By NIHARIKA MANDHANA
On Valentine’s Day in Delhi, the pink band was ubiquitous, tied around arms, on wrists and foreheads, around necks and backpacks. Printed on it were the words “Enough! No More Violence Against Women.”
On Thursday evening, as many set out for the customary Valentine’s Day dinner in the nation’s capital, several hundred men, women and children gathered at Parliament Street for an unorthodox celebration: a movement using music and dance to oppose violence against women.
“We don’t want violence; we want love,” said Kamla Bhasin, the movement’s South Asia coordinator, to a cheering crowd of about 500 people. She rejected love in the form of an Archies card or expensive jewelry, saying: “We want a just love, a love based on equality.”
In nearly 200 countries around the world, people took to the streets Thursday with a carnival spirit as part of One Billion Rising, a campaign initiated by Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” to highlight violence against women. In India, the message mirrored widespread public sentiment that has swelled after the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi in December, bringing women’s rights and safety to the center stage of civic and political discourse.
“This is a representation of our faith in the cause,” said Namrata Kumar, a 19-year-old student of philosophy, pointing to the dancing crowds at the event. “We can’t allow the government and ourselves to forget about this fight.”
The campaign Thursday was a continuation of that fight, but appeared to have taken on a different avatar. In recent months, young Indians have poured out in angry protests, condemning a police force that often exists for thepreservation of power rather than the protection of people, and a political class that has routinely displayed apathy. For weeks, students, activists and others braved the Delhi winter, and the government’s lathis, or wooden staffs, and water cannons, to demand gender equality.
Thursday’s event, which was attended by dozens of young people from Delhi University and student organizations, seemed to herald a broader movement, one focused on changing societal mindsets and individual attitudes rather than railing against the government.
Ms. Bhasin chanted: “Women united!” The crowds roared back: “Will never be defeated!”
Many spoke of the recent events as a turning point that represented a new era of proactive fighting for gender justice.
“It’s very positive, very uplifting,” said Soumya Shankar, a 22-year-old political science student at Delhi University, as she swayed to the live performance of a popular traditional Indian song, “Lal Meri.” “This is not about a cause; it’s not about the angst. We are celebrating being women and being equal.”
To Ms. Shankar and many others, Thursday’s event was a testament to how some mindsets have already changed in a fairly short period of time. The evidence, she said, was that the crowd of young men and women had chosen to spend Feb.14 celebrating femininity rather than indulging in the “banal” proceedings that accompany an “overexposed Archies culture.”
The evening’s events, which lasted three hours, included a host of cultural performances: dances to the tunes of “Jai Ho,” an evocative song from “Slumdog Millionaire,” by men on wheelchairs and visually impaired women; a skit on domestic violence, which ended with a battered wife standing up to her abusive husband; recital of defiant poetry and inspirational songs by young women.
Standing alongside these women were scores of men, including Prateek Singh, a 28-year-old chef at a luxury hotel in Delhi, who had read about the event on Facebook. He had not been able to persuade his friends to join, he lamented. They were content, he said, with reading about horrific crimes against women and expressing relief that they had been spared similar attacks.
He had come out in part because he felt “suffocated,” he said, as he was viewed as a “threat” and a “sexual predator” because he is a man. He recounted a recent incident when he offered his seat on the Metro to a woman, but she eyed him with suspicion and declined.
On Thursday, Mr. Singh participated in a flash mob, choreographed by a group of young professionals to the beats of “Jago Delhi Jago,” a song they composed for the event. Hundreds clapped their hands and sprang up in the air, as they sang the words and cheered raucously.
Many had learned the dance routine in advance, having watched theinstructional video online or attended the rehearsal last week in the city’s Deer Park. But many joined the mob spontaneously, mimicking those ahead of them.
“The idea is to get noticed, to be heard,” said Aseema Shukla, 18, a student at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology. “We don’t need to be heard in an angry or hurt voice, we can also be heard in a happy and cheerful way.”
Across the country, people mobilized to participate in One Billion Rising. Hundreds participated in the traditional dance of garba in Gujarat; In Bhopal, the actress and activist Shabani Azmi addressed a large crowd; In Mumbai, a star studded event saw dozens come out to dance and sing.
Celebrating this “changing social consciousness” was the television host Richa Anirudh, accompanied by her teenage daughter and 57-year-old mother at the Parliament Street event in Delhi. Ms. Anirudh recounted an incident when she was 21 and was harassed on a bus. At the time, she hoped that she would have enough money so that her daughter would never have to take the bus. Today, she said, she feels otherwise.
“The environment has to change; the people on the bus have to change, and it won’t happen if we run away from it,” said Ms. Anirudh, 38. “I want to participate in the change.”
Echoing this sentiment, Ms. Bhasin demanded freedom: “for walking freely, for talking freely, for dancing madly, for singing loudly.”
Crowds cheered, flags waved and the pink bands rose.