Sunday, January 06, 2013

Protests, provocations and prevarications

I don't often go out late at night. And it's been years since I walked on Tank Bund, our local promenade, at any time of day or night. So last night, thanks to a couple of feisty and committed young women, I did both. Hyderabad's Midnight March, called to reinforce the demands for safer public spaces and a change in societal attitudes toward gender and gender-based violence, was by any account a huge success. There were feminists old, young, and in-between, of all genders; mothers with young children in tow and fathers with toddlers on their shoulders; people speaking, singing and shouting slogans in Hindi, Telugu and English; those who fit the misused label of middle class, and many who might not. Things were organized without being restrictively disciplined, there was space for conversation and silence, and above all, there was energy.

I ran into many old friends and caught sight of many more recent acquaintances, including a number of young people who had passed through my classes and remembered (or forgot) enough to say a warm hello.

While the demands were serious (let's break the silence, let's rethink the laws), the mood was one of hope. If so many of us, who had at one time shared a quiet and helpless anger, were out there showing ourselves, then there must be a way out of these shackles society seems to have locked itself within.

But walking there among all those people, I couldn't help myself from those treacherous moments of doubt. What happens after a midnight march? One young woman who was with me voiced her doubt aloud, asking, does a thousand-strong crowd walking along a well-lit thoroughfare equal a reclamation of the night? When we yell "down down" with something, do we understand the entirety of what we are fighting or are we only tilting at the windmills we see? When we scream for justice, do we all agree on what justice is and how it should be done? What we want is the opposite of a violent solution, and somehow, the stridency of our shouts taints that very desire. Another young woman asked me what I thought of the whole thing. I'm not sure, I said. All I know is that this can't be enough; that this must lead to something more.

Of course, all of this does not in at all take away from the need for such visible representations of societal angst. It reminds us that in the middle of all the ugliness there is still so much will to act, so much capacity to push for change.

Already, the volume and intensity of conversation around rape, sexuality, and gender-based violence has increased. Silences are being broken and people at least in some quarters are paying more attention. While some may dismiss it all as middle class posturing or a temporary (youth-led) fervour, some of it will most definitely stick.

So, did it make a difference that I went? Perhaps not. But it does make a difference that we all went.

And as we walked back to our car at 1:30 a.m., on a dark and lonely street where it was the only vehicle left, my young friend noted, "Well, we have reclaimed the night, after all."

1 comment:

Shashi said...

Good blog Usha. I remember - only too vividly - the daily gauntlet of riding the bus to Nizam college. Getting pinched, pushed, groped.....a challenge many women had to endure. I hope Hyderabad has changed some since then....hopefully for the better! I often think of my Hyderabad days....but certainly don't miss these types of memories.