‘Not easy to strip in front of the public, more so in front of the armed forces in Manipur’

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Shoma Chaudhury with Haifa Zangana, Golshifteh Farahani, Binalakshmi Nepram, Ima Ngambi and Caroline Fourest. Photo: Arun Sehrawat
Shoma Chaudhury with Haifa Zangana, Golshifteh Farahani, Binalakshmi Nepram, Ima Ngambi and Caroline Fourest. Photo: Arun Sehrawat

This session of THiNK 2013, ‘Naked Rage: Occupied Territories, Women and the Body as a Weapon’, brought together a riveting array of women from around the world who’ve gone against all odds in standing up for human rights.

Writer Haifa Zangana, from Iraq, discussed how gender manifests itself in an occupied country. Although the American rhetoric emphasised women’s rights as a justification for the 2003 invasion, Zangana claims that “the only equality in gender they brought us was torture”. She described how extreme violence neutralised gender differences by stripping both men and women of their dignity and identity.

Golshifteh Farahani, the darling actress of Iran, spoke of baring her breasts in a photograph for French Newspaper Le Figaro, an incident which sparked an enormous debate about individualism and the politics of the body in the Middle East. When her family was threatened and she decided to leave the country, she became an accidental symbol of the struggle against patriarchy in Iran.

While Farahani used her body as a way of reclaiming her individuality Ima Ngambi, celebrated human rights activist from Manipur, stripped in protest of the killing and alleged rape of a young woman by the troops of the 17th Assam Rifles. Although she explains that “it was not easy to strip in front of the public being a woman, and more so in front of the armed forces in Manipur”. But that it was necessary to raise awareness of the abuse of people’s civil liberties under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of the Manipuri Women Gun Survivors Network, represents a younger generation of grassroots activists from Manipur. She spoke of the difficulties facing young women and children whose husbands have been killed in the ongoing conflict in the Northeast. And Nepram argues that this conflict has failed to pique the conscience of Indians: “We are not Robert De Niro or Amitabh Bachchan, who are just acting, we are real people fighting for change”.

French activist-journalist Caroline Fourest was also present at the discussion and spoke of FEMEN, a feminist movement protesting topless to reclaim their bodies as their property and their power. “By writing their message on their breasts, FEMEN ensured that men would read it and get the real message”. Although some decry the movement for being too extremist, Fourest applauded the idea of women as social warriors, and wondered – what is so extremist about asking for basic gender equality?

By Sara Sudetic

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