A few weeks back, my friend from uni sent out a mass-email announcing the upcoming Violence Against Women Awareness month. She and her fellow-activists had previously hosted the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness month, a documentary and advocacy process that allowed victims of childhood sexual abuse tell their stories anonymously, in a supportive environment. This is the badge for October’s activism:
Hosting the women-centric event in October is significant. As I said earlier, we are currently in the fortnight of the goddess. From the first to the tenth day of the fortnight — called Debipokkho (Devipaksha for the Sanskritically inclined) — we worship the goddess in her aspect as Durga. Durga is difficult to cubbyhole into modern stereotypes of femininity. She is a deadly warrior, a loving mother, a very sensuous wife and lover, an adored daughter, and a gorgeous woman — all at the same time, with no help from lifestyle magazines.
On the fourteenth day of the fortnight, Bengalis end Debipokkho with the full-mooned worship of Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess in her aspect of peace, prosperity, and domestic bliss. Lakshmi, voluptuous and with a complexion that glows golden, is not a warrior. But if she — or mortal women, who embody her — are hurt, insulted, or made to withdraw from the household in any way, peace, happiness and affluence are said to leave that house in degrees, till none of it is left.
After Lakshmi puja, the moon begins to wane. And on the first new moon after Debipokkho, during the darkest hours of the night, Bengalis worship Kaali, the goddess in her aspect of raw, wild power. And yet she is Maa Kaali — the eternal mother, and the mother in the darkness. Her protective maternal identity does not recede with the rise of her destructive fury.
So this month is a symbolic time for women, especially subcontinental women (hopefully, across all subcontinental religions). We are the inheritors of immense power, love, authority and fulfilment. And yet, we are routinely beaten, groped, raped, bought wholesale, and sold short. Even in great love, we don’t always find equality or respect. Reacting to the barrage of casual sexist insults immediately marks us out as hysterical, violent, privilege-stealing feminazis, with no sense of humour.
The Violence Against Women Month is not meant to address such condemnations. We’ve realised converting the last nay-sayer and mocker is a waste of our already-stretched energy, because they detract on principle. Instead, we choose this month to focus on ourselves: share our stories, find empathy where we least expected it, feel reassured that we are not alone. And make use of the resources, assert ourselves, raise our voices, demand safety, demand respect, demand happiness. The organisers of the event have had to limit kinds of abuse of the dominant few (I imagine they will be overhwhelmed with stories nonetheless). On this blog, however, I will be posting about instances of violence, both experienced and observed, including and beyond these kinds.
I will also be honoured to have any of my readers — especially those from outside the subcontinent — guest-post on the subject this month. Sometimes, cultural difference blinds us to the problems other people might be facing elsewhere. Please write to me if you want to share your story, or someone else’s. Anonymity, should you wish it, will be gladly — and scrupulously — provided.