The autumn of patriarchy


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.

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‘We Stripped And Shouted, ‘Indian Army, Rape Me!’ It Was The Right Thing To Do’

Att the age of 62, Ima Ngambi is a Manipur legend, the woman who shouted the loudest in 2004 before stripping naked to protest the rape of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama. Her story is important not only because she has stood up to a deeply oppressive and patriarchal politics.  She tells Revati Laul all this isn’t a big intellectual idea. It’s simply tapping into what she believes being a woman and a mother is about

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‘When I Am At Work, I Try My Best To Forget That I Am A Woman’

Having assisted Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Priyanka Singh, 28, is well on her way to becoming that rarest of birds in Mumbai: a female cinematographer. She tells Nishita Jha how she became the architect of her own reality

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‘I Protect Men And Women In A World That Sees Women As Weak’

Sunita Manral, 40, became the Chief Lady Security Officer at Jynxxx, New Delhi, after leaving her husband and struggling to make a living as a security guard. She talks to Nupur Sonar about how her job gave her confidence and taught her to stand up for herself and others

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‘I Faced The Goondas, Who Threatened To Kill Me, By Getting A Gun Licence’

In her youth, Kalpana Saroj tried to escape a bad marriage by consuming pesticide. Today, she is hailed as the original slumdog millionaire, the most successful Dalit woman entrepreneur. At the forefront of rehabilitating youth from the underclass, she was recently awarded the Padma Shri. Saroj, 54, tells Sunaina Kumar why it pays to dream big

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‘Taking Up Politics Is The Best Way To Silence Your Detractors’

The political timeline of  Saroj Pandey, 45, may look simply like a linear progression, from being a mayor, to an MLA and then to an MP. But for her, this has meant negotiating battles against patriarchy at every level. In May 2009, she shot to fame by holding the positions of mayor, MLA and MP at the same time, from the Durg constituency in Chhattisgarh. She tells Prakhar Jain the turn of events that brought her into politics

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‘Women Hold Up Half The Sky. But Have We Ever Been Allowed To Join The Men At The Negotiating Table?’

In a small office in south Delhi, a little candle burns in the middle of a table. It’s flanked by posters of Irom Sharmila and pamphlets describing the Manipur Gun Survivors Network. A beautifully beaming Binalakshmi Nepram, 38, founder of the network, greets you from behind the posters and papers with a very basic question: why is it that in conflict zones like the Northeast, women are left out of peace talks? It’s a question that immediately brings home a fundamental point about women’s movements in India. That they are not of, by and for women alone. They are about balance. And peace. And perspective. Not a woman’s or a man’s perspective, but a perspective that removes men from the centre of war, peace and politics. A perspective that says correcting the imbalance is just basic humanity. It’s maths. In Manipur, the maths makes victims of women and it’s essentially men that are the perpetrators on both sides — the armed forces and the insurgents. Nepram tells Revati Laul about her journey as a woman from the Northeast and as an activist

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‘I Can Do 52 Push-Ups In A Minute. I Train Hard For Five Hours A Day’

Alisha Abdullah, 23, has the distinction of being India’s first female superbike racer. Since the age of nine, she has thrilled to speed. Alisha tells Nandini Krishnan how she isn’t scared to bully men off the track

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‘My Close Relatives Suggested That I Be Euthanised’

In a modern Bengaluru office building, a love-struck boss reacted to being spurned by pouring two litres of sulphuric acid on the then 19-year-old Haseena Hussain. She fought to survive, then fought for justice. The fight to change society, she tells Imran Khan, still rages on

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‘It Was Hypocritical To Protest The Oppression Of Women And Let My Brother Beat His Wife’

Practice what you preach. Following this maxim became especially traumatic for activist Vasavi Kiro when she reported her brother to the police for abusing his wife. Kiro, 44, was forced to watch her brother take out rallies against her and her family was being torn apart. The Jharkhand’s State Commission for Women member tells G Vishnu about her extraordinary journey

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‘Our Feminism Is Not In Opposition With Masculinity. It’s Not A Race’

It’s still an F-word many associate with hairy armpits, women turning into men and other such uncomfortable myths. But ask the Sarabhais and you will hear feminine, beauty and power as their attributes for feminism. It’s also their most prized possession, their inheritance, their reason to celebrate. It may seem from afar that this is a family that was born into privilege and wealth. They can ‘afford’ to be free. But if you listen in, you will hear and see shards of pain, rejection, triumph, failure, loss and gain as inevitable in three generations of continued struggle. It is a conversation worth every last fight. Revati Laul speaks to Mrinalini (94), Mallika (58) and Anahita Sarabhai (22)

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‘Fighting Against Witch Hunts Meant Fighting For Myself And All Women’

Faced with an entire village of outraged friends and neighbours, ostracised by people she had grown up with for daring to stand up for a woman accused of being a witch, Birubala Rabha refused to run, refused to cower. The 59-year-old widow, a tribal from Thakurbilla, a village on the Assam-Meghalaya border, has made it her life’s work to rescue women from witch hunts. Bipul Rabha, the Gaon Burah (village head), a teenager at the time, remembers the villagers’ harrassment of Birubala. He remembers approving. Bipul is now one of Birubala’s staunchest supporters. Ratnadip Choudhury speaks to both

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‘If I Am Bad, What About The Men That Come To Me? At Least, I Do It For Money’

