On April 4, hundreds of women joined the Women March for Change in multiple cities across India. Lawyers, farmers, transgender people, activists, and students amongst others came together against the “current environment of hate and violence”. In solidarity with the march, Women for Theatre, India, released a statement to make it known that they “strongly oppose the communal and sectarian administration this country has witnessed since the BJP-led government came to power in 2014. They observed that “[t]he loss of innocent lives due to religious and caste based violence, and the rampant abuse of civil liberties experienced in the last five years is unprecedented. This threat, if left unchecked, will irreversibly damage the fabric of our polity and society…the overtly communal and hate filled agenda that prevails now has affected women across the country disproportionately.”
The statement has been signed by over 250 prominent women artists, theatre makers, actors, curators, dancers, singers and students of art from various parts of the country.
The statement said: “Since 2014, we have witnessed a complete failure of governance. While data for unemployment, agrarian poverty, caste based inequalities and injustice, has breached past lows, government PR machineries are working overtime and spending our money to conceal this information from the public eye. We are not fooled by the glitz of the advertisements of the supposedly pro-women policies and campaigns of the Government – Selfie with Daughter, Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao, Ujjwala Yojana, etc., while several Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim and Trans-women have been systematically violated and deprived of their basic needs.”
The statement drew attention to the grave and persistent threat that educational and cultural institutions are under. “Women students, writers, activist and teachers have been attacked, assaulted and even killed by the state supported saffron forces.” It also comments on the irony of the ‘chowkidaar’ campaign as streets still remain unsafe for women. “The empty rhetoric of this government’s slogans are wearing thin now. The unjust disenfranchisement of women voters and their absence from the voters list, as pointed out by the memorandum presented to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) by Women’s organisations, is not only deeply distressing but an outright assault on our democratic and equal rights as citizens of this country,” they said.
“Women in the arts have historically played a significant role in making and preserving the values of our constitution” and in “championing a society based on equity and inclusion”. They added that “we have fought for rights and stood in solidarity with the marginalised sections of society.” For many among them even “the very act of standing on stage, taking to the streets, singing and dancing is an act of protest, of claiming our rightful space in society. Today they perceive that this site and “the space to live, eat, pray, speak and express as we wish” is being threatened.
The statement calls upon women citizens to save at whatever cost “this shrinking space for dissent, for freedom, for existing/existence” and to “vote out the current right-wing regime and rebuild our country as the secular democratic republic that we have always envisioned”. It is open for endorsement until April 10, the day before the first phase of polling begins.