A V-Day fight, to love and be fearless

Valentine’s Day now takes on a meaning much larger than what it was intended to be. Anoo Bhuyan tracks the recent events that lead to today's One Billion Rising in Bengaluru.

Valentine’s Day, for all practical purposes, is a commercial creation. The day itself does not bear any deep significance to those who may celebrate it, though the love they celebrate might bear some value. Politically and socially, it is a fluffy construct, and should not require too much inspection. But V-Day is D-day now, as far as women’s rights movements are concerned. The day has grown to be important because it appears that there is now a fight on for the ability to love and express it.

Illustration: Shilo Shiv Suleman – this is part of the set created by artists around the country for One Billion Rising.

In January 2009, men from Sri Ram Sena, a Hindu right wing group, barged into a pub in Mangalore, dragged women out and assaulted them. They felt the need to act as vigilantes because ‘women drinking in a pub’ was unacceptable to them. They then threatened to strike again, on Valentine’s Day. Pramod Muthalik, their leader said, “Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” If there was resistance to this by the couple, the girl would be made to tie a rakhi on the boy.

In the “WTF History of Indian feminism,” this incident has become a chapter. When a social class is faced with such ridiculous opposition, the only way to respond to it adequately is with irreverence. This explains the ingenuity of Slut Walk. In this case, a fitting reply was provided by the ‘Pink Chaddi Campaign.’ A bunch of women got together, and decided to send these saffron-chaddi men, some pink underwear. The aim was to flood the Hubli office of this group with mountains of panties, by Valentine’s Day 2009. And this has made a permanent X-mark on 14 February, on the activist calendar.

The ‘Consortium of Loose and Pub Going Women’ was started, and with a hark back to Gandhi’s ‘Jail Bharo’ campaign (which was invoked even recently during the Anna Hazare agitation), women pledged that they were going to go to a pub, and have a drink. Their slogan was, ‘Pub Bharo.

Muthalik replied to the women by saying he would send “1000 sarees as return gifts” for the chaddis he receives. By Valentine’s Day, he and about 140 of his goons were taken into preventive custody by the police. Hundreds of chaddis awaited him in his office.

Loving is a hard thing in India. People get killed for loving of their choice. And so, we have honour killings, where communities kill their own for eloping or marrying out of their caste. Or fathers kill themselves when their daughters transgress caste lines by loving, and this inflames entire communities, as in Dharmapuri recently.

I want to take the liberty to say that the 16th December gangrape in Delhi, and the subsequent death of the victim, can be seen from some distance as a wave in Indian feminism. We can see a line from 14th February 2009 to 16th December 2012 to 14th February 2013. Since the rape, there have been massive protests in Delhi, which made history when they reached Raisina Hill, in a country where police permission is required for protests and protests are only permitted in designated areas. The protests were spontaneous, lacking in leadership, and were united by pure outrage.

Important dates that came between 16th December and 14th February, have all seen protest as a response to celebration, including Christmas, New Year and Republic Day. People are still at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, every day. Some have been fasting, some have set up camp. Since then, fast track courts have been set up around India, to deal with long pending rape cases. Life imprisonments and death sentences are being doled out, perhaps in response to the vociferous and dangerous public outcry for the same.

The winter session of the Parliament saw no closure on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012, which sought to deal with many issues of violence on women. The path breaking report by the Justice Verma Committee was released on time to widespread appreciation. But the government came out with an ordinance that instead of placating the people, made them more angry due to its haste, ill-thought out recommendations and secrecy. At the impending budget session of Parliament which starts on 21st February, activists are pledging that they will keep a watch on how the government allocates funds, and if any will be spared for the safety of women.

It is in this crucial period that Valentine’s Day falls. It has been four years since Pink Chaddi and 14th February is hardly a fluffy day anymore. It is a day of strategic importance to the women’s movement, a day for deep social introspection, the kind of stuff to be philosophized about in academia. For the young who do celebrate Valentine’s Day, primarily an urban young India, it is now a significant day to reclaim their choice to love and express it fearlessly. By extension, it is a day to resist sexual violence and moral policing of free expression. This “western concept,” which angers Indian conservatives so much, has been made quite personal to Indians, something the conservatives did not foresee.

Globally as well, this day, this year, is significant because today is when one billion people are expected to “strike, rise and dance” as part of the One Billion Rising campaign. The campaign was started by the very famous Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues – a famous play where each of the monologues deals with different aspects of the feminine experience.

The campaign is premised on the realisation that one in three women will be raped or beaten in this world, in her lifetime. This makes one billion women. The movement urges women and men who support them, to rise on this "V-Day" and take to the streets and dance. And across Bangalore, as in other parts of the country, people are doing just that – joining in the ‘rising,’ irrespective of what ‘Valentine’s Day’ per se might mean to them.

Bangalore will rise at Cubbon Park (Manjula Mantapa, the park entrance from Vittal Mallya Road), today, from 2.30pm onwards. There will be live painting by arti
sts, street rangoli, performance, poetry, dance, freeze mobs, tribal dancing, live bands, DJs and a drum circle performance. Later in the evening, stand up comedians have collaborated with Vimochana, a women’s rights group from the city, for a performance at Alliance Française from 7pm.

For you see, as much as we may like to write off violence against women in India, as a rape-capital issue in Delhi, or one that happens in rural India, it is not. The Mangalore pub attack in 2009, was very close to home. Swar Thounajam, a Bangalore based playwright, was assaulted on the street a few months back. A French diplomat has been charged in a case of raping his daughter in Bangalore, last year. More ludicrous, police in Bangalore have been intimidating young couples by video-taping them while they spend time with each other at public places.

Violence against women happens the world over and is being recognised for that. Make it to a rising in your neighbourhood in Bangalore, or organise one yourself, for the freedom to love and be fearless.

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