It’s been over two months that I joined Haiyya and undoubtedly my best moments here have been on the field. I cannot just call it field so further when I say field, its way bigger than what this word could literally mean. It’s life out there, life with invigorating and unbelievable experiences. I have a lot to write which I might not be able to cover in this single piece but at least I should start somewhere on how the “life of field” has been for all of us to know.
Weeks at a stretch I have been on the field, interacting with diverse age groups, genders, socio-economic backgrounds. Simply put, I am out of my shell exploring the realities that makes our world the way it is. Recalling my very initial days on the field, I smile at myself when one of the ladies in the community asked me why am I wearing jeans and a t-shirt, shouldn’t I be wearing salwar kurtas if I work for an NGO; I knew exactly where this stereotype was coming from and I got down to talking to her about it. She shared with me how she has never worn jeans and how she can never even imagine to; it’s a taboo in their family and asserts her family belief that it is a western influence that might corrupt the women of their society. Needless to say, I knew where this was coming from.
Every single day on the field has been a whirlwind of experiences, where you learn beyond what you already know and where you see reality like never before. All these days on the field, striving hard to make an initial engagement with the community, figuring alternatives once, twice and n number of times to effectively enter the community and start building relationships has been an immense challenge. It takes great amount of time and persistent efforts to build a personal identity in the community and be accepted as one of their own.
Apart from being seeing around the field all the time and talking to whosoever I cross, it has been quite a task to figure out ways to actually talk to people who may not seem interested either; with a clear prospect ringing in my head that it isn’t about their interest to talk or not, it’s about their perspective that matters a lot to me and everyone has one. The voices of the community are something that I sleep and wake up to. Sometimes I am just unconsciously thinking and processing my field experiences. Experiences like:
- Being ogled on the field; why does this young girl want to talk to us and then the sight of some men secretively checking their hair in the mirrors or whatever they find reflective in nature when I approach them and insist that this conversation is important
- Being judged by people in the community that who on earth are you and why are you here
- Hear people say that shut up and sit at home, it’s a man’s world, let it remain like that
- Meet women who feel they have lost the battle to patriarchy and I shouldn’t try fighting it; it is a form of life and I need to come to terms with it and simply accept it
Now when I go to the field, I have young girls and women who wave out to me, offer me water, sit me down to talk about their personal experiences. I hear them talk about how unfair the world is to women and how they never felt like an equal gender no matter what the government said or the law exerted. The truth for them was that the reality was hard hitting and it always made them feel like a lesser gender and over the years of oppression at the hands of their own families, they actually began to feel like a lesser and a weaker gender unfortunately. The harrowing stories they have shared with me have been painful and I could clearly see it in their eyes and hear it in their quivering voice how much they wanted to be heard and how happy they were sitting here with me and sharing their soul. They were beginning to accept me as their own. They opened up more when I shared my personal experiences. Some women thought that these atrocities are only a governing part of the lives of lesser educated and lower socio-economic groups but when they heard me, they resonated with me that the social structures and cultural contexts of our patriarchal and regressive society has spared not many.
Women have shared with me their stories of endless years of abuse in the form of domestic violence which has been of all forms imaginable (yet unimaginable); emotional, physical, mental, sexual. I have interacted and fostered relationships with working women, domestic workers, factory workers, and young college going girls, men who have witnessed and aggravated violence against women knowingly and unknowingly, consciously and unconsciously. I have met men who have fumed at me for instigating women against them through this campaign, I have faced men who actually call me a frustrated woman avenging her dramatic past of rape or physical violence through this campaign; men who actually have no idea who I am, who have met me for the first time but still go onto rebuke. These experiences have only and only added to my strength and vigor to take this campaign forward as relentlessly possible. As much as those vicious glances and those hurtful statements prick me, they also grill me to not succumb to this.
The harsh reality is that all the women I have met till date have actually confirmed that at some point in their lives, they all have actually witnessed harassment. Despite the extremely diverse opinions of women I meet on the field, they all ring a common bell, a very strong one, that violence against women should be intolerable.
I also meet all these powerful women (haven’t met a lot of these men yet but I am sure they are out there) who have actually stood up against violence and paved their own ways out of it and are willing to go to any extent possible to ensure that we claim what is anyway rightfully ours and that is equality to all, irrespective of genders. These women have powerful stories of how they left their homes years back to claim their independence and live their lives the way they wanted to. These women are out there further backing us up and building a strong and undeniable sense of importance around this campaign.
All these experiences inspire and motivate me every single day on how important it is for us to stand up for what anyways is ours. When men never had to fight for their rights, then why are women doing that, it’s rightfully ours. But the reality is that culture and societal extremes have denied women this very basic right of being an equal. It’s time to turn things around because we clearly have had enough! Zor lagake haiyya!
Salini Sharma is the community leadership organizer on Haiyya’s campaign directed at reclaiming women’s equal access to public spaces; a right that is anyway and equally theirs. She is driven to make violence against women of all forms intolerable as clearly women have had enough! Zor lagake Haiyya!