There was almost Shakespearean irony in doing a Take Back the Night campaign while being followed by commandos of the Delhi Police! There was irony in talking about reclaiming consent over one’s mind, body and life, while being threatened by policemen to not march on the road; this was right about the time they were ignoring people stumbling around drunk on those same roads. Molière would have enjoyed the farce of activists singing about celebrating life and creating a heaven right here on earth, while the Delhi Police attempted to bundle them out of the area.
That was what happened to a group that had organised a Take Back the Night (TBTN) campaign in a marketplace in South Delhi on December 31, 2013.
The campaign is a tool that women’s movements across the world use, to bring into public consciousness issues around violence and women’s rights. Marching at night, engaging with the public gathered around, picketing and singing, the campaign asserts women’s right to be safe everywhere, and at all times, day and night.
Around 10pm on December 31, 2013, in a busy marketplace in South Delhi, some women and men started pinning up banners and placing posters and placards around the area.
Curious shoppers and strollers stopped by to enquire about what was going on. Seizing the chance, group members started chatting about issues ranging from bringing up sons “properly” (versus always teaching daughters what to do), to breaking the silence around marital rape. People asked questions like “What are you saying no to?” (about the bilingual placard that said “No means no!”) and “What is martial rape?” (on seeing a poster that said “Marital rape is a crime”). The campaigner pointed martial versus marital, and then went on to explain the poster! The TBTN campaign offered an opportunity to talk about consent within all spaces.
The Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA) is a Delhi/NCR-based group of individuals and activists from women’s movements and progressive movements. CCSA members organised the TBTN campaign on New Year’s eve. They were reclaiming consent: over socio-cultural, political and economic spaces; to live, work and study within violence-free homes, workplaces, schools, colleges and public places, irrespective of class, caste, region, religion or ability; over one’s own gender identity, sexuality and sexual orientation; to choose partners of any sexual orientation and gender identity; over one’s bodily integrity in all intimate partnerships, including (but not only within) marriage; to choose to marry or not marry, un-marry or remarry.
Over the year, CCSA plans to organise many more such TBTN campaigns. It resolves to reclaim all the spaces that are rightfully ours. It stands for the rights of people shivering in the punishing cold in Muzaffarnagar, the victims of the Gujarat carnage endlessly struggling for justice and those singed by the Assam riots, still waiting for compensation.
The campaign stands with women and girls across the country fighting violence of all kinds: economic violence, state-sponsored torture, domestic violence against women and girls, sexual harassment at workplaces and public places. It stands with domestic workers struggling for economic justice and social security, as well as with sex workers demanding a dignified living and work environment, the Dalit movement fighting caste atrocities, as well as with victims of draconian laws like AFSPA in the Northeast and Kashmir.
The author is an activist working on issue of women’s rights (and wrongs!)