Why you and me should rise on 14th Feb? And why we should not!

“Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

– Rumi


Artwork credit (from L to R): Anonymous, Richard Young, Paul Olaja

Since I am bombarded with Rise4Justice campaign promos on internet with flash ads, paid pages and Facebook pages forcing me to join, I think I should share my humble opinion on this issue.

During my time in the field, I regularly witness dance as both an individual and collective form of expression of joy and solidarity. Most of the women federations and village meetings start and finish with song and dance performances. Infact I would like to mention three separate occasions, where I was fortunate to witness spur-of-the-moment and unrehearsed performances and manifestation of winning daily battles that were not choreographed and inspiring to say the least.

When the decision to bifurcate Telangana from the state of Andhra pradesh was announced, I happened to be returning home in the evening in Mulugu Ghanpur village (which is part of Telangana). The radio announcement in the gram sabha (village meeting) and instant reaction of women, men and children to get up and dance, continued late until midnight. It was special as it was genuine and joyous expression of winning decades old political battle and had direct participation of people who fought for it!

At another occasion, a random rain-dance with ladies in tribal federations in Lohardaga in Jharkhand lasted an entire night. There was no occasion to speak of, just rains and that lovely weather and a random moment where collective energy synchronised. The ladies slept for few hours later on and went about doing their daily work which included household chores and farming next morning… tired but content nonetheless!

In the coffee growing Araku valley of Visakhapatnam district of Andhra, I was lucky to witness ‘dhimsa’ – a traditional tribal dance mostly performed during local ceremonies. The bright magenta sarees and smiling faces are perhaps a veil of their daily income woes and 14 hour work schedule. Not to mention kilometers of walk to fetch two odd buckets of water. But dance is what allows them moments of intimacy with themselves, their environment and their culture..is what they shared with me.

These dance performances did not require any elaborate preparations and mostly rely on local instruments. It does not claim to jolt people’s consciousness about gender violence or promises them to release them from years of marginalisation. In my mind, the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign (initiated by Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologues fame) stands in stark contrast to this. I am still as unconvinced about it now as I was last year. The ‘Rise4justice’ call to the survivors to break the silence and release the stories of both pain and hope through dance and express their outrage, their need, their desire and their joy, falls short of a lot of things. Most importantly- sustained follow-up action with advocacy!

There is nothing new in depicting and using dance as a powerful tool of expression. But I do not associate with the thought that merely few moments of dancing can wash away repression suffered over years. Rather, once you express outrage with a promised window of being heard, it is much more frustrating to hear silence. Say, once you rise up on demand and dance and the song is over. What do you do next? Sit down or perhaps wander aimlessly!  Moreover, imagine talking to a survivor of abuse or mutilation or rape or violence and tell them to rise and dance because it gives them a platform to express outrage!!! There is no mention of recourse, correction, help, facilitation… which as a ‘civilised’ society we owe them nonetheless.

I admire that the campaign for its ability to have appealed to the popular consciousness or to be specific to those it managed to reach. It has managed to gather a lot of momentum and participation, partly because of its carnivalesque nature. But taking centuries old idea of dance as a form of expression, packaging it for the global audience and not having a plan yet to sustain it with positive and much-needed advocacy efforts seems defeatist to the cause it propagates. From what I witnessed it turned out to be a proxy event that ended up being class specific, completely dismissing the existing financial and thus power hierarchies and limitations in the society.

If you break-down the participation in last year’s One Billion Rising – few women who are suppose to be part of the one billion group have the luxury to take a day off – as it means going without a day’s wage or attend to compelling household responsibilities! Last year, I did not see the household maids dancing, rather their employers. I did not see daily wage labourers dancing, rather socialites. I did not see much rural participation or lower and middle class homemakers but popular activists! I suppose those who managed to rise and dance for solidarity can actually afford house help (who more often than not are women and everyday survivor of domestic violence and drunk partners!). Not to mention, the popular media (including social media) chose to focus only on the urban, upper class side of the campaign. Having said that, the campaign potentially generated and mobilised a lot of people. It has taken a lot of hard work and persistence of a lot of people to organise, prepare,choreograph to make it come alive.

While this is worthy of respect and has resounding promise of change, the absence yet of calibrated measures of redressal makes it very confusing for me to consume. In my opinion, it even makes the event a tad bit trite.

I relate with the thought that dance can help you find your rhythm and prepare you for next day especially when you feel broken. I am a trained dancer myself and have put years of practice in learning couple of dance forms. In the most chaotic hours of my life, dance has allowed me to find balance and re-gain momentum. I don’t want to be bombarded with ads to join a campaign that forces me to rise one day in a whole year for promised but unavailable justice and stand in proxy for billions of women whose circumstances I cannot even begun to fathom. I would rather rise and dance everyday, spontaneously, without media attention and in rapture and solidarity for those celebrations when local and personal battles are won and lost everyday.

– Akansha Yadav