ibnlive » India

FTN: How deeply entrenched is the anti-woman mindset?


Sagarika Ghose,CNN-IBN
Jan 09, 2013 at 11:48am IST

Self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu on Monday stirred a hornet's nest by saying that the Delhi gangrape victim was herself partially responsible for being attacked. The statement by Asaram about the Delhi braveheart reminds us of the anti-woman mindset.

Below is the full transcript of the show:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there. When Asaram Bapu said that Delhi braveheart could have prevented the attack on herself, if only she had called the rapists brother, and pleaded for mercy. It once again reminded us just how deeply entrenched the anti-woman mindset still is. Someone who has done a clamed work in breaking taboos about how women are perceived and supported organisations worldwide in combat violence against women - we are very privileged to have with us Eve Ensler, American playwright, performer, feminist, activist, author of the path breaking 'The Vagina Monologues'. And founder of V Day which is going to end up in going to the V day protest of February 14, 2013. When the 1 billion rising movement will unite against it and we will all raise our voices for safety of women, and crime against women. Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, you are a theatre person, and co-director of the Indian production of 'The Vagina Monologues'. And of course Kaizaad Kotwal, you are also the co-director of 'The Vagina Monologues'. And Kalpana Viswanath, director of Jagori's Safe City Project. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. What a privilege to have you here with us, you have landed in India in a women's revolution.

Eve Ensler: Yeah, it is an amazing time to be here.

Sagarika Ghose: It actually is an amazing time to be here. You were telling me that you arrived the day these protests began.

Eve Ensler: Yes, and I don't think it is accidental. You know we have been building for the 1 billion from last year; we had the plans for me to be here at this time. I have been travelling the world, I just came from Philippines. And on my way here I heard the horrific story of the gangrape, and terrible murder of the young woman. By the time I got to Kerala the demonstrations had broken. You know, I have been in India for few weeks now and I am so moved, inspired by what is happening here. I think there is a real breakthrough in human consciousness, in terms of people waking up and understanding the centrality of the issue of ending violence against women.

Sagarika Ghose: You are so right this is an important movement, it is a historic movement many would say. I think 10 years down the line we would look at this movement. You are exactly the right person to be here at this time. When you wrote 'The Vagina Monologues', the word vagina, the word clitoris, even the word sex, these are unspeakable words in many societies. I am sure they were unspeakable in western societies when you wrote 'The Vagina Monologues', did you feel the word was very much the weapon, it had to be spoken out loud. So that the taboo that words carries, the mental baggage that word carries is broken.

Eve Ensler: Absolutely, and by the way there hasn't been one country, it has been 140 countries, and not even one country has said good the vaginas are here, that has not happened. I think, you can say rape, plutonium, you can say acid rain on the front pages of any newspaper, but you can't say vagina. And what is vagina; it is a biological place where babies come from. It is not a disgusting place but we have been made to feel so much shame around it. And it lives in darkness. And women don't even look at themselves. A lot of crime is committed against them in the name of silence.

Sagarika Ghose: And it is that silence that needs to be broken. It is the silence that is the conspiracy, that hate and conspiracy that revolves around women. And what do you make of the protests that are happening against the terrible crime that has happened against this victim. What do you make of what is happening?

Eve Ensler: Obviously it is a horrible thing that a woman has died and as there have been many rapes since then. But what I'm inspired by is to see this uprising, to see this breakthrough. Not only in the streets, and I was with the college students who were part of the protests. And I was in the parks today talking to the men who were still there on hunger strike, standing up to stop violence against women. Men hunger striking, when have we ever seen that for violence against women. But what is exiting is to be in Kerala, to be in Mumbai, to be here (Delhi), even place I'm going there is a discourse whether it is Dalit woman, or tribal woman, or educators, every one is talking about violence against women. And how are we going to stop it, how are we going to change it, how are we going to put pressure on state being responsible for fast-tracking, prosecuting. How are we going to have certainty of justice, how are we going to make sure that women are to come forward and have advocates in the courts so that they don't get raped in the process. And I think to be in the middle of this, the whole world is being impacted.

Sagarika Ghose: So Delhi is really the center of worldwide uprising of women. Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, when you started doing 'The Vagina Monologues' in India, what was the reaction that people had to just the word vagina, could they even just bring themselves to accept that word. Ten years ago, you wouldn't have been able to come on TV and say the word.

Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal: That is exactly what I was going to say. When we first started the play in Mumbai people told me you better have lawyer ready, you might be arrested. But it is funny, I have never faced any opposition by the government, the sad part is I have face opposition from the theatre community. There are theatres where we are not allowed to perform. Many of them wanted me to change the play, and I said, well I am under rights to Eve, and I know what is going to happen if I say 'The V Monologues'. So we just stuck to our guns and I had this amazing band of actors with me, and of course Kalpana, who insisted I do it. I myself had some reservations at the beginning. And it was fantastic, first day we had only planned for five shows in south Mumbai, and five shows in North Mumbai, I though, al least I would be able to say I said what no one in India has ever done. It was amazing we went on and on and on.

Sagarika Ghose: I think the initial response is shock, oh my god! vagina, and then they begin to think, and when they actually say the word that is so rightly put.

Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal: And that is what I do at the beginning of the show. I make them whisper it very softly, then I make then say it a little louder and then we shout it out together. And that is when they all relax, that is when they are all ok with it.

Sagarika Ghose: And Kalpana Viswanath, is it also important that this kind of awareness spreads beyond just Delhi and Mumbai, and actually goes to women who are perhaps not English speaking audiences, who are in traditional communities, who perhaps need to have that feeling that there is an awareness that they can access. There are women who are being abused even don't know that they are being abused. So does this message also need to go across to them?

Kalpana Viswanath: Absolutely, first of all if any women is abused, she knows she is being abused. She may not be able to do something about it, that may be the case. We also need to recognise that India is a very diverse, among the lower casts, among the adivasis, where norms are more relaxed than high cast norms. But when you go outside the bigger cities the kind of information that is available so easily about sexuality, about your rights is something we need to build upon. But it is also true that the women's movement in India has spread well beyond the cities. I think for 25 years we have been talking about these issues, and the Bhanwari Devi case in 1991 was in rural Rajasthan and we talked about it.

Sagarika Ghose: But I think what has happened this time it has slapped bang at the center of political discourse. And I think, these kids have put a slap bang at the center of political discourse. You said that you were at a college meeting early today, and you said they were wild.

Eve Ensler: Absolutely thrilling, there were 700 girls and some boys in the room, there were people watching it. The energy in that room was electric and to hear young girls standing up and talking about ending crime against women, talking about all the issues that impact violence against women. And to see the energy around it and the voice around it. I have seen it Kerala, in Mumbai as well, there is an energetic movement in the country right now where people know that the time has come to look at the extraordinary numbers of women being violated. One billion on the planet, one billion women will be raped or beaten in their life time. Somebody said in India it is one out of two. So we are talking about perhaps 250 million women in India alone, who have suffered some form of violence, it has become so widespread that it has been normalised. We just assume women will be raped, we assume women will be harassed. I think, what has happened is suddenly we have gone like, no wait we don't accept this.

Sagarika Ghose: And we are going to challenge the attitude coming at us. Not a single male politician has had the courage to come out and say I am a democrat who believes that women are equal before the eyes of the law and they are equal citizens as I'm. Male politicians have said these are dented and painted women, they have said that women should be properly dressed, they have said that this is western culture that is effecting too many Indian women. They have said what was she doing when she was getting onto a bus; she should have not been in the bus at all, and should have called the rapists brother as he was raping her. The crucial question is mindset change among men.

Kaizaad Kotwal: You know, I have mix reactions to the whole thing. First of all impieties that patriarchal is alive.

Sagarika Ghose: Much more than we had thought.

Kaizaad Kotwal: Not only influencing men but also influencing women, women who have been brought up in this kind of patriarchal thinking. The other part I'm worried about is the one male voice who elegantly... and I would rather though of someone speaking about it as a person who is concerned by these issues not because I'm male. But because of the influences of my life, and the way I have been brought up, has allowed me to think in a different way then these men that you are wanting to speak about.

Sagarika Ghose: So there is an equal body of men that are challenging those men as well.

Kaizaad Kotwal: Absolutely.

Eve Ensler: And everywhere I go men are speaking out. Today in colleges there were men standing. I think more than anything you have to look at how are we bring up boys. What are we teaching boys about manhood, about sexuality? One other things I have been struck by is how few boys or girls are brought to know anything about sex. You know no sexual education what so ever. So what happens is boys begin very clumsily, they don't know what they are doing, they throw themselves on top of girls. Girls don't know what they are doing. Nobody corrects anybody, no body teaches anybody what pleasure is, and how to be engaged. So what happens is we end up with these couples who get married, marital rape happens, women having a bad sexual life. Rather than us saying sex is healthy and good and let's talk about it, and that would lead us into discussions like manhood, and what does it mean to be a man. What is goodness, what is tenderness, what is kindness?

