Monday, December 31, 2012

Notes from a Night Walk in Delhi University

- shuddhabrata Sengupta

[ Black & White pictures, courtesy Chandan Gomes. Colour pictures and cell phone video footage, courtesy, Bonojit Hussain, New Socialist Initiative ]

Dear young women and men of Delhi,

I am writing to you again because I have been listening to you. This is a strange time, when everybody is talking, and everybody is listening, and the unknown citizen, who could have been any one of you, has transformed us all.

I was with you last night, from five thirty in the evening to around nine at night, while we walked together from the Vishwavidyalaya (University) Metro Station to Vijay Nagar, Kamla Nagar and the North Campus of Delhi University. There were around twelve hundred of you. Several of you held candles. You made yourselves into a moving blur of light. As the shopkeepers of Vijay Nagar, as the rent collecting aunties of paying guest accommodations, as the men and boys and girls and women on the streets and in the verandahs looked at you in wonder, you looked back at them, many of you smiled and waved. I could see some people in the crowd lip-synch with your Hallabols.

[ video of the night march near Delhi University ]

You were angry and happy and sad and determined at the same time. Several times in our walk together, punctuating the steady, rising chant of ‘Hum Kya Chahtey, Azaadi’ you also said ‘Inquilabo, Inquilabo, Iquilabo, Zindabad’. I have heard The words Inquilab and Zindabad said separately, and together, many times in my life. But rarely with the passion and the affection, even the love and longing with which you hyphenated them together last night. And when you said ‘Inquilabo’ rounding off the end of the word with that vowel sound, as if revolution were the affectionate nick-name of a young woman, like Gulabo is for Gulab (like Rosie is for Rosa) I could not help thinking that here was a young woman called Inquilab/Revolution and her sisters, or friends, or lovers were calling her out to play.

[ Lokesh, Stree Mukti Sangathan, speaking before the beginning of the March ]

Like the other occasions when I have encountered you in the last few days, you were peaceful, determined, angry and very vocal. I listened to you as I walked with you. Listening to the conversations and the slogans and songs in different clusters amongst you. There were very few faces amongst the twelve hundred of you that I could recognise, but I felt at home with you, as you did with each other. I felt that I knew you, that you knew me, even though we did not know each other’s names, just like we still do not know the name of that woman, that friend of ours, whom they spirited out to Singapore, whom they cremated in the shroud, not of privacy, but of secrecy. Many of you were there as part of different organisations, mainly with the Independent Left, with radical feminist groups and other women’s organisations. But many of you, perhaps the majority of you, were, like me unaffiliated. But we all belonged to the moment. And belonging to a time, and making a time belong to us, is sometimes just as important as, and occasionally more important than, belonging to a party or a front or an organisation. This night, this day, these hours are now ours. Just as you have said, ‘this body, this city, this street, is ours’.

I am not writing to tell you what I think today. I am writing to you because I am a chronicler of your desires. A witness to your witnessing. I am writing to you because I listened to you, because I want everyone to hear what you said to me, to anyone who cared to listen, to the city and be world. And so, I will simply reproduce below what I heard. I will retrieve from my memory of this ordinary and extraordinary evening's fragments of slogans, snatches of conversation and song.

There was of course the ubiquitous refrain of the question that was also an answer – Hum Kya Chahtey, Azaadi. Which you would then immediately respond to by saying, to yourselves and the world – the following

