Throughout the South Asian region, inequalities arising from caste, class, religion, ethnicity, and sexuality are further complicated by gender-based discriminatory practices that hold back progress and development for everyone. Existing evidence points to the fact that despite considerable progress (especially with regards to education and health) critical gender gaps persist. Across all South Asian countries, patriarchal values and social norms tend to privilege men and boys’ access to opportunities and control over resources. These inequalities manifest across the life cycle of a woman – from conception, to birth, to childhood, adolescence and throughout their adult lives. Discriminatory practices begin even before birth and affect every aspect of a women’s future and destiny.
At the same time, there has beena rich history of women organizing social, political and cultural movements to claim their rightsacross South Asia. Over the years, women’s groups have mobilized and made sure their voices are heard on different issues, starting with violence against women, gender equality, securing economic opportunities and participation, equal representation in politics, reproductive rights, family law reforms and gender mainstreaming in public policies while vocalising their efforts for peace and solidarity in the South Asian Region.
Significance of 30th November: This dayis observed as South Asian Women’s Day for Peace, Justice, Human Rights and Democracy under the aegis of Sangat, a South Asian feminist network. On this day, civil society organizations across the region organize events to celebrate sisterhood, solidarity and address common concerns of conflicts and violence in the region. Women in South Asia have had to bear an unequal burden of the effects of conflict whether caste, class, religion or ethnicity, in addition to the discriminatory practices due to patriarchal structures. South Asian Women’s Day was designed:
- to highlight how violence has pervaded the social fabric of all the countries in the region
- to protest against the militarisation of the region and
- to demand peace, justice, democracy, and tolerance for all.
“I am not the wall that divides, I am a crack in that wall”
KamlaBhasin was born in 1946 in Shahidanwali Village in Punjab (now in Pakistan) and grew up in Rajasthan. After completing her post-graduation from Rajasthan University, she studied sociology in Germany and on her return in 1972 joined the Udaipur-based voluntary organisation Seva Mandir, which worked with the rural and urban poor with the goal of “mobilising them for their own development”. From that point in life till she breathed her last breath, her life in her own words were, “being deeply engaged with issues related to gender, development, peace, identity politics, militarisation, human rights and democracy”; of exploring and articulating “connections between different issues and to promote synergies between different movements.” It was a journey during which the indefatigable feminist touched countless hearts and lives.She popularized the ‘Azaadi’ slogan that shehad heard from feminists in Pakistan and made it into a feminist anthem which continues to be used in movements even today. She has created more than 200 songs, many during feminist workshops, which have been sung at protests and events not only in India but across South Asia, and these have even been translated into more than 10 languages.As she famously said, “I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. I am a feminist and I do not hate women who are not feminists. I am a feminist – and I laugh.”
The Programme: The evening will include a cultural programme of songs and theatre to highlight the need to continue building bridges across the region and focus on peace and harmony. We will also take the opportunity to remember KamlaBhasin who championed the cause of harmony in South Asia, with the release of a diary in her memory. The diary is a compilation of a few of her inspirational thoughts and writings oncomplex issues like patriarchy, feminism, and sustainable development. We hope to motivate young scholars and students to understand these concepts and apply them to make their own lives and the lives of those around them discrimination free and gender just.
THE PANELISTS INCLUDE –
Anuradha Kapoor said that South Asian Women’sDay was conceived after a collaboration between representatives from all South Asian countries, after recognizing they had a shared history and culture, and that this was especially true for the issues that face South Asian women. The rapid militarization and deepening communal divisions that have become rampant in the region havehad a very negative impact on women, and this day wasbeing observed in recognition of this gendered violence. Anuradha Kapoor also gave a moving tribute to KamlaBhasin, remembering her as a pioneer and powerful feminist, and prolific writer and artist. She said that Bhasin’s strength was in being able to communicate complex issues in the most lucid and simple way, so that it was accessible to the widest audience possible, the result being that her writingswere studied in universities and academies across the world but also used by grassroots organizations. Anuradha Kapoor especially remembered KamlaBhasin as her friend, teacher, and family, calling her a generous and loving person. Kamlaji served as trustee on the board of SWAYAMfor many years and was frequently at the SWAYAM offices where she could be seen talking and laughing with everyone. Even with the serious work that she did, KamlaBhasinreminded feminists to laugh at themselves, saying that laughter was essential for revolution and that we all had to keep our inner child alive.Kamlaji called herself a ‘South Asians’and never an Indian, and was committed to this shared identity, and making friendships and connections across nations. Anuradha Kapoor ended her speech by reminding the audience that they had to honour KamlaBhasin’s lifework and understand what is common among us, not focusing on our differences.
