The crowd poured in to the Miranda House auditorium, with people in the aisles, standing against the back wall, and some looking in through the windows. Many more went to another building to watch the discussion on a TV screen. I could feel the excitement and energy emanating from each person, eagerly awaiting the panel discussion with feminist activist Kamla Bhasin, playwright Eve Ensler, dancer/activist Mallika Sarabhai, and activist Abhijit Das. They did not disappoint.
Kamla led impassioned chants demanding liberation, tapping into the energy in the room, and adding to it for the next speakers. Eve Ensler, known worldwide for writing The Vagina Monologues, proudly spoke about the uprising she has seen in India in the last few weeks. Although many people have been advocating for change for decades, Ensler said, never has she seen a public outcry in India against rape like this, and there is reason to be optimistic that this is a turning point for the country. She then preformed two spoken word pieces – Rising and I Am an Emotional Creature – showing her passion and never-ending determination to make the world a better place for women and girls.
Abhijit Das turned the conversation to getting men involved in the discussion for gender equality. If one billion men are perpetrators of violence, he argued, then 2 billion men are tacitly allowing the violence. We need them to be a part of the movement to overturn patriarchy and stand in solidarity with women. It can be harder for men to discuss women’s issues, but it is worth every effort.
Last, Mallika Sarabhai did a performance piece on the flawed ideas of justice in this country. She creatively portrayed how society is built to maintain the reputations of powerful people, at the expense of the marginalized, especially women. Her colorful form of expression further energized the crowd, generating cheers and much applause.
In the question and answer round, one answer stuck out to me. When one eager audience member argued in favor of the death penalty, Eve talked of her own personal philosophy that leads her to action. She has travelled the world, seen thousands of atrocities against women, and is entirely filled with rage by what she has seen. She needs a place to put that rage, but is careful not to have knee-jerk reactions. Rather, she makes sure to turn that anger into something productive for humankind. When seeing her talk, I could see that with every word she uttered, she was channeling her anger, intelligence, and sadness, and using it to inspire others. In these times, many of us are filled with so much anger and confusion, and are not sure what to do with these feelings. Eve Ensler has been learning to channel those same feelings for over 15 years of being an activist, and we can all gain from looking to her for how to respond from these feelings.
The four speakers did not waste any words as they showed how pivotal this movement is – for India and the rest of the world. But besides the speakers’ ability to intellectualize how important this movement is, the most striking part of the afternoon was the vigor of the speakers and audience members. For the moment, we overlooked our rational understanding of gender equality, and felt the visceral sensation of being part of this movement. As necessary as the “by the book” understanding of gender equality is, you also need an event like this to truly feel its importance.
Written by Phillip Perl – volunteer at CHSJ and moderator of the blog