TAKE BACK THE NIGHT... MARKING WOMEN'S DAY 2003
OF STRUGGLES AND SOLIDARITY
Protests, Posters, Songs and Slogans Mark Women's Day 2003
Newsletter Jan - Apr 2003
The Night is Ours !!
“I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice, my belly, or in my heart my heart my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying. “
-Joy Harjo, “I Give You Back”
Over the last many years, Delhi University has had a vibrant struggle to make the campus a safer place for women. Yet, 2002 witnesseda an increase in incidents of sexual harassment, molestation, stalking and other forms of sexual violence against women. After the gang rape of a student in broad daylight, the campaign gained greater momentum. And, Saheli came together with Forum Against Sexual Harassment, WDC-KMC, WDC-Miranda House,WDC-Satyavati College, Stree Adhikar Sangathan, All India Students’ Association, Democratic Students’ Union, Progressive Students’ Union to form the Coalition for Safe University (CSU).
Rallies, memorandums, petitions to get the University establishment to respond, to get the police force to do their duties, and the Municipal Corporation to provide basic amenities...the year has seen them all. Among the many problems students have been consistently fighting against is the lack of adequate street lighting on many roads around the campus, where most of the harassment takes place. So, women students in the university, especially those staying in hostels, in or around the campus are unable to move about freely.
To focus public attention on the gravity of the situation, CSU organised a "Take Back the Night” event with the resolve to make the area in and around the college campus, free of fear on 7th March 03, the eve of International Women’s Day. That evening, armed with posters and songs, placards and resolve, almost 200 women, men and children came together to voice their disgust with the University authority's lack of commitment to ‘breaking the darkness of sexual harassment’.
In most areas in North campus, there are no streetlights at all. And those that are there, don't work. The absence of streetlights has an inherent relationship with vulnerability and insecurity of women who study and teach in North Campus. After dark, the lanes and bus stops become completely deserted and one doesn’t know who lurks in the dark corners. Since the campus is not a 'closed- campus’, anybody can drive by in cars or on motorcycles and create trouble for the women, without even being identified. Even the car plate number can't be read in the dark and the girl's mouth is shut, forever. The libraries and laboratories remain open till late in evening, but students find it difficult to avail of these facilities, because of the fear of having to go back home alone in dark. Worst hit are the students of law faculty, who have evening classes. Moreover, there are about 11-13 hostels in the area and women students living here, as it is, feel insecure, living away from their homes, and nights only make it worse. And yet, the approach of the administration remains shockingly casual.
At the event, which was held outside the Post Graduate Women's Hostel in the university campus, students, teachers, members of women's groups, student’s unions and many more joined up to speak out for "A Campus That's Safe For Women; A Country That's Safe For Women; A World That's Safe For Women... WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!"
Tripta Wahi spoke of the long battle that women have had to wage on campus... a battle that continues, with an arbitrarily nominated body which will soon be formed to receive students’ complaints. Nandita Narain of DU taking on from there, delivered an energetic and poignant speech on the self-defeating way in which the DU policy on sexual harassment is being formed. She emphasised the urgent need for a progressive policy that would recognise this offence as a crime. Then, she followed it up by the old Hindi film song "Kuchh aur zamanaa kehta hai, kuchh aur hai zidd mere dil ki" (The world expects something from me, but my heart is set on something else...) which she sang, in her tireless, dulcet voice. Then, Neeraj Malik read out some touching pieces of post~war poems by Chilean women and a powerful satire by Pakistani poet, Fahmida Riaz. Deeksha, a student of Miranda House who has been a key member of the CSU, addressed women students, calling on them to come forward in efforts like these to combat regressive policies and ever-increasing violence. And Rajni Palriwal drew out the connections between the struggles of women in a place like the university, and the larger global scenario of war that is looming large. These were interspersed with songs against sexual harassment, communalism and war. Lot of students then joined in and sang songs, danced too, full of the positive energy that is required to fight all forms of violence.
