New Internationalist

One billion rising against gender violence

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.

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  1. #1 Swati Sarkar 20 Nov 12

    Great piece Mari, thanks! You're absolutely right, it's so wonderful to hear about people being motivated, energised, and actually getting together to get the message across! The videos were great too, one really gets the feeling that women are united all across Asia!

  2. #2 david cohen 20 Nov 12

    One Billion Rising (OBR) will show that important actions will move from south to north and from east to west. Reclaiming the night, reclaims public and private space. It recognizes that through collective action the individual gains the security of dignity. Its effects will help stamp out the violent behavior of too many men too long tolerated by elected officials, appointed ones and the police.

    I have been fortunate and have worked in many of the areas Mari Marcel Thekaekara identifies in her moving essay. Having spent lots of time in Dhaka, I nk\\know the power of silence as I experienced the quiet during days of the hartals.

    The power of culture--song, dance, poetry, theater, stories-- cannot be over estimated. It is that power that will change what is expected of men, of public officials whatever their gender and the necessary policies. OBR is about organizing power for monumental changes that will create decnt and just societies that insist on respect and dignity for all.

    Allow me a personal word. Mari Marcel Thekaekara's writing and actions capture the emotions and advances that help propel people forward in their struggles for freedom and respect. I have been fortunate enough to work with and be inspired by Mari and Kamla Bhasin. I look forward to our continued efforts and their inspiration.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    November 20, 2012

    David Cohen,
    Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
    Senior Congressional Fellow,
    Council for a Livable World

  3. #3 stan 20 Nov 12

    At a meeting just last week with nearly 80 adivasi community activists alcohol abuse was listed as the single largest problem facing the community. Apart from the obvious economic problem arising out of alcohol abuse, growing violence against women was listed as a major concern. However, every single person, women included said that they had never seen violence against their grandmothers - this was a new phenomena - of the present generation. So why did our grandfathers not abuse our grandmothers while our fathers and husbands and brothers do, I asked? ’We used to learn from our elders and our community but now we learn from films, from the dominant society around us’.

    So who will our children learn from? A pause and a buzz went around the room and in a single voice everyone vowed to start a campaign among the children - against alcohol abuse, against gender violence and to teach them to respect their women as equals as was their tradition.
    These adivasis had not heard about OBR but are very definitely part of the campaign - because the world over women especially and men too are saying enough is enough - let us build a new society, a better society.

    In the words of the World Social Forum - another world is possible. For women it must be a world without violence, for men a world where they will not even dream of abusing a woman. To that day and that world let us all arise!!

  4. #4 stan 20 Nov 12

    I am a man - born in patriarchy, raised in patriarchy. Not blatantly. My parents were far too ’modern’ for that. But subtly and sometimes not so subtly. If I am to be honest I must admit that I am a product of a patriarchal society and somewhere inside am hard wired into thinking even if only unconsciously that men somehow do play a more important role. University and actively engaging with a student movement, nearly 40 years of working closely with adivasi communities and 30 years of marriage have all contributed to a re-wiring of my mental frameworks. And I would like to pride myself as being ’gender conscious’. But nonetheless instinctively, unconsciously, my male identity raises its ugly head and the issue is framed as us and them - men and women. Justifications, explanations, arguments spring to mind. Defensiveness seems to rise like some animal instinct. To curb that and to let truth and justice prevail requires a little doing. Thinking about it, it occurred to me that over the centuries even those who supported social change - like the many white people opposed to slavery, the many men who did believe women should vote, the number of white South Africans who were anti-apartheid, the dominant caste hindus who believe that the caste system is a crime, the increasing number of men who believe that child rearing is a joint responsibility - all of them must have had to make the effort to let their ’consciousness’, their intelligence, their acquired or chosen value systems triumph over what they were told as children and made to believe was right.

    We all - as part of one billion rising - men and women have to make that effort. To no longer accept things as they are but rather work towards making things as they should be.

  5. #5 stan 20 Nov 12

    Sorry me again - forgot to mention an interesting point that arose in the meeting with the adivasis. None of the languages of 4 tribes present - Paniyas, Mullukurumbas, Kattunayakans, and Bettakurumbas has a word for rape! They all use the tamil or malayalam word. Something to think about. Makes me think rape does not come naturally it is clearly learned!

  6. #6 Gouthami 21 Nov 12

    Thanks, Mari - I totally agree with you - I am sick of the negatives and even more tired of being a bystander. Let us join together on this Campaign - Count me in!


  7. #7 Dilip 22 Nov 12

    It's great to see this kind of movement coming up. I read through the article and all the comments. Especially insightful were the one's by Stan. ENOUGH is a good starting point for the movement, and I do hope that it can also incorporate men as a part of the movement. It requires re-wiring of not just men, but women who feel that 'men are like that only, and women have to be careful'. I hope that we can move to a world where the mind is without fear. Where mutual respect, honesty and trust define the relationships between people: especially with the people of a different gender.

  8. #8 chandrika sen sharma 22 Nov 12

    Good news! Go OBR! We need all the help we can get, especially with the sudden increase of rape incidents in India right now!

    Chandrika Sen Sharma
    Prominent Properties Sotheby's International Realty
    Tenafly, New Jersey 07670

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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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