Nagpur: On March 10, women from diverse backgrounds – tribal, Dalit, Muslim, differently-abled, sex workers, LGBTQ – gathered at a white shamiana with colourful posters lined up against it on Nagpur’s Kemptee Road. The posters carried messages from the women expressing their opposition to the discrimination, marginalisation, violence and bigotry engulfing India today, which is being perpetuated by right-wing Hindutva forces.
Through ‘Chalo Nagpur’ – the name of their movement – these women want to unite Indian women across regions and other categorised identities, so they can come together in solidarity against the discrimination that arises from intolerant ideologies like fascism.
Manjula Pradeep, a human rights activist from Gujarat, thinks the caste and patriarchal systems are both strengthened and upheld by Hindutva and Manuvad, and the only way to uproot such ideologies is to unify the voices of the marginalised to build a force strong enough to act against these systems.
Chalo Nagpur, which was attended by over 4,000 women, is entirely funded by participants. Vani Subramaniam, one of the group’s members, stated at a press conference held in New Delhi on March 7, “The movement is funded by the women who are participating in it. It is not funded by any organisation but by individuals who are coming to be a part of it”.
The organisers chose Nagpur as the venue because of the strong presence of right-wingers in the city, as well as its historical status as the venue for the largest ever conference of women in India – which was organised by B.R. Ambedkar under the banner of the Scheduled Caste Federation. The date for the protest was chosen to coincide with Savitri Bai Phule’s 120th death anniversary. Chalo Nagpur’s message to the world is that ‘in a secular democratic state, no one has the right to discriminate, humiliate, violate oppress or commit atrocities against any person or community based on their identity’.
“This is, historically, the first attempt of expressing solidarity [undertaken] by diverse women [that is being executed] in one voice against Hindutva and Manuvad. It is significant in many terms, specially at a moment when de-humanisation is at its peak, [and] women are declaring that they are opposed to it. As a man who believes in secularism and the fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution, I stand in solidarity with these women,” said Ovais Sultan, a male participant from Delhi who attended the event.
The programme, which featured a mix of cultural performances and speeches, started with a bike rally organised by some of Nagpur’s young boys and girls. This was followed by speeches by participants who brought their diverse perspectives to the movement.
Radhika Vermula, Rohith Vemula’s mother, who was also present at the event, said, “I am being subject to character assassination since my son’s suicide, being asked to not identify myself as a Dalit. Since Rohith’s suicide I have been subject to a lot of pressure. I am part of this movement and am here in Nagpur so that there are no more Rohiths.”
Rituparna Borah, a queer feminist activist, told the crowd, “My message to the RSS here in Nagpur is that as a lesbian tribal woman from the north east could I be that ‘Bhaaratiya naari’ that they speak of and praise? Why do they speak of just one kind of woman, one desire, one sexuality, one kind of food, one kind of clothing? What kind of nationalism are they taking about? As a queer activist I want everyone to live with the kind of gender and sexual identity that they want to live in without the fear of being judged and without violence.”
“Thousands of women from across India have descended on Nagpur to challenge Hindutva. Deeply perturbed by the growing attacks on constitutional rights, on freedom of expression and on gender rights, women have taken the lead in trying to break the growing silence and fear. Challenging the politics of hate, Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim women, sex workers, transgenders might actually be writing history in an effort to stop state terror and give out a call to end patriarchy and manuvad”, said human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi from Anhad.
“With freedom of expression being curtailed at universities and other spaces, the place for peaceful dissent seems to be shrinking. We have to reclaim these spaces, stand up against the politics of hate and tell those limiting us and taking over our educational institutions that this will not be tolerated,” shared a student from Maharashtra who had come to attend the event.
Participants at the event passed a resolution condemning discriminatory practices, state violence, the denial of work and exploitation of women’s labour, and also expressed support for women’s reservations. They demanded that quotas be increased to 50% from the current 33-50% with representation of women from various sections of society. Chalo Nagpur has also called for marital rape to be termed a crime by law. Condemning the state for not repealing Section 377, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and cow protection laws, among others, the resolution sought to support diversity as a feminist practice.
On future plans to hold more such events, the women said “Abhi toh bas angrai hai, aagey badi ladai hai” (This is just a small beginning, a long battle is still to be fought).