Walking with the candles of freedom and hope, burning despite the strong wind, marching with banners reclaiming their space on the streets at all times (by stopping traffic to read the posters and hear them loud and clear!!), shouting slogans that would have made the patriarchs fear their oblivion, singing songs, reading out poems, sharing the marginal-yet-threatening space that belongs to women. One could see the moving body of light, that passed from front of the University Hostel for Women, and from Patel Chest, back to Chattra Marg, with the resounding echoes of slogans like: "Pitra-Satta se, AZAADI ! Shoshann se, AZAADI I Darr se, AZAADI ! Le Ke Rahenge, AZAADI ! "FREEDOM from patriarchy! FREEDOM from Oppression! FREEDOM from Fear!We'll take our FREEDOM!
In preparation for this event, there was also a poster-making, song-writing, slogan-composing workshop held in Saheli on 1 March, where an energetic gathering of 20 women poured out their creativity on posters, banners, slogans and songs. Banners like "Women without fear- Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night", that powerfully stated their resolve to live and act without fear and ensure that other women could do so. Another encapsulated powerfully, by merely stating, "Enough is Enough". Songs against communalism, oppression and sexual harassment were also rehearsed with gusto.
Endnote: This powerful event was marked by the dark irony of several women students having to rush back to the PG Women's Hostel by 7:30 pm, a time set to cage them, for their own safety. Yet, many of them said enthusiastically before leaving, "next year we won't rush off", giving cause for worry we hope, to those afraid of our fearlessness!
8 march: rallying together against communalism, violence and war
The shadow of the Gujarat violence loomed large. The prospect of war was imminent. Another year of confronting countless incidents of violence against women, of living with the increasing impact of globalisation, reducing livelihood options and food security, and continuing the struggle for reservation for women.
8th March — the symbol of women's struggle worldwide for equal rights and liberty from all forms of oppression was, this year, also a day of solidarity with the struggle for justice and peace all over the world.
Marching from Ferozshah Kotla grounds to Mandi House in Delhi, the roads echoed with voices of about a thousand women from a spectrum of women’s groups - party based organisations, NGOs and autonomous groups, and countless individuals (and heartening numbers of men who joined us to express their solidarity). Voices that spoke out against increasing communalism in India, that protested against various forms of violence against women - from dowry to sexual harassment at the workplace, to sex determination, voices that decried the US-UK-led war on Iraq!
With songs and speeches, plays, ditties and the common pamphlet* of the day the messages was clear: "we want peace and development, NOT war and destruction.... we express our solidarity with our sisters and brothers and children of Iraq, who are threatened by a new savage phase in the 12-year old sanctions; war being waged against them yet again, that will lead to millions more being maimed or killed, more rendered homeless, more jobless, more destitute.”
"We the women of India forcefully raise our voice for peace and communal harmony in the country. We condemn the violence and carnage unleashed by the Sangh Giroh in Gujarat in the name of religion against the minority communities, particularly Muslims. Women were specifically made targets. They were raped ~ even minor girls and pregnant women were not spared - and murdered. The government whose job was to protect the right to life of all the citizens of India instead connived with the perpetrators... and used religion to garner electoral support... we demand that the guilty be punished in order to restore the faith of the people, especially minority communities, in the rule of law."
"we strengthen our resolve to fight all kinds of violence against women... sexual harassment at the workplace... child rape... domestic violence... dowry... female foeticide... (which are) becoming more rampant”
"we also assert our right to livelihood... and our long standing demand for reservation for women in parliament and state legislatures"
no to war; yes to peace!
international women’s day - long live!
women’s unity - long live!
*Brought out by Ankur, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, EKTARA, FORCES, Janwadi Mahila Samiti (AIDWA), Joint Women’s Programme, Mahila Dakshita Samiti, National Federation of Women, Nurses’ Union (RML), Sabla Sangh, Saheli, Sama, Stri Adhikar Sangathan, YMCA of India, Action India, Akhil Bharatiya Pragatisheel Mahila Association.