As I was about to leave the door I hesitated, for a few seconds, it was cold, I was going alone. These hesitations only lasted for a few seconds. My husband gently encouraged me to go. My young boys understood, when I told them I was going to the open meeting at the London School of Economic and Political Science on Gender Violence.
Remembering the protest on the 7th January in front of the Indian High Commission in London, I had no hesitations, I was going and going with a determination, to find voices that felt the same anger that I had felt in isolation, anger of the 50 million girls missing, of the acceptance and support of abuse from government. This endless cycle had to be stopped. I needed to be the voice that had been denied to millions. I felt so much in unison with all the girls that had died and had yet to shout. The voices at the protest on the 7th January were powerful, very powerful. We shouted, ‘Shame on you’ for hours, we demanded justice, freedom and sang, 'We are not just flowers we are sparks and fire’. It was both a process of healing for all the hurt and an opportunity to be with other women, who were strangers but shared a common cause.
I was very lucky to be sitting next to my heroine Meera Syal during the open meeting at LSE, I spoke to her briefly.
Then the discourse began.
One of the audiences began with ‘We need more judges’ in India. Kavita Krishnanan Indian feminist at the forefront of change was on face time live to answer questions. Yes, Indian feminist will be watching closely the budget and assessing what actually has been done to address the issues. Having more judges is a right. But having judges with moral conviction, having an ethos in the system which respects and supports women is just as necessary and valid. Women’s issues have lit a spark which will not die down to the unjust system until real changes are made. Changes demanded by locals not just in urban communities but in rural communities, as well.
‘Women’s freedom is everyone’s freedom’
Is it a fight for the dignity of all our sisters, when one sister is unhappy it affects all sister’s. If one sister is abused in the global family then all our brother and sisters feel the pain.
There is a dangerous line that must be kept in check, while we demand freedom from abuse, we must be careful not to label a whole community of being abusive. It is the system, it is the ethos that must be changed from the top that allows, if not encourages the abuse.
Confronting abuse with abuse is not productive. We are asking for justice against crimes, we are asking for an end of reading, listening and knowing that millions of girls were denied the right to life, around 50 million missing girls in India. If they survived birth many did not see childhood, if they survived childhood, the incidence of abuse was high, if they got married then abuse would continue if they bore girls.
A member of the audience a lawyer who has dealt with crimes against women for 20 years and seen men escape justice and commit abuses against women. Now she cannot understand why the death penalty has not been implemented widely in India for rapes. There was ‘Boos’ from the rest of the audience. The problem with the death penalty is that the police and the army are exempt and the government is selective for whom they subjected death penalty to. Most rapes are committed by men whom the girls know for example, relatives, neighbours community members; girls would be under immense pressure not to ‘kill’ her abuser.
Rape laws as they stand in Indian are scandalous, they do not include stalking, inserting objects in women’s bodies etc. The sexual harassment bill is very problematic and as a first step this needs to change to encompass abuse against women. The widespread abuse and rape of UK military and police force was highlighted. The difficulties and issues are similar for example only 6% of sexual harassment cases are brought to justice in UK.
If the 23 year old student 'Damini' had survived, life would have been no better than a ‘corpse’. One of the audiences mentioned a cartoon she saw in paper. It had one candle burn out and then next to it a million candles light up.
This movement needs to continue, we must continue the dialogue, and we must stand up with the light within us to shine the light of justice everywhere.
The workshop ended with a list of actions that demanded action from Dr Manhohan Singh. Manmohan Singh is perfectly aware of the injustice to women; he was quoted as saying once that what was needed was a moral crusade to stop this. As if he was waiting for an outside force to deal with the problem within his government. That moral crusade needs to come from his government for effective change.
I was worried going back home alone but that light within me that took me to the open meeting also gave me another light to walk home with. I made a new friend, usually I say hello to an elderly man on the way to school run and occasionally I see his daughter with him. I went home with his daughter and it was delightful to connect and to hope for a better future.
by Gurmit Kaur