Sagarika Ghose: That a strong man has to prove his dominance over the woman. so just to speak about how we can change these mindsets, what is the best way? Many would say that if you use even the word vagina that could lead to a traditionalist backlash. So what is the best way to win over the heats of these very traditional patriarchal forces?

Eve Ensler: I haven't been in any culture where I haven't told that vagina wasn't against the tradition. There is no place where people would say it is in our society. I think the question is how do we change tradition and end traditions that are oppressing, denigrating women. And part of that is support a movement of people who want to move forward.

Sagarika Ghose: Because there are traditions that support women. It is not that all traditions are patriarchal. And it is about harnessing those positive traditions into this particular movement.

Eve Ensler: When I stared 'The Vagina Monologues' in the United States, you couldn't say vagina on TV, specially on CNN they never mentioned the word vagina. It was a special on 'The Vagina Monologues', and they kept (*) around it. But we know things have changed now.

Sagarika Ghose: But the crime against women hasn't stopped.

Eve Ensler: But we have changed enough that women are coming forward, societies are rising. I have been all around the word for 1 billion campaign, and country after country; there are brilliant groups across the planet. There are 14000 groups around the world. We have a huge movement in place, now it is about escalating, and moving forward this movement. We had incredible change in 20 years.

Sagarika Ghose: There has been incredible change over 20 years, we can't negate that. What is the best way for example for the Indian movement to go to the next level?

Kalpana Viswanath: I have always felt that when young people get angry change will happen. And I think for quite a while we haven't seen that. While there are all kind of people on the streets, the anger of the young people is driving this. It is driving all of us who have been working on this for more than 20 years, to continue it. I think, 1 billion is a huge opportunity, because I think, the rising has started here. And it is a way to take it to crescendo. And to show at a very wide level that women will not take it anymore.

Eve Ensler: And if I could add one thing to that, around the world 182 countries have signed up for 1 billion rising. From Somalia, where they are going to walk on the streets, to Siberia. It will be a global movement where people will rise against crime against women, and that will be the next wind. That is the wind that will carry all the thing we need really begin to end the violence against women.

Sagarika Ghose: And Kaizaad do you see that movement rising. Do you see people responding to you positively in India.

Kaizaad Kotwal: Absolutely, I think the sought of support that we had for this series of events that we put together has been astounding.

Sagarika Ghose: So people are ready to make that leap. And do you find that people are questioning themselves.

Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal: You know, we have been a nation of talkers, all of a sudden we are becoming a nation of doers. We need to stop talking so much and start taking action.

Sagarika Ghose: And you were making a very important point before the programme, unleash the power of art. You know, let India's art speak.

Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal: If you are censoring the art of a country, you are censoring the culture, you are manipulating the history.

Sagarika Ghose: The long tradition of Indian art which has celebrated the female body that has to be unleashed. Eve you wrote in 2003 a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and you called it 'Under the Burka'. Number of viewers have tweeted to me as well, would you write a India monologue.

Eve Ensler: I'm going to write.

Sagarika Ghose: And what will that contain?

Eve Ensler: I think it will be looking at the time when human consciences was altered on the streets of Delhi. When there was a breakthrough in understanding that how we treat women and see women, and love women. and have just been to Kerala, you know they are known for dancing, and I was there for three days. There was drumming on the streets and as the drumming progressed women started to dance a little bit, but by the end of it they were trans-dancing. And what I say what it would look like when women will be free on the streets, when they are free in their homes, and feel good about their bodies. And I really believe it is possible.

Sagarika Ghose: It is possible. There is an air of possibility.

Kalpana Viswanath: One does feel after working for some many years, everyone rising and talking about it. Inside home, in school, it is unprecedented.

Sagarika Ghose: We have a think about section and I am going to ask you to give us the think about to.

Eve Ensler: Think about what would it look like if one billion women in all the men who love them stand up on February 14 walk about of their homes, schools, offices and dance on the mother with the deepest hope and deepest desire for the violence against women to end so that we can be free, and we can live in a world where we give each other pleasure, and we celebrate about goodness, and we expand out vision of what it means to include everyone in our community.

Sagarika Ghose: That is very moving, a united resolve to tackle violence against women. Let's all be united in tacking violence against women. India is going through a revolution, what is happening here which is unprecedented that a group of young people have put safety of women such a neglected subject right in the main stream of our political discourse. And who better than Eve Ensler to gauge this moment, and say India think of a revolution don't lose it. Thank you very much Eve Ensler, Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Kaizaad Kotwal, Kalpana Viswanath.

Latest

More from this section