I’m wondering if this is the year when all the candy coloured, pseudo, Ladies First type of Women’s Day advertising will pipe down and we might begin to reclaim March 8 as a day to commemorate the struggles and celebrate the achievements of women in changing their lives and changing the world. Because I don’t think the Justice Verma commission report came about by buying a pink crystal pendant, somehow and it seems like a good time not to lose that focus.
I remember going to my first ever Women’s Day rally over 20 years ago. A motley group of women and a few good men marching down a central Bombay street, calling: “Meri behna maange: Aazadi! Arre pitravad se: Aazadi” — that’s still the most infectious chant I’ve heard and not a bad way to learn the Hindi word for patriarchy either! The rally culminated at a school in central Bombay.
Earnest poetry was read out, by young women, to a full hall. Then more singing followed, some hysterically bad, some just wonderful. There were the rousing anthems like “Saare bandhan todke, dekho behnen aati hain/ Aayegi, zulm mitaayegi, woh toh naya zamana layegi.”
In a droll song – “Main acchi hoon ghabrao nako” an unlettered woman dictates a letter to her husband in the Gulf. Each verse details various problems she has as a woman, and ends with the question: don’t you think it makes sense to change this then? — followed by instruction to letter writer: aisa khat mein likho. The last verse how her mother-in-law felt she had no problems that justified her joining a women’s group. So — main meeting ko jaaon kya nako? — aisa khat mein likho. The entire hall cracked up in recognition.
A middle-class kid who hadn’t really done this before, I felt a bit self-conscious and inhibited, looking at others in the room clapping and singing, a mixed up gang of girls with shiny hair in doubled up plaits, activists, college students. I could see others like me on the edges of the crowd — looking timid and tempted; but also somewhat excited to see that there are many other women, so different from them, who have a somewhat milta jhulta desire in their hearts.
I haven’t always gone to rally over the years — one year I went to a dance party where a DJ refused to play any song we wanted (the great trance vs. Bollywood divide does not stop just because it’s Women’s Day). Other years I’ve just done something quite personal — written letters to friends and comrades who have made all the less common choices easier, less lonely, more fun. I’m not surprised to discover that many younger friends and colleagues have never ever gone to any rally.
This March 8th, a rally will start gathering at Kabutar Khana in Dadar at 3 pm and culminate at a meeting in Parel where Flavia Agnes, Chaya Datar, Sonal Shukla and others will be felicitated for their incredibly smart and original feminist work. Maybe, for those who’ve never known a rally, it would be a lovely thing to try for the first time this Women’s Day. I don’t know if it will be big and fun or a little bit modest – even if the ladies aren’t. I don’t know if you’ll end up singing “Yeh waqt ki awaaz hai, milke chalo!” or simply looking a wee bit sheepish and wishing you could. But getting out of your comfort zone and finding exhilaration and challenges in the company of others, is what it’s all about. I hope you surprise and enjoy yourself this Women’s Day.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.