Baby, 35, a sex worker born in Bihar, now teaches bar girls and escorts in Mumbai about safe sex and human rights. When not looking after her three children or educating policemen, she continues to meet favourite clients from her bar dancer days. She speaks to Nishita Jha, with a police officer from Malad, about how she stopped fearing men in uniform

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‘It’s Okay To Live Your Life, Even As A Widow’

In a deeply patriarchal Rajput society in Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, where women are not meant to be seen outside their homes without their heads covered, Pushpa Kaur Ranawat, 45, did something remarkable. Traditionally, Rajput women are kept away from the wedding ceremony. And though she wasn’t present at her sons’ weddings, Pushpa danced furiously at all their pre-and post-wedding functions, defying the stringent code. Revati Laul got Pushpa to tell her story along with her brother, a visibly embarrassed representative of the Rajput patriarchy

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‘Society Expects Us To Decide Who We Are. We Can’t Float In Confusion’

When you walk into Baaraan Ijlal’s flat in New Delhi, the first thing you see is a canvas the size of a drawing room wall, with the backs of two semi-nude women holding hands. In fact, her drawing room is cluttered with works from her most recent collection, a celebration of fluid sexual identities. What is just as striking is where all of this art originates. On a wall opposite the painting of the women lovers is a series of photos of Saida Ijlal— Baaraan’s mother who is also an artist. Talk to both of them and you will instantly see a circle of contentment. A celebration of what women very rarely pass on from one generation to the next — freedom. Revati Laul speaks to Baaraan, 35, and Saida, 74

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“I Knew Simply Being A Housewife Would Ruin My Life And My Daughter’s Future”

Being a Dalit woman from Dularmau village, Lucknow, meant that Janki, 45, had to fight both caste and her in-laws to become financially independent to secure an education for her daughter. Married off at 17, a feisty Janki raised her family’s hackles by taking up a job, but in the process, gave herself and her daughter a sound education. Virendra Nath Bhatt speaks to Janki and her husband Chandra Pal

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“In All My Travels Around The World, I’ve Seen That Women Have Had To Work Harder Than Men”

Savita Sonavane, 44, unschooled and illiterate by most standards, crusaded against poverty and patriarchy from an early age to transform her life and those from her community. Her story bespeaks the journey of an ordinary person from the pavements making a splash world-over through her efforts Excerpts from a conversation with Savita, her husband Raju, 52, and son Ganesh, 21

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“In A Patriarchal Society, Education Is Kept Away From Women So That Men Can Subjugate Them”

Seventy three-year-old Latika lives in Kolkata with her husband Parimal. She was the youngest daughter of the family and shared a close relationship with her father, a moderately wealthy man who was considered “progressive” for his time. Parimal’s family followed conservative values and traditions and was still reeling from the loss of wealth, land and loved ones caused by the Partition when they married. She feels she was often ridiculed by her in laws for being the person that she is. Her husband’s perceived indifference to her then situation is something she has long held resentment for. Despite feeling alone in her struggles, she has managed to negotiate with her circumstances with an indomitable spirit and unwavering grit. Shreya Sen talks to Latika and Parimal

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The Tribal Notions Of Patriarchy Must Not Enter The Corporate Space

They may be on top of things, but women leaders too are subjected to prejudices

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Women In Love, Only If You’re DH Lawrence

Why are novels about women, love and shopping, dismissed as chick-lit, while men who write about men, love and shopping are given columns in national newspapers?

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Since ‘Woman’ Is So Provocative, Should We Become The Walking Dead?

Faced with daily harrassment, we train ourselves to become oblivious, unseeing, unfeeling. We must learn to resist

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Must We Bury Uneasy Truths?

A society that frowns upon victims of physical abuse must confront its own bigotry first

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Why Is There No Room For Women At The Top?

In the glitzy corporate world, the rules of the game are different if you are a woman

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We Women Talk With Loud Voices

Authorities thought that as a woman I wouldn’t pursue my cause if they made it hard for me

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The Problem With Theory

Feminism cannot be a moving force if it is not grounded in the lived experiences of its patrons

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My Causes Became My Family

Women activists may have to walk alone in their pursuit of justice, but they need never be lonely

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Why Is The Word ‘Vagina’ Scary?

Eve Ensler’s play and the V-Day movement show that women telling their own stories is the most potent weapon against patriarchy

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Claiming Land Rights For Women

Lessons learnt from two different endeavours to help women claim share of family land

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To Conquer Her Land

Women soldiers on the border

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Facing My Own

This photo essay is for my mother.

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Special Correspondent

Revati Laul has been a television journalist and documentary film maker for most of her 16 year career. Ten of those were spent in NDTV where her reports included everything from the aftermath of the Gujarat riots to following truck drivers into ULFA infested Assam. Then about a year and a half ago, she decided to tell her stories in indelible ink instead. Most people said she made an upside down decision but she firmly believes she’s found food for the soul. She was hired by Tehelka to write on politics. For her this does not mean tracking the big fish but looking closely at how the tiny fish are getting swallowed and by whom. On most days though, she can be found conversing on her other two favourite subjects – fornication and food. Fiction is another friend of hers. A short story she wrote called `Drool’ was published in an anthology of young fiction by Zubaan. She is also founder member of the NGO ‘Tara’ that looks after underpriviledged children.


  1. This page was so soothing after all the scaremongering stories that are doing the rounds now. Thanks for focusing on the strength of every woman.

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