‘Chalo Nagpur’ event brings women’s movement to civil society

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Nagpur, March 10 (IANS) Two days after International Women’s Day, women from different rights groups around the country came together here today to mark their protest against Hindutva, caste-based and patriarchal violence against women and other marginalised communities.

Adivasi, Muslim, Dalit, queer and disabled women, as well as students and sex workers, attended the event — called Chalo Nagpur — that was kicked off with a bike rally from Samvidhan Chowk, a popular spot for protests and demonstrations in the city.

This was followed by song performances and fiery speeches at the Indora Maidan that were attended by several hundred people.

“Today, individual freedoms are being stolen — we have come to raise our voice against this. We ask everyone fighting their own battles for dignity to come together, and join us,” said Delhi-based Dalit women’s rights activist Rajni Tilak, one of the organisers.

“This is the beginning of the revolution. There will be Chalo Ahmedabad, Chalo Hyderabad, Chalo Delhi as well,” said activist and event organiser Shabnam Hashmi.

Radhika Vemula, mother of the late University of Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula, who was present, spoke of how Dalit icon Dr B.R. Ambedkar was a proponent of women’s rights.

Radhikamma, as she is called, has been waging a battle against the central government to prove that her son, who killed himself in January 2016, is Dalit. She announced that she will lead a month-long Dalit Swabhiman Rath Yatra, starting March 14, through Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to spread awareness about the reality of Dalit existence.

A December report by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which reviewed the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, observed that the conviction rate in several states was in single digits. In Maharashtra, it was 7.6 per cent, in Gujarat, it was a mere 3.1 per cent. The figures are based on data collected between 2013 and 2015.

Delhi-based activist Rituparna Borah spoke of the harm that patriarchy does to women’s sexuality.

Calling all queer women to the stage, she asked: “Can someone like me — who is big, curly-haired, dark-skinned, tribal lesbian from the Northeast, and can’t speak Hindi very well — ever be ‘bharat mata’?” Borah asked, stressing the importance of recognising differences among people, and calling it “the nationalism of queer persons”.

Mudraboina Rachana, a kinnar activist from Telangana, said casteist laws affect the transgender community as it does any other. Referring to the government’s proposal to make begging illegal, she pointed out that this would directly affect her community, which is often pushed to beg or do sex work on account of lack of opportunities.

Shabina Mumtaz from Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh spoke about the state of Muslims in the country. “We have to keep proving that we are true Indians. Why doesn’t any other community have to do this? When we ask for our rights, we are told to go to Pakistan.”

Friday’s was one of the largest gatherings of women in Nagpur since 1942, when over 25,000 women reportedly took part in the All India Depressed Class Women’s Conference, to protest against the caste system.

Nagpur is also significant for the anti-caste movement, as it was here that Ambedkar converted to Buddhism.

Friday was also the 120th death anniversary of Savitribai Phule, an icon for the Dalit women’s movement. Phule was a teacher and proponent of women’s education who fought against superstition and caste.

(Dhamini Ratnam can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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