During the protest on International Women’s Day at the Plaza in Sector 17, Chandigarh, on Sunday. (Photo: Kamleshwar Singh)
"Rights are not granted to use, rights have to be fought for,” claimed Kehkashan Riyaz, a protester from Shaheen Bagh, who was addressing an International Women’s Day Rally organised by Citizens against Divide at the Sector 17 Plaza on Sunday.
Supported by women activists from Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the Sector 17 Plaza was taken over by women activists and student leaders from the city to commemorate the International Women’s Day. Amandeep from PUSU Lalkaar, who was one of the organisers of the rally, claimed that they had decided that only women speakers would address the crowd. “Though in reality, no day is truly women’s day, we have gathered here today to reclaim our space and commemorate all the women who have fought for our rights before us,” claimed the student leader from Panjab University.
The International Women’ Day is celebrated to uphold the legacy of the struggle of thousands of women textile workers of New York who demanded equal rights for women workers for the first time on March 8, 1857. “We are here to celebrate the women who paved the way towards equality for women, who sacrificed their lives to fight for their rights. We are grateful to these women, and we will continue the fight that they started,” Amandeep said.
“We cannot forget the women who fought for 13 weeks in the streets of New York for their rights, only to be shot by policemen by the end of their struggle. We will not let their sacrifice be in vain,” claimed Riyaz, the petite and powerful orator, who had come to Chandigarh to exclusively participate in the International Women’s Day march. Riyaz is also one of the four people who run a makeshift school at Shaheen Bagh, where children of the protesting mothers, along with children from nearby slums, come to attend classes while the women continue their sit-in protest.
Speaking to Newsline, Riyaaz claimed that she felt particularly grateful for the support provided to women like her by the Sikh community during the Delhi election. “Our Sikh brothers aided us a lot. They formed a human barricade around us and allowed us to peacefully go and vote during the elections,” said Riyaz, adding that the struggle at Shaheen Bagh has not been about Muslim women standing for the rights of their community, but about all communities coming together to fight towards state-sponsored violence and injustice.