Anuradha Kapoor is the Founder and former Director of Swayam, a feminist organisation committed to ending gender inequality and violence against women established in May 1995 in Kolkata, India. Anuradha is an Ashoka Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow and was a member of the Civil Society Advisory Group for UN Women’s Multi Country Office for India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
A feminist activist, Anuradha has played an active role in advocating for laws and policies related to women’s rights in India and internationally. She was one of the key players in the movement that resulted in the passing of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and has since been working on ensuring its effective implementation both at the State and National levels.
She contributed to the Chapter on Violence against Women in the Civil Society Alternative report to the CEDAW Committee in 2014. She has conducted Judicial Trainings in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as part of the Asia Pacific Forum on Judicial Education on Equality Issues as well as trainings with the police, corporate houses, educational institutions, NGO’s and CBO’s.
Rafiath Rashid Mithila said that her foremost identity was as a friend and student of KamlaBhasin, and that she had learnt a lot from her. BRAC had a long history of working with KamlaBhasin, and Mithila called that experience “eye-opening”. Personally, shetook inspiration from seeing Kamlaji’s strength through all her life’s struggles which gave her the strength to face her own struggles in her life. Reflecting on her work on early childhood development, Mithila said that patriarchywas something we all experienced in our lives, and that is why we needed to start discussing this with our children from an early age, teaching them about injustice and equality. Further, she said that there was a shared experience and challenge facing all the countries of the region like child marriage, domestic violence, and the growing number of rapes. She added that a lot had changed and that women were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. However, women still did not have agency and control over their own finances and decision-making. There were also the new threats of cyber bullying and harassment through the proliferation of the internet in the region. She ended her speech by saying that we must focus on working with men, who have been left behind, while women have progressed in their thinking and understanding of these issues. She called on women’s organizations to increase their focus and join hands with men so that together we could forge ahead on the journey started by KamlaBhasin, and resolve our shared burdens.
Rafiath Rashid Mithila, who is best known by her stage name as Mithila, is a Bangladeshi artist, singer and development worker. She is currently the head of the Early Childhood Development programme in BRAC. She has fifteen years of experience in the field of education and early childhood development and possesses extensive experience in project development, research and teaching in the field of education. She has closely worked with marginalized groups in Bangladesh and in countries in Africa, and have designed innovative, low cost and sustainable education projects for these groups. Apart from her passion for development, she also pursues a career as an actress in Bangladesh.
Shamita Das Dasgupta said “today’s celebration ofpeace and harmony was also a celebration of the work of KamlaBhasin. Even though Shamita met KamlaBhasinlater, she was inspired by her work for many years, and said that even though she is not here with us today, her legacy lives on. She spoke about her work in the USA, and how much she had learnt from KamlaBhasin’s work. She told the audience her focus was not just with women from South Asia but also on refugees and immigrants from conflict areas all over the world. She had observed commonalities in the violence that is meted out on women across all conflict areas of the world. While governments focus on the outward conflicts and violence in these countries, they often ignore the violence meted out on women. Through her work, Shamita said she had seen women repeatedly say that they have a lot in common with women from other South Asian countries, and a common struggle. She also spoke of her association with SWAYAM and immensely respected the organization’s work to promote peace in the home, community, and nation. She also thanked SWAYAM for giving a lot of support to her work. She shared a common slogan raised in marches in the USA, which is ‘No justice, no peace’, which means that without, achieving justice and equality there can never be peace. She told the audience, that we must find a shared goal so that we can unify, instead of focusing on our differences quoting John Lennon’s famous line ‘Give peace a chance!’
Shamita Das Dasgupta is an Indian scholar and activist based in USA. A social activist since early 1970s, she co-founded Manavia women’s organisation in New Jersey, USA in 1985. It is the first organization of its kind that focuses on violence against South Asian women in the United States. She has authored many books that havebeen globally published, some of which are The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folk Tales, Mothers for Sale: Women in Kolkata’s Sex Trade and recently she has translated Ahana Biswas’s novel ‘The Caged’.
Ramanjit Kaur is an award-winning Theatre and Film Actor and Director. She is the Founder/Director of The Creative Arts and the National Vice-President of the Arts Leadership Council, Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WICCI). She has performed at festivals in India and worldwide andhas won national and international awards like SangeetNatakAkademi’sUstadBismillah Khan YuvaPuraskar Award, Sanskriti Award, Uttam Kumar Award,Laadli National Award for Gender Sensitization, the French Embassy Scholarship and The Charles Wallace Award. She directed the poetry film ‘Silence’, which won the Berlin Flash Film Festival award among others.
Dipannita Acharya is a prolific artist in the genre of folk music. She identifies herself and her music as ‘BaulAnuragi’ and ‘Bhav Sangeet’ respectively. Over the years, she has enthralled audiences with her rich repertoire of regional folk songs, especially those from Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan and Gujarat. She was introduced to folk music courtesy her own cultural roots in Chittagong (Bangladesh) that she imbibed and, for the rest, she absorbed the robust rustic singing style of her family, her social groups, from the Monosha Mongol and later, from her gurus.