Opinion| A tribute to the women who showed us the way
If we were to put a face to the current protests across India, like many in the past, the ones that immediately come to mind are those of women from Padukone to Aishe Ghosh to the heroic women of Shaheen BaghUpdated: Jan 25, 2020 17:53 IST
The strength and resilience shown by women in the ongoing protests across India on the citizenship law has amazed many. While Deepika Padukone’s appearance at Jawaharlal Nehru University sent the media into a frenzy, the manner in which women, especially Muslim women, came out in huge numbers has given the protest movement visibility, depth and strength. But there have been several movements in India in which women took the lead.
A recent one which comes to mind is the #MeToo movement. Following the momentum in the West, women in India, especially professionals, emboldened by public support, came out with their stories of sexual violence and harassment. Many powerful men were laid low, but unfortunately, the movement seems to have lost its steam.
Another movement led by women was the Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage), one, in which various women’s bodies came together to protest the oppressive rules imposed in hostels. These included early curfews and dress codes. After efforts to muzzle them failed, the government issued notices to 30 universities and colleges to act on the report filed by Pinjra Tod.
Who can forget the 2017 marches across several cities and towns by women to reclaim public spaces after the horrific molestations on the New Year’s eve in Bengaluru.
The Chipko movement would not have become the success it did, had it not been for the determined stand taken by women villagers against deforestation.
The power of organised women entered the public consciousness when Ela Bhatt brought self-employed women into a union and later set up Self Employed Women’s Association. She ensured that the funds went on essentials usually denied to women because of their economic powerlessness — housing, childcare, food and right to assets.
The women in pink were another massive movement to counter violence. While vigilantism, which the Gulabi Gang has often been accused of, is perhaps blurring the boundaries of the law, it has today taken on social evils like child marriage, dowry and corruption which affect women.
Another key moment of the coming together of women, and I must add many men, was the anti-rape protests in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gangrape. It forced changes in the law and the setting up of fast track courts.
Women, led by poet Sugathakumari, were instrumental in saving Silent Valley in Kerala, a unique ecosystem when the state electricity board came up with a harebrained scheme to submerge around eight kilometre of the forest. As pressure mounted. the government declared it a protected area.
Had it not been for the efforts of a young acid attack victim who gathered 27,000 signatures, the restrictions on the sale of acid would never have been imposed. And today, even as she displayed exemplary courage in standing up for values and decency in JNU, it is Padukone who has taken on a role that few Indian actresses would in playing an acid victim in a film.
The #NoConditionsApply was a women’s movement, which sought to include women normally shunned from celebrations like sindhur khela, in which vermillion is applied to married women and from which women like sex workers, transgenders, lesbians and singles are excluded.
It was again a woman, Medha Patkar, who sustained the Narmada Bachao Andolan all these years. This time too, if we were to put a face to the protests across India, the ones that immediately come to mind are those of women from Padukone to Aishe Ghosh to the heroic women of Shaheen Bagh.