Joining Worlds

Himachal Rising: Two Campaigns Addressing Violence Against Women

This article was written by Christina James, OC’ 10 Shansi Fellow at Jagori Grameen


Eva Doerr (L), a volunteer from Germany, and Christina James (R)

Jagori Grameen (meaning “awaken women” in Hindi) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Rakkar in India’s northern province of  Himachal Pradesh. Founded in 2002, Jagori focuses on helping women, youth and other marginalized communities become empowered through capacity building, trainings, and education in three main areas: organic farming projects managed by Jagori’s Sustainable Agriculture, Forest and Land (SAFAL, meaning “successful”) team; youth empowerment through education with the Social Architects of Tomorrow in Himachal (SATH, meaning “together”) team; and building women’s capacity through health camps, legal counseling, and women’s collectives with the help of the Aware Women’s Action for Justice (AWAJ, meaning “voice”) team. At Jagori, I primarily work with the AWAJ team. In addition to working on the two campaigns described below, I have been helping to write a research paper addressing the degree to which the lower judiciary in Himachal Pradesh is accessible to those litigants seeking justice for a violation of their economic and/or social rights. I also tutor students in English speaking and teach an English class to Jagori staff and team members.

As a Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies major, I was attracted to the Shansi placement at Jagori because I wanted to apply what I had learned at Oberlin to a work environment that was sensitive to gender-based issues and that would allow me to spend time in the field to observe implementation of NGO programs. In between my time at Oberlin and my Shansi fellowship, I taught English in Limboto, Gorontalo, Indonesia as a Fulbright Fellow, then volunteered as an English teacher at Peduli Anak, an NGO in Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia that provides former street children with an education and job training. I have enjoyed my time at Jagori very much and look forward to helping with future projects here, such as Women’s Well-Being Week in the spring.

I have been involved in two Jagori campaigns so far. From the 25th of November to the 10th of December 2012, Jagori Grameen planned several events for the 16-Day Campaign, an international movement to address violence against women. The campaign was named “the 16 Day Campaign” because it lasted from the 25th of November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until December 10th (International Human Rights Day). The need for campaigns like this in India is dire – according to the United Nations, one in every three women worldwide will be raped or beaten in her lifetime [1]. This means that more than one billion women and girls experience violence regularly, both at home and in public. In the Kangra district, where Jagori is located, the sex ratio of girls is 873 to 1000 [2] and around 60% of adolescent girls have a hemoglobin level below 8 mg, which classifies them as severely anemic (based on a sample group of 157 girls). These signs suggest an overall neglect of girls throughout the district. Events planned by Jagori for the 16-Day Campaign addressed issues that were local to the Kangra district.

From the 25th to 27th of November 2012, Jagori team members performed a street play in three locations across the Kangra District. The play mainly tackled the issue of the 33% seating reservation for women on buses, and was organized into three separate skits. The 33% seating reservation (there is also one for children and senior citizens) exists to give women a place on buses that is free from harassment by men. Because women literally have more of a burden to carry (in the form of children, groceries, and other heavy loads) and are simultaneously subject to many forms of harassment on buses, the policy assumes they should be given a safe place to rest during travel. Until this burden is shared more equally with men, and women are free from this harassment, Jagori believes that this reservation must be upheld.

The first skit showed men (female team members who wore scarves on their heads) initially refusing to give up their seats for women; then, through song, reconciling with them, advocating for the reservation themselves, and giving the women their seats. The second skit addressed sexual harassment in an office space, while the third was a dance and song that spoke to the constrained identity of women.

My job during the performances was to take pictures and interview people about their reactions to the play to find out what they learned and what must be done to end gender-based violence. I haven’t analyzed the data yet, but overall people said that they were really impressed with the plays, considered violence against women a huge problem in their communities, and many people supported the seating reservation for women. Many people also said they had never heard of Jagori before the street plays, which attests to Jagori extending its reach to new communities. I also helped to write a press release for the campaign that was sent to three area newspapers. I felt that as a photographer and interviewer, I contributed something valuable that advertised the campaign and will inform how the campaign is organized in 2013.

Other events organized by Jagori included a presentation attended by 450 people on November 30th, South Asian Women’s Day, at the Police Ground in Dharamshala, an awareness rally attended mostly by youth on December 8th, and an evening candlelight march in Dharamshala and Shahpur on International Human Rights Day, December 10th. Film screenings and open discussions from December 1st to 10th in forty villages in the Kangra District served to educate community members about issues of sexual and domestic violence.

One objective of this year’s local 16-Day Campaign was to mobilize people to join the international One Billion Rising Campaign, which is being carried out in over 180 countries. In order to stop all forms of discrimination and violence against women, Eve Ensler, a well known feminist activist, playwright, and actor, calls on one billion people to strike, dance, and rise on 14th February 2013. The number “one billion” relates to the number of women and girls who will experience violence in their lifetime.

Both campaigns additionally urge young boys and men to help bring an end to gender-based violence. Men are also victims of patriarchal systems and are subjected to stereotypes that force them to conform to traditional masculine roles. It is not enough to inspire women to take a stand against the violence being perpetrated upon them – without the involvement and cooperation of men and boys, women and girls will always be fighting and negotiating for their rights, rather than claiming them.

An event that has left the world speechless and enlightened many about the severity and prevalence of violence against women in India has also made an impact on how Jagori Grameen has shaped their mobilization to participate in the One Billion Rising campaign. On December 16th, 2012, a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and brutalized on what she thought was a public bus. She was accompanied by a male friend who also suffered terrible injuries. She eventually died of her injuries in Singapore on December 29th. Countless numbers of people have come out in protest, both violent and peaceful, of her rape and brutalization, of the government’s handling of her final days, and of the government’s lack of organization in helping to cure one of India’s most lethal epidemics – violence against women and girls.

I have had several conversations with Indian women about the Delhi gang rape that have surprised me. When I asked a woman from Chandighar what the citizens of India could do to convince the government that violence against women is a priority issue, she quietly and sincerely remarked, “Someone has to kill every one of them – they are the real murderers here.” One of my coworkers remarked, “One of the scarier things about this incident is that this woman was keeping in line with all the rules our families tell us from when we’re little girls: If you go out at night, take a male friend with you. Don’t take a rickshaw – take public transportation. She wasn’t breaking any rules.” Girls at a youth meeting in a village close to Dharamshala advocated keeping chili powder in their pockets when riding on buses as a potential weapon if they were harassed. The violence that occurred in Delhi has been happening in India for some time now. Most women I talk to here have themselves survived violence at the hands of their husbands or family members, or know someone who has. The Delhi gang rape is indicative of crimes that happen every minute to women across India.

As a result of the gang rape, Jagori has taken action on several fronts. In early January, a group of several NGOs in Himachal Pradesh, including Jagori, drafted a memorandum on violence against women which included demands for a helpline for women, a female judge in every district to hear cases of domestic violence, and gender training of the police force. This memorandum was then delivered to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh (the equivalent of a state governor in the US). As of January 2nd, the Himachal Pradesh government is setting up state and district level commissions to review the progress of all cases relating to violence against women. The Himachal Pradesh government has also asked each police station to post at least one female police officer among its staff.[3] The OBR Campaign has also been altered as a result of the gang rape – in some areas, people will hold candle light marches instead of rallies, and many people will stand silently with their hand raised above their heads, index finger extended, to show they are one in one billion people protesting violence against women that day.

For the OBR campaign, I am helping to mobilize the community of McLeod Ganj with two other volunteers to join a candle light march. I’m excited to use canvassing skills that I acquired during political campaigns in the US to talk to other NGOs, Tibetan government bodies, and individuals about women’s rights in India. Part of our campaign to mobilize for One Billion Rising has been to show this film in schools, at women’s meetings, and to NGOs. It’s a beautiful, heart breaking piece that has no language barrier due to the fact that it’s silent.

On the 14th of February, whoever and wherever you are in the world, I encourage you to join an OBR event in your area for some part of the day, or just go out with friends, family and coworkers to strike, dance and rise in the streets. More information can be found at the OBR website. If you’re interested in watching the Jagori team performing the theme song and dance for OBR in Himachal, please click here.

STRIKE, DANCE, RISE – become a part of One Billion Rising!

NOTE: Abha Bhaiya, director of Jagori Grameen, Anoop Kumar and Vasundhara, Jagori team members, and Eva Doerr and Anshee, Jagori volunteers, contributed information and feedback to this report.

Click here for photos of Himachel rising on February 14, 2013.

[1] 2003 UNIFEM report entitled “Not A Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women,”  or 2008, the UNITE To End Violence Against Women Campaign, initiated by UN Secretary-General’s Office

[2] For every 1,000 boys born in the district, there are 873 girls born.

[3] The Economic Times. Delhi gang-rape case: Jayalalithaa for harsher punishment for rape. January 2nd, 2013.

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