Our India tour began in Mumbai with a “Rise for Justice Mumbai” event featuring Eve and Indira Jaising – one of India’s leading lawyers and the first woman to be appointed Additional Solicitor General of India. The discussion on justice was hosted by the SKVM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law and Akshara – who works to raise consciousness about gender equality, and organised by an amazing activist Nandita Shah. The dialogue highlighted the “Progress and Obstacles – and the Fight for Justice on Violence Against Women” with law college students, faculty, human rights activists and women’s rights activists. A deeply informed and engaged question and answer portion led by the law students – eighty percent of whom were women – followed the discussion. It was interesting how young women training to be lawyers responded to the points the discussion raised – how passionately they all felt about a feminine justice, one that took the women’s perspective and the issue of equality very much into focus. The event ended with a rousing dance number by the students of the college – capturing the energy and the determination of the future lawyers of India as they rise for justice.
Indira: “The most deep-rooted issue of injustice is inequality.”
Eve: “A huge part of justice is breaking the silence, telling our stories, saying our struggles exist.”
Indira: “Justice needs us to dismantle patriarchy. We need to ask ourselves – what is the difference between justice and revenge?”
Eve: “Violence against women across the world is the methodology that sustains patriarchy. It is there to keep inequality in its place.”
Indira: “You must approach the justice system as a survivor, not as a victim. When a women speaks out, we must speak out for and with her.”
After the discussion, Eve joined a diverse panel at the Times of India Literary Carnival, with Kaizaad Kotwal, Urvashi Butalia and Shereen El Feki on the paradox of being a woman, moderated by leading Indian actress Poorna Jagannathan. The panel attracted a very diverse crowd as they engaged with the panelists on issues of sexuality and the role men play in ending violence against women and girls.
Eve was back at the Times of India Literary Carnival, doing the keynote speech. She was once again introduced by actress Poorna Jagannathan – the artist responsible for envisioning and creating the critically acclaimed play “Nirbhaya” on the life and murder of Jyoti Sigh – whose death last December 16, 2013 fuelled a huge rising in India. In her speech, Eve read excerpts from her book “In The Body of the World” – speaking of City of Joy and One Billion Rising for Justice to a large, enthusiastic audience – who later cued outside the venue to meet Eve. Women and men lined up to share with Eve how much “The Vagina Monologues,” V-Day and One Billion Rising changed their lives. It was moving to see how many people, young and old, men and women alike – shared their stories of personal transformation because of the play. And it was so powerful to hear them speak about what they rose for in 2013, and what they will be rising for justice for in 2014.
That same evening, we watched a local production of Eve’s play “Emotional Creature” that closed the festival. The performance was directed by Kaizaad Kotwal and Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal – long term producers of “The Vagina Monologues” all across India since 2003. The young, talented, dynamic Mumbai cast blew away the thousand strong full house audience – and both the cast and Eve received a resounding standing ovation at the end of the inspiring, moving and powerful performance.
To celebrate International Human Rights Day, the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai hosted a One Billion Rising for Justice talk and panel event where Eve addressed local and international students all over Chennai, with particular emphasis on justice issues and the role that young, emerging journalists play in ending violence against women. The event opened with a thunderous performance by women and men from the Dalit community, followed by a talk by Eve and the premiere performance of a new piece she wrote, inspired by events in India – on the body and justice. . After her talk, the students gave Eve a moving and heartfelt standing ovation. The event culminated with a Rise for Justice panel featuring distinguished women activists. Joining Eve were Parvathy Nair (visual artist, journalist and writer), Sangeetha Isvaran (Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer, scholar and social worker) and N.S Yamuna (theatre practitioner, producer and theatre director), capped by an open forum after where the journalism students asked the most interesting, provocative and inspiring questions on justice. And just like the young law students in Mumbai, the young students of journalism engaged in a politically and socially provocative discussion on their role as communicators of the stories of women, and of the responsibilities of that role towards the path to justice.
Sangeetha: “Dancing is a safe way to reclaim our power as women, it is where our sexuality cannot be controlled.”
N.S: “One Billion Rising’s greatest gift was to remind us that we are not alone, that we are all connected.”
In the afternoon, the YWCA of Madras and the Women’s Organisations of Chennai hosted a huge One Billion Rising for Justice Chennai cultural event. Under a gorgeous, colourful tent, and with hundreds of women and youth and community groups in attendance – the event began with the Tamilnadu Women’s Forum group inviting Eve to the stage with the traditional Indian folk dance Kollatam. This was followed by an invocation dance led by Ms. Sathvika Sree and the Sanchala School of Bharatanatyam. Ms. Valsa Benjamin Cherian – President of YWCA of Madras did the welcome address, and there were cultural performances by the Social Work students of Stella Maris College who did a mime show, the Community College students of YWCA who did the One Billion Rising dance “Break The Chain” – Hindi version, the Tamilnadu Women’s Forum group performing another Indian folk dance – the “Karagattam,” and songs by Indian/ American singer Katie Gray. A highlight of the cultural show was the stunning poetry dance “Malar” – beautifully performed by Sangeetha Iswaran, dancer and social activist. It was powerful and amazing how dance, in every form, is really the most eloquent and passionate expression of the stories and hearts of women – as we saw with the incredible artists in Chennai. An advocate of the high court of Chennai, Ms. Nagasaila spoke about violence against women and justice issues in India. Eve then closed the event talking about One Billion Rising for Justice, and performing her moving new piece “In the Body of Justice.” After her performance, women lined up to tell her their stories of violence and injustice – harnessing their collective energy and power for a huge rising in Chennai.
