rape.’ And, ‘To sin by silence when they should protest makes men cowards.’ A 14–year-old schoolboy proclaimed I will not ignore a woman with a black eye, or a woman being man-handled. Because if I do, I will be part of the problem.’

Mallika Sarabhai summed it all up succinctly. Her final sound bite was: ‘It’s historic for Ahmedabad people to get together without any other motive except outrage and a need for change.’

When the sun set all around the globe on February 14 2013, Ahmedabad Rising apparently had the largest gathering of OBR’ers anywhere in the world, from east to west. TIME magazine is featuring it.

This is just the beginning. Perhaps finally woman-time will come.

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