At least 3,000 women took to the streets of Nagpur on Friday in protest against casteism and religious patriarchy. The “Chalo Nagpur” protest, which began at 10 am, was planned to mark the 120th death anniversary of Savitribai Phule. The rally will continue till 4 pm.
By noon, more than 3,000 women had gathered at Indora Maidan. The protestors shouted slogans, put up musical and dance performances and recited poetry. “There is so much energy here,” said Avipsha Das, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University and member of Pinjra Tod – a feminist collective that challenges sexist rules in women’s hostels. Das travelled from Delhi to Nagpur for the march along with 15-20 other students.
Mother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula who killed himself citing caste-based discrimination, attended the event and spoke on the occassion. Radhika Vemula denounced the attempts to deny her caste identity and used the platform to draw attention to another march being organised in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, on March 14 to fight for justice for her son.
Nagpur was chosen because it houses the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters. It is also the “home of the movement by BR Ambedkar for the rights of women and the Dalit community,” said Vani Subramanian, film-maker and activist. “Savitribai Phule had worked in Nagpur. So, there is also a positive energy there that we want to harness.”
Organisers believe this is the first time in India that women from such diverse groups and different parts of the country are coming together in such large numbers. “We are expecting at least 5,000-6,000 women to join us at the march,” Shabnam Hashmi, a human rights activist and an organiser of Chalo Nagpur, had said at a press conference on Monday. “And they are going to do this at a time when not just their rights are being attacked, but their existence in every sphere of life is being attacked in some way of the other.”
“Today as inequality, intolerance and the efforts to silence us are growing,” says the Facebook page created for the march,”We rise to assert our voice, our rights, and the protections guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Together, we reiterate that in a secular, democratic state, no one has the right to discriminate, humiliate, violate, oppress, or commit atrocities against any person or community based on their identity.