One Billion Rising for Justice Delhi began with a press conference with Eve and OBR South Asia coordinator Kamla Bhasin – deeply respected and long time feminist activist in India. They engaged the media to be part of the solution to end violence, to understand the issues deeper.
Kamla: “We are saying a clear and loud no to all forms of patriarchy and patriarchal thinking, and we are saying no to patriarchal religions.”
Eve: “I think the tyranny of patriarchy has been worse to men, in some regards, than it has been to women. Because for women we are still connected to our hearts. Men have been forced to separate from their hearts a long time ago. And I think that tyranny, of not being able to cry, of not being able to say I need, or I feel tenderness or I feel want – is a terrible tyranny.”
Immediately following the press conference was the first of many OBR Delhi events – “The Power of Love and Justice to End Violence Against Women,” at the India Habitat Centre. Kamla gave a powerful speech on how love is the opposite of injustice – and how we need the power of love and justice to end all forms of patriarchy. Cultural performances were by Shubha Mudgal – one of India’s best known Indian singers, Azad Parinde, theatre and protest music group Swaang, Katie Grey and Namrata Pamnani. The highlight of the event, organised by Delhi based women’s groups and civil society organisations, was Eve’s powerful performance of “In The Body of Justice.”
Kamla: “If our problems are global, the solutions need to be global. That’s why we must join global movements. We have a belief: I am not the wall that divides – I am the crack – the opening that can break the walls on gender, religion, cultures, politics. And it is all about LOVE. Revolution comes of out love. Not love of power, but the power of love to change things. We have to be the ocean, not a small drop of water. And to be the ocean, we have to leave our identity and branding. That is what being global means.”
Hosted by Apne Aap Women Worldwide – a grassroots movement to end sex trafficking – Eve in conversation with Apne Aap survivor-leaders: Fatima Khatoon and Md. Kalam (both from the Forbesganj’s red light areas). The conversation, in front of the media and advocates, focused on the struggle of Fatima and Kalam to access justice against a corrupt law enforcement and indifferent judiciary. The event was moderated by Apne Aap President and Founder Professor Ruchira Gupta. Both Fatima and Kalam come from the Nat community, who were labeled a criminal tribe by the British. They are routinely stigmatised, marginalised and cut off from jobs, education and access to justice. They both live in the red light district and organise to fight traffickers, and organise women to fight for their rights and the rights of their daughter to live their lives free of sexual exploitation. Their powerful and moving testimonies were inspiring and brought into focus the multi-layered injustices women face daily, how you are identified from birth, and how you climb out of all the layers. And how women and men are rising against racism, colonialism, poverty and marginalization.
Fatima: “You have to stand by women. Every girl has a dream – then husbands or brothers – break that dream. Our solidarity is in organising so that women do not feel alone. Only when women are safe and free can our country be free and independent. Because you have to never stop believing – that every struggle has a hidden victory within it.”
In the afternoon, the Jamia Millia Islamia University hosted a huge One Billion Rising event at the Ansari auditorium. Presented by the Narojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies and the Outreach Programme with Delhi based organisations – the event “An Evening of Music, Dances and Voices” featured cultural performances by the Manzil Mystics Music band, Justin McCarthy Bharatnatyam, Katie Gray and Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha. Highlighting the evening was Eve’s performance of “In the Body of Justice” followed by One Billion Rising dancing by various youth groups, where the entire auditorium rose and danced wildly as street protest theatre took place outside dramatising violence against women issues. The energy in this university was through the roof with the participants mostly young people and college students leading the rising and giving us a glimpse of the future.
Kavita Ramdas: “The revolution will not be funded. It will be danced. It will be sung, spoken, shouted, created and held.”
The day began at Miranda House at the University of Delhi, the site of a huge Rising last 2013. The interactive session – “Commitment to Gender Justice: Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment” was hosted by the Women Development Cell College Complaints Committee of the University of Delhi. Apart from Eve who spoke about One Billion Rising for Justice and performed her India inspired piece on the body and justice, speakers included Kamla Bhasin (who spoke on gender justice and the power of love), Professor Vidhu Verma – Chairperson, Centre of Political Studies (who spoke on Countering Sexual Harassment – perspective, strategies and challenges), Dr. Ashok Acharya – Professor, Department of Political Science (who spoke on Global Justice and Gender), and Mr. Sandeep Goel – Jt. Commissioner of Police, North Range, Delhi Police (who spoke on the role of Police in countering Sexual Harassment). The session opened discourse on the responsibilities of the police in dealing with violence against women issues as a vital step towards justice – and in the audience were 80 policemen who listened, asked for feedback and engaged with other members of the university audience.
