Thursday, 14 February 2013

V-Day as D-day, the Fight to Love, and Related Oxymorons

Valentine’s Day, for all practical purposes, is a commercial creation. The day itself does not bear any deep significance to those who may celebrate it, though the love they celebrate might bear some value. Politically and socially, it is a fluffy construct, and should not require too much inspection. But V-Day is D-day now, as far as women’s rights movements are concerned. The day has grown to be important because it appears that there is now a fight on, for the ability to love and express it.  

In January 2009, men from Sri Ram Sena, a Hindu right wing group, barged into a pub in Mangalore, dragged women out and assaulted them. They felt the need to act as vigilantes because women drinking in a pub was unacceptable to them. They then threatened to strike again, on Valentine’s Day. Pramod Muthalik, their leader said, “Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” If there was resistance to this by the couple, the girl would be made to tie a rakhi on the boy.

In the “WTF History of Indian feminism,” this incident has a chapter. When a social class is faced with such ridiculous opposition, the only way to respond to it adequately is with irreverence. This explains the ingenuity of Slut Walk. In this case, a fitting reply was provided by the ‘Pink Chaddi Campaign.’ A bunch of women got together, and decided to send these saffron-chaddi men, some pink underwear. The aim was to flood the Hubli office of this group with mountains of panties, by Valentine’s Day 2009. And this has made a permanent X-mark on 14 February, on the activist calendar.

The ‘Consortium of Loose and Pub Going Women’ was started, and with a hark back to Gandhi’s ‘Jail Bharo’ campaign (which was invoked even recently during the Anna Hazare agitation), women pledged that they were going to go to a pub, and have a drink. Their slogan was, ‘Pub Bharo.’ Muthalik replied to the women by saying he would send “1000 sarees as return gifts” for the chaddis he receives. By Valentine’s Day, he and about 140 of his goons were taken into preventive custody by the police. Hundreds of chaddis awaited him in his office.

Loving is a hard thing in India. People get killed for loving of their choice. And so we have honour killings, where communities kill their own for eloping or marrying out of their caste. Or fathers kill themselves when their daughters transgress caste lines by loving, and this inflames entire communities, as in Dharmapuri recently. Or for the more ludicrous, police in Bangalore have been intimidating young couples by video taping them while they spend time with each other at public places. 

I want to take the liberty to say that the 16 December gangrape in Delhi, and the subsequent death of the victim, can be seen from some distance, as a wave in Indian feminism. We can see a line from 14 February 2009 to 16 December 2012 to 14 February 2013. Since the rape, there have been massive protests in Delhi, which made history when they reached Raisina Hill, in a country where police permission is required for protests and protests are only permitted in designated areas. Protestors were subjected to water cannons and tear gas. The protests were spontaneous, lacking in leadership, and were united by pure outrage. Important dates that came between 16 December and 14 February, have all seen protest as a response to celebration, including Christmas, New Year and Republic Day. People are still at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, everyday. Some have been fasting, some have set up camp. 

Since then, fast track courts have been set up around India, to deal with long pending rape cases. Life imprisonments and death sentences are being doled out, perhaps in response to the vociferous and dangerous public outcry for the same. The winter session of the Parliament closed with no closure on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012, which sought to deal with many issues of violence on women. The path breaking report by the Justice Verma Committee was released on time to widespread appreciation. But the government came out with an ordinance that instead of heeding the prudent Verma recommendations and placating people, has made them more angry due to its haste, ill thought out recommendations and secrecy. At the impending budget session of Parliament which starts on 21 February, activists are pledging that they will keep a watch on how the government allocates funds, and if any will be spared for safety of women.

It is in this ironic period, that Valentine’s Day falls. It has been four years since Pink Chaddi and 14 February, is hardly a fluffy day anymore. It is a day of strategic importance to the women’s movement. It is a day for deep social introspection, the kind of stuff to be philosophized about in academia. For the young people who do celebrate Valentine’s Day, albeit an urban young India, it is now a significant day to reclaim their choice to love and express it and their freedom to live fearlessly. By extension, it is a day to resist moral policing of this expression and sexual violence. This “western concept,” which angers Indian conservatives so much, has been made quite personal to Indians, something the conservatives did not foresee.

Globally as well, this day, this year, is significant because today is when one billion people are expected to “strike, rise and dance” as part of the One Billion Rising campaign. The campaign was started by the very famous Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues- a hit play where each of the monologues deals with different aspects of the feminine experience. The campaign is premised on the realisation that one in three women will be raped or beaten in the world, in her lifetime. This makes one billion women. The movement is asking women and men who support them, to rise, on this "V-Day" and take to the streets and dance. 

The global support for this cause comes at the right time for India, and there are about five different events happening in Delhi alone. The biggest is happening at Parliament Street from 5pm todaywhere the entire street is going to be occupied with singing, dancing, posters, photo exhibitions, street plays, art installations and other innovative interventions. Other events are happening in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Make it to a rising in your neighbourhood, or organise one yourself, for the freedom to love and be fearless.


sunil noronha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sunil noronha said...

Correcting a few typos and making some corrections...

On police permission for protests and all,
I wrote something a while ago - Freedom
And The Right To Be Heard (http://
be.html). But, I think freedom is not what
you demand from anyone. It's your very
existence, mostly without protesting.
That should naturally be threatening
enough to ones who want to worry about
exercising control over you. Someone
violating another and not being
adequately penalised, both the instance
of crime and the culture, has to discussed in a separate discussion - not one just
about the natural freedom each person

And public display of anything is not an
essentially a part of freedom. I am not
against PDA, but I am against the
fundamental right to PDA in the sense
that it does not define its freedom, but
that's not what sustained, true love
would be about anyway (since we're
talking about V-Day).

There are two ways to deal with
misnotions of anything (in this case
women and their stand in society) -
vehemently in the face or just don't talk/
do anything about them at all unless in
the right vein. The former option mostly
just annoys people who don't want to
grant women their due, equal place in society. If you dance in the streets hoping it will spell defiance, it only spur even more silent anger, if not water cannons used on grounds of violent assembly.

For that, you can only blame the prevalent male culture. By doing that, you only encourage them to think, more, that your freedom depends on their granting/
allowing of it. If you stay silent and
continue to work on the essence of that
freedom, which is yourselves, they will be
even more defeated. Not necessary in
journalistic publications or publicly, but
because they won't have power over you.
Do it the smart way. The proactive way,
not the reactive way.

Anonymous said...

Hello Boo,
I'm so awfully proud of you :)