In the past week, over 300 people gathered in the remote village of Lupungutu in Jharkhand for a Jagan-e-Sangarsh — a celebration of resistance. This year it was to celebrate women leadership in people’s struggles. People had arrived from nearly 17 states and most understood only their own tongue. But neither language barrier nor sweltering heat deterred people from coming together for three days under large bamboo pandals built for the meeting. Over lunch and dinner, over cooling glasses of aam panna and the local raasi, stories were told and heard, songs were shared and sung, and it emerged by the end that across landscapes and languages, across stories and struggles, the nature of resistance is the same — colourful and courageous.
There were the stories I had heard before, the faces that are familiar, the struggles I know of. Revisiting these stories – of Teesta Setalvad, Reethama David, Manorama, Roma, Rosamma, Manju Gadia, Mamta Kujur, Bela Somari — reminded me of what has been achieved by these women while celebrating the memories of the struggles; and as they say, keeping memory alive is resistance too — a powerful one. Among those at the meeting were community workers, organisers and activists working on issues including land rights, forest rights, fi sh workers rights, workers struggles, gender rights, and several of them, cultural activists. There were narratives I had not heard before, some that hadn’t been told before. Rajkumari, from the All India Union of Forest Working People spoke of her family hardships, facing her fears and fi ghting the police.
Meera Sanghamitra from the Andhra Pradesh Solidarity Forum talked about coming out as a trans person. Born into a poor family, denied education, sent away to do house work and mistreated by her employers, Sunita Rani escaped the shackles that confi ned her to do something about it; she founded the National Domestic Workers Union. Wanting to retain her identity even after marriage, Magdalene did not want to choose between being a leader and a wife. Though she was born to progressive parents who were organisers and married to a person who was in the union, it created confl ict in her life. She works for fi shworkers rights, with women fi sh vendors in Kerala.
So why should resistance be celebrated? Well, because cultural celebration is a powerful way to counter fascism, and celebration of culture in itself is a means of resisting oppression. Just last year, the garment workers struggle in Bangalore and the tea estate workers struggle in Munnar (led by women), were successful. When we say ‘our bodies, our rights’, we also mean ‘our struggles’ because living as a woman is a struggle in itself. Even thinking is resistance. In every woman is a story of resistance, a struggle whose story needs to be told. In telling the story there’s both healing and celebration.
In celebrating women and their stories, there’s resistance of the marginalised. When a revisionist history wipes away women’s stories, when women are an entity whose bodies and ideas fascist forces can control, the status quo can be challenged by articulate women telling their stories. When women are labelled loose, we need to forefront more women leaders. Why? Because Naari Shakthi Zindabad, Inquilab Zindabad, and mostly importantly, how are Indian women? Like fi re, not a fl ower.
(The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton)