This blogpost was written after V-day last year! Let us take a look again at Mumbai Rising, on the day before V-day 2014.
There’s something powerful about celebrating V-day and Rising against Violence on Valentine’s; something very empowering about digging deep into the history of women’s rights instead of opening heart shaped chocolates wrapped in red paper, or watching yet another chick flick that endorses every gender stereotype in the textbook. There is something brilliant about saying no to misogyny, rising against violence, and dancing to the heartbeat of freedom! Yes, team ASAP was really excited to strike, rise and dance with Mumbai at the Bandra Amphitheater at Land’s End in Mumbai.
The event was put together by the Akshara center with support from several local NGOs. The venue was brilliantly decked in vibrant banners that shouted out” Be brave,” “Speak Out Boldly,” “Push the Boundaries,” “Be the change,” and so on to the crowds that were gathering in the amphitheater. If you thought women had no agency, these banners alone were enough to change your mind.
Seats were all occupied by 5:30 as old and young men and women of Mumbai gathered to say no to violence. The press took its spot at the top of the amphitheater while performs gathered around the stage.
And then women’s rights activist and human rights advocate Kamayani Bali Mahabal took the stage to remind Mumbai why we were rising. She began her talk with a quick reference to the gory gang rape in Delhi that has the nation rethinking its position on women’s rights and patriarchy. But Kamayani reminded the crowd that our demands for justice must not exclude those women who do not have the privilege of representation or voice. She talked about the women of the lower castes and tribal women who were raped not only by men of the upper classes but by the police and the military. She asked women to rise not only against violence, but against cultural attitude that nurture this violence, and laws that support such dominance.
Kamayani said she was rising for Soni Sori, a teacher from a tribal community in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, who has been imprisoned on charges of being a naxalite, but has been raped and tortured while in police custody. “Rape is not about sex,” she said. “It is about power, and today we are gathered to demand our freedom from fear.”
Mumbai rising was a very inclusive event and it allowed women from various minority groups to voice their reasons for demanding an end to violence. It also gave them an exclusive platform to discuss forms of violence that are ignored or still unrecognized. The most touching voice was that of a 14-year old, the daughter of a commercial sex worker, who has watched her mother being raped, beaten and disrespected for her choice of profession. “It is my mother’s job to have sex,” she said. “But she also has the right to choose with whom and when. No man has the right to beat her and rape her. I rise for my mother and for other sex-workers who are forced to put up with violence and abuse.” Along with her were activists for the rights of transwomen, lesbian women, disabled women, women of the lower classes, and muslim women.
We also heard two of the oldest feminist songs written in India. The first was a Marathi song composed in 1975 by Madhav Chavan, the founder of Pratam a child’s rights NGO. It urged women to unite, rise and break free from the prison of patriarchy. The song was ahead of its times, and addressed the problems posed by religious heads who guard the gates of these prisons. The second was a song that asked women to be proud of their gender. It was sung to the tune of Gujarathi Folk.
Young students from Sophia College for Women were the first to break into dance — lighting up the stage with a free-style performance to a tune from Slumdog Millionaire, and then dancing to the OBR tune composed in Hindi.
We also heard Sunita Bhuyan play an Assamese folk song on the violin, a tune that enthralled the audience. Jhelum Paranjape, the legendary Odissi dancer perform to “Jaago Zara” (Rise!) a song recorded one of India’s girl bands from the turn of the last century.
Unfortunately we could not stay for the entire evening, but we were there to share many an emotional moment with Mumbai. As men and women sat side by side addressing issues of patriarchy and gender equality and acknowledging misogyny, you could not help but feel that a better more equal world is possible.
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