Kamla: “Unless our homes are non-violent, unless women and girls are respected there, how will you get policemen who are sensitive, how will you get judges who are sensitive, how will you get media who are sensitive?”
After Miranda House, we ran to a sit-in protest on the streets, to support the grassroots women’s groups led by NFIW – the National Federation of Indian women – in their joint action on the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill. The Women’s Reservation Bill is a pending bill in India which proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the lower House of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The theme of their protest was “Denial of Rights and Justice is Violence.” Eve spoke her message of solidarity to the women’s groups who greeted her with affection and sisterhood.
The day ended with a State of Female Justice in Delhi panel called “A Feminist Dialogue Envisioning Justice,” hosted by Centre for Policy Analysis, Jagori and Sangat. The panel included Eve, Kamla (Advisor, Sangat), Kumkum Sangari (Vilas Prof. of English and Humanities University of Wisconsin), Vimal Thorat (Co-Convenor, NCDHR), and Shabnam Hashmi (Founder, Anhad), Vrinda Grover (advocate), and moderated by Seema Mustafa (Director, CPA). The panel discussion with distinguished scholars and activists on VAW and justice capped a dynamic and eye-opening One Billion Rising for Justice series of events in Delhi.
Kumkum: “Patriarchy works along the grain of social divisions. It doesn’t have a life of its’ own. Just imagine a country that didn’t have divisions of caste and class, which didn’t have divisions in the order that we have them today? What would happen to violence against women? Just imagine that? Unless we fight for social and distributive justice, we cannot ask the judicial system to simply change its’ attitude.”
DHARMASHALA, HIMACHAL – PRADESH
On the anniversary of the death of Jyoti Singh, Jagori Gameen, headed by our amazing India One Billion Rising coordinator Abha Bhaiya, hosted the One Billion Rising for Justice Himachal event. It was held at Sant Nirankari Bhavan, Dharmashala, Kangara. The event began with the Jagori Team singing the One Billion Rising song. Abha gave a moving and passionate speech about the campaign, before dynamic little girls from the Chakvan Primary School Dharmashala electrified the huge crowd with their dancing. The Jagori team then did a powerful drama, followed by other musical numbers, before Eve captured the audience with her powerful performance of “In The Body of Justice.” There was not a dry eye in the house. The powerhouse evening was capped with the incredible girl band SPACE – who use the metaphor of Kali in songs about women and empowerment – leading the inspired crowd in an evening of gorgeous dancing and rising. It was unforgettable night. Under the full moon, men and women shook this town sitting at the foot of the Himalayan mountains, and danced with fierce determination for justice.
While in Himachal, our OBR team stayed at the beautiful TARA Women’s Training and Research Academy – in the lap of the Dhauladhar mountains, run by Jagori Grameen founded by Abha. TARA is a residential space for training workshops, research, documentation and creative expression – open to artists, academics, researchers and activists. Ten years ago to the day, Eve was at the inauguration of TARA as they were breaking ground. With funding given by V-Day a decade ago, TARA has blossomed into a deeply inspiring model of a place where women from the most marginalised communities learn, grow, take courses, become feminist leaders – where feminist consciousness is spread, and where the strength of the voices of women and girls is encouraged and developed, and where feminist training happens alongside engagement on issues related to environmental and spiritual regeneration. On this day, on it’s 10th anniversary, all the women from Jagori and the communities who had worked there, learned there, grew there – all arrived for an afternoon of sharing, dancing, singing, reminiscing and dreaming. The voices of the women were beautiful, their words inspiring. It was an unforgettable afternoon, the sun shining, all the women who shared their hearts like flowers in full bloom because of the sisterhood they had found in this heavenly place. Through all the tears, was always dancing. Fierce, joyous dancing. Hope and the future. It was the perfect end to our One Billion Rising for Justice India tour, and the start of the next phase of India’s Rising – Rising for Justice.
Abha: “These women are Jagori. I am them. We are intertwined. We are together. They may say my name, but they have built this place together. When I see them, it fills my heart. I bloom inside. Here we believe in the saying – “my life is my own – I decide what I want to do.” We need to give back to the women, to the earth, what we have been extracting. This is the commitment of Jagori. We need to give back – and we need to give back with tremendous gratitude. Because without women and without this earth, we will not be here. And the healing of the earth is the most difficult, because we have destroyed so much. But if we do something together, it can be a model. V-Day, ten years ago, helped us create a beautiful dream, and a safe space for women. And this is our promise to everyone – safety and dignity for all women is what we need to plant in every heart. It is our claim. Our entitlement. No woman or girl should have to sacrifice that.”