Day One: For the Last Daughter
This morning — at the very beginning of our first day in India — our beloved travel guide Vishal told us that November 14 is National Children’s Day in India, a very auspicious day to begin our journey. The country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru established Children’s Day on his own birthday, drawing attention to the promise that future generations hold.
Movement Makers in India – Day 1
Perhaps because it was Children’s Day, but images of children, especially girl children, jumped out throughout the day. At Gandhi Smriti, the ashram where Mahatma Gandhi spent his final days and was assassinated, we had an extraordinary panel with Professor Ruchira Gupta and Abhilasha Kumari of Apne Aap Women World Wide, Dr. Mani Mala of Gandhi Smriti, Dr. Ruth Manorama, and Asha Kowtal, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM). The conversation focused on caste and the plight of the Dalits, or “untouchables.” A theme surfaced of “the last girl” — the guidance that Gandhi offered Nehru:
“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”
Speakers/panelists from left to right: Dr. Ruchira Gupta, Apne Aap; Asha Kowtal, AIDMAM (All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch); Dr. Mani Mala, Ghandi Smriti Museum; Dr. Ruth Manorama; Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, Apne Aap
Our speakers elaborated on this quote, saying that the last man was always seen as a Dalit. Then, applying a gendered lens, the “last man” was actually the Dalit man’s wife. Now — the speakers told us — we know that the “last man” of Gandhi’s famous quotation is actually the last woman’s daughter, who struggles for control of decisions about her life, body, and future.
After an enriching conversation with our speakers and some time to wander around Gandhi Smriti, we traveled to the Jantar Mantar rally grounds, a key site of political and public protests for many Indian social justice movements. There, Budhan Theatre, comprised of members of a denotified tribe or criminal caste known as Chaara, performed a street performance highlighting the struggles of the Chaara throughout India.
Budhan Theatre Society street play about De-notified Tribes
After an enriching conversation with our speakers and some time to wander around Gandhi Smriti, we traveled to the Jantar Mantar rally grounds, a key site of political and public protests for many Indian social justice movements. There, Budhan Theatre, comprised of members of a denotified tribe or criminal caste known as Chhara, performed a street performance highlighting the struggles of the Chaara throughout India.
The piece could be at times devastating, depicting scenes of violence and trauma, as well as uplifting and empowering, through the use of rhythmic drumming, chants, and resistance messages. Equally as challenging, however, was watching the audience of many young girls taking in the world that was being depicted. For some, it was an eye-opener, but surely for others it was much too close to their reality.
Today was a full day — sparking many thoughts that deserve more exploration. We will write again tomorrow, with more reflections after some time with Action India to learn about the mahila panchayat model, and those involved in the changes to India’s criminal law following the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi.
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