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The road around Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar lake swelled with life at the stroke of midnight on Saturday night (January 5th). Hundreds of people—young girls, wizened grandparents, gender activists, groups of students, families, and solo supporters—joined together in the glow of intermittent streetlights and moonlight. And we marched, in a steady, impassioned crowd, to condemn sexual violence and assert the freedoms of women. This Midnight March was one of numerous countrywide responses to the brutal gang rape, and subsequent death, of a young women on a moving bus in Delhi on December 16th.
We walked into the night together—in our frustrations, our sadness, our hopes, our varied reasons for joining this procession. But a cacophony of slogans competed for our voices and ears. Azaadi (freedom). Hum honge kamyab (we shall overcome). Awaaz do, hum ek hain (raise your voices, we are one). There is solidarity in these protests, rallies, vigils, and marches that have been sweeping the country for weeks. But there is also confusion—about how we define justice, about what kind of change we envision. How to fight without losing our humanity. How to unite without undermining complexity. And whether, in a country where misogyny is deep-rooted, sexual assault rampant, and fear a part of everyday life for most women, whether serious and sustained change is at all possible.
Here we offer the sounds of these jostling slogans at the Midnight March, and thoughts from a young woman about the significance of slogans, dangerous misconceptions about gender violence, and the kind of change we should be seeking.
And here are a few poignant commentaries we’ve been reading:
“Sometimes, when we talk about the history of women in India, we speak in shorthand. The Mathura rape case. The Vishaka guidelines. The Bhanwari Devi case, the Suryanelli affair, the Soni Sori allegations, the business at Kunan Pushpora. Each of these, the names of women and places, mapping a geography of pain; unspeakable damage inflicted on women’s bodies, on the map of India, where you can, if you want, create a constantly updating map of violence against women.”
In response to calls that the rapists should be publicly dismembered or stoned, chemically castrated, hanged, or given the death penalty: “The anger is perhaps understandable even as the proposed remedies are barbaric. But the extreme violence suggested as a response itself points to a violent and barbaric streak among some members of an apparently educated, affluent and otherwise modern middle class.”
“Delhi needs better-lit streets and bus stops, a more efficient and reliable bus service, a more vigilant police force and a more efficient judiciary. But what it needs most of all is more compassion and understanding, more sharing and less inequality, more introspection and less finger-pointing.”