Raat mein bhi Azaadi. Din mein bhi Azaadi.
Daftar mein bhi Azaadi. College mein bhi Azaadi.
Hostel mein bhi Azaadi. Schoolon mein bhi Azaadi.
Karkhanon mein bhi Azaadi. Khalihanon mein bhi Azaadi.
Sadak pe bhi Azaadi. Gharon mein bhi Azaadi.
Shadi karne ki Azaadi aur Na Karne ki Azaadi.
Pyaar ki bhi Azaadi aur Dosti ki Azaadi.
Behan mangey Azaadi. Bitiya mangey Azaadi. Ma bhi mangey Azaadi.
Mang rahi hai Aadhi Aabadi. Azaadi. Azaadi.
Kashmir mein bhi Azaadi. Manipur mein bhi Azaadi.
Chhattisgarh mein Azaadi aur Dilli mein bhi Azaadi.
Jangal mein bhi Azaadi. Shahron mein bhi Azaadi.
Gaon mein bhi Azaadi aur Kasbon mein bhi Azaadi.
Punjivad se Azaadi. Manuvad se Azaadi.
Mohalley mein bhi Azaadi. Pure desh mein Azaadi aur Duniya mein bhi Azaadi.
Bap se bhi Azaadi aur Khap se bhi Azaadi.
Dharam se bhi Azaadi aur Sanskriti se bhi Azaadi.
Samaj se bhi Azaadi. Sarkar se bhi Azaadi.
Kapre pehen ne ki Azaadi. Kuch bhi pehen ne ki Azaadi.
Denting-Painting ki Azaadi. Pub mein bhi Azaadi.
Bus-Metro mein Azaadi aur Disco mein bhi Azaadi.
Mandir mein bhi Azaadi aur Masjid mein bhi Azaadi.

You embraced the Azaadi slogan, took it from where it came, turned it, played with it, made it dance and now you return it, enriched and enlarged. Now, when your peers chant it in Kashmir, they will echo you, just as you have echoed them, even as you both speak of and to different and similar kinds of desires for freedom. Different and similar sources of pain. This is how, with echoes and resonances, with rhymes and reasons, new solidarity are born and nurtured.

[ Where does a slogan come from ? The Azaadi chant, spoken the way it is in the streets of Delhi today, like the Mahabharata, has more than one beginning, more than one end. To many, in their late teens and early twenties in Delhi. It comes from what they have first heard, in this our time, now, echoing from beyond the mountains in Kashmir. They have heard it in demonstrations by Kashmiri young people in Delhi. They have heard it on television, they have felt its immediate and visceral power in Sanjay Kak's film - Jashn-e-Azaadi, which several of them have fought to screen in their colleges. But it also has another provenance, another set of matrilineages. Nivedita Menon has reminded me that it came via Pakistani feminist groups, via a song and set of chants rendered by Kamla Bhasin in an earlier moment of the feminist movement in Delhi. A slogan and a political moment inherits and is a carrier of different bits of DNA, different sets of political nuances and desires. None is more important than the other. Though in terms of provenance, some may have greater priority. Here in priority, I stress the meaning of 'prior' as in before. And even 'priority' in this sense can mean different things, for different ends. It can mean when a slogan was first articulated, it can also mean when a slogan was first heard, it can also mean when a slogan was first snatched from the air, from history, from memory, and it can also mean when a slogan was first echoed. It can mean each and all of these things at the same time. The miscegenation of these different bits of DNA point to a mitochondrial Eve, a first mother, as well as to a daughter in the far future, who, like the poet Vidrohi said outside the University Metro Station as the protest paused at night, is the mother and daughter of us all. We share one present, many pasts and many futures.]

You spoke against Pitrisatta, Manuvad, Pedarshahi, Patriarchy.

You spoke against female foeticide, sexual harassment in the work place, about the exploitation of women workers, about violence within the home, within marriage.

You said the obvious and still the necessary thing to say – Nari Mukti, Sabki Mukti.
You said Hallabol to the State, the Army, the Police, UPA and NDA.
You said Hallabol to Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit and Sushma Swaraj.
You said Jo Na Boley, Us Pe Bol, Hallabol, Hallabol.
You spoke against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
I saw a hand written sign remembering Nilofar and Aasiya Jaan.
I saw hand written signs against marital rape and custodial violence.

I even saw a hand written sign against how publishing companies have locked up the photocopiers on campus.

I heard the names of Bhagat Singh and Rosa Luxemburg hurled into the air in one strange keening cry. I heard another voice say ‘Kaun, Who’ and I heard another voice say ‘Abey, Rosa, Rosa’ as if you were talking about a classmate. And then, it was – ‘Inquilabo, Inquilabo, Inquilabo Zindabad’ again.

