THERE’S A TINY VILLAGE just outside the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan where Dhanno bai, a tribal woman, was proudly surveying her bright green patch of land. She had won it in a fiercely fought battle against her in-laws who had called her a witch to try and steal her land after her husb and died. Still, when TEHELKA turned up at her doorstep, she was surprised. Was this worthy of writing about? At the other end of the country, Birubala Rabha had fended off the same charge, that of being a witch. Now she’s fighting an election and those who were baying for her blood are now her supporters.
Right until the Delhi gangrape, however, there was nothing connecting the Assam story to the one in Rajasthan. Since then, the ground has shifted. It may not be the storming of the Bastille yet, but if anyone had predicted that there would be individual and spontaneous risings to stop violence against women last year, they would have been not just wrong, but plain fanciful. Now, India has attached itself to an even bigger movement to smash patriarchy: One Billion Rising. According to the United Nations, one in every three women around the world is raped or beaten every year. It’s a statistic that feminist playwright and author of The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler turned into a global movement. One billion women violated, this had to stop. “When my father was raping me as a child, if I had known that there was a world outside where other women were suffering the same way as me and people were in solidarity with my pain, I would have not been alone,” Ensler told TEHELKA. The many risings in India have now begun to use the One Billion Rising as their common currency, to connect. In that space, Dhanno and Birubala can finally meet.
The day of reckoning for the one billion to strike, dance and rise is 14 February, Valentine’s Day, rechristened by the movement as Victory Day and Vagina Day. The day is, however, not where it began in India and will only serve as an important marker along a continuum. Plugged in now to the national outrage, it’s being used by both men and women’s groups to finally get everyone to say together what each has until now said separately.
That is how the ground beneath has begun to shift.
It’s easy to dismiss this as another angst-ridden movement of a restless middle class that shouted ‘I Am Anna’ all of last year and then went deaf. These risings are patchy, diverse and numerous. They have no leader and no singular prescriptions for change. For the first time in a very long time, women and large numbers of men are wearing the pink badge of feminism proudly, as they all agree that it isn’t just about women. Or about holding up half the sky. It’s about humanity. It’s everyone’s problem, everyone’s angst and everyone’s celebration.
So we at TEHELKA decided to take the story forward. By talking to women across the country, who have smashed patriarchy, and speaking to the men they had to fight along the way. About the distance some men have put between themselves and the patriarchal horizon. From monologues that emancipated women two decades ago, we want this space to be also about dialogue. In these pages, you will see conversations between a sex worker and a policeman in Mumbai, between a Rajput widow and her slightly embarrassed brother, all of whom admit that much of the traditional ‘wisdom’ in their society needs to be junked.
Much like the risings across India, the conversations and stories in this issue are anything but flat. Or neat. Or politically correct. They are original, engaging and definitely markers of a brave new world.