This past weekend, VOICE staff members Eliana, Smiti and I ventured from Hyderabad to Mumbai for a fun getaway. New to India and the VOICE team, I was excited to see another part of the country. Mumbai did not disappoint – what an alive, engaging city!
Just before heading to the airport, we went for a stroll along the Worli Sea Face to soak in some final Mumbai moments. We suddenly found ourselves approaching a mysterious mass of young adults, all dressed in black shirts. Curious, we went over to see what was going on.
We were thrilled to discover that this gathering was one organized by the students of Lala Lajpat Rai College, to make a giant human chain on the Sea Face as a stand against sexual assault. Hundreds of young Indians and their faculty supporters gathered with signs, megaphones and an inspiring level of enthusiasm to break the silence surrounding rape. The event was sponsored by the college’s Tsunami Festival and Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD), an awesome Indian organization that aims to “create awareness among men to instill gender equality and respect towards women” (check them out at www.realmard.com).
I found myself almost tearing up at the sight of so many college students, so passionate about ending violence against women. As a student at Dartmouth College in the US, I was highly active in women’s issues and sexual assault advocacy work, and found the process of raising awareness about rape absolutely exhausting. And yet, it is a globally pervasive problem that needs relentless activism to combat.
In that moment, I felt like I was back in the US among my classmates and fellow allies. Coming to India, I was unsure of how the nation and my Indian peers would be handling the issue of sexual assault, as violence against women is a huge problem in this country – one that is often silenced, but that has been gaining an increasing amount of attention. The US certainly has a lot of work to do in order to combat violence against women and the entrenched systems of norms that perpetuate this violence, but India has its own set of unique obstacles blocking the way to gender equality. In my short time here, I have already felt the overwhelming force of traditional gender expectations and its effect on the progress of girl’s empowerment. To see female and male college students refusing to accept sexual assault in their community was absolutely inspiring. It reminded me of the importance of VOICE’s programming, that someday our campers will be able to raise their voices against the issues that matter to them.
Communications and Marketing Officer at VOICE