Then you talked about Hostel Deadlines. 8 Pm Curfews. About library hours.

You talked about hostel accommodation and transport and why there are so few women’s toilets.

I heard the words of a beautiful song, the sharpest song that I have ever heard about the sanctum sanctorum of Lutyens’ Delhi, where they think they can decide your fate. And I hope I am getting the words right. A fragment of the song went something like this, I think. forgive me if I misremember the details of the lyrics.

Chaurasi hain banglein. Banglon mein Bageecha
Har kyari ke neechey, ek marghat hai Rama
Police-Military talwaar kheenchey khari hui hai

I heard voices getting tired. I heard one voice pick up the thread of a slogan where another trailed. I heard one cluster of voices answer another cluster of voices.

Then I heard another song, which in a delightful purbaiya accent, said something like this -

Hamarey Bolney se Jab koi Naraaz Hoga Hai
Tab Halka Halka Lathi Cha’raj Hota Hai.

Then you can back to where you started. Two and a half hours later, to the mouth of the University Metro Station. Several amongst you spoke. Simply, clearly, briefly. An older friend spoke an uncannily beautiful set of poems. He said the first woman to be burnt was his mother and the last woman to be assaulted will be his daughter. You listened, and then you spoke again. You went beyond demands and spoke about desires. One of you used that beautiful word that gets abused so easily – Vasana. Someone spoke about reclaiming today’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Venues and times for the reclaiming of public space for women through celebration were declared.

Two of clock in the afternoon, today 31st December, 2012 at Central Park in Connaught Place.

Ten at night – Night Walk, tonight, 31st December, 2012, from JNU outwards into the neighbourhoods, to Munirka.

Ten thirty at night, tonight, 31st December, 2012, to one in the morning of the first day of the new year – street party at Anupam PVR complex.

Then some of you brought out guitars and sang. Old songs, new songs, songs still being written.

Someone laughed and said, a demonstration (like this one) where no one brings a tricolour flag, where there are no screams for the death penalty, is a gathering where no woman fears being molested.

We dispersed. Then the night dissolved into conversations, sleep, dreams, intimacy, laughter, silence and islands of insomnia.

But before I end writing to you tonight I want to thank you for enlarging the circle of this moment. For making it wider than Rajpath, wider than Jantar Mantar, for taking your desires, my desires, our desires into the capillaries of the lanes and bylanes of our city. Into neighbourhoods and colonies. Leave no neighbourhood, no street untouched. Reach every classroom and bus-stop.

And consider your universities. Consider how they are run and how they need to be run. If the university authorities do not immediately commit to building at least as many girls hostels as there are boys hostels they are contributing to an environment that is based on the insecurity of women students. If they do not commit to withdrawing the draconian and misogynist tyranny of 8 pm deadlines by which women students have to return to hostels they are contributing to an unequal and hierarchical culture on campus. If they do not keep libraries and laboratories open and safe for women students at night they are depriving women students of their right to education. If they do not immediately commit to round the clock safe bus and public transport facilities within campus and to and from the immediate neighbourhoods where many students stay in private paying guest accommodations because they are not enough hostels they are fostering the conditions that give rise to rep and harassment. If they do not build many more womens’ toilets and crèches for women faculty they are consolidating patriarchy on campus by making it inconvenient for women to study and work in the university. These demands are neither new, nor trivial, not difficult to respond to with concrete measures. The universities are not under-resourced. And if the authorities say they are then you have to ask them what they are doing to change that. Many of you have made these demands before. Now is the time to make them again. And if they do not respond to you with the respect and consideration that you deserve, then, dear young women and men of Delhi, you can simply choose to make the universities unworkable. Because if they are spaces where women feel unsafe and uncared for, they are not working anyway.

Good night, good morning and a happy New Year’s Eve and a great new year to all of you.

I remain, with you, in friendship and solidarity.

To see YouTube videos of the nights march see uploads by the New Socialist Initiative HERE

To see the Facebook album of Chandan Gomes following the protests click HERE

[Note: This piece first appeared in kafila]


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