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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
They may be on top of things, but women leaders too are subjected to prejudices
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?
Faced with daily harrassment, we train ourselves to become oblivious, unseeing, unfeeling. We must learn to resist
A society that frowns upon victims of physical abuse must confront its own bigotry first
In the glitzy corporate world, the rules of the game are different if you are a woman
Authorities thought that as a woman I wouldn’t pursue my cause if they made it hard for me
Feminism cannot be a moving force if it is not grounded in the lived experiences of its patrons
Women activists may have to walk alone in their pursuit of justice, but they need never be lonely
Eve Ensler’s play and the V-Day movement show that women telling their own stories is the most potent weapon against patriarchy
Lessons learnt from two different endeavours to help women claim share of family land
Women soldiers on the border
This photo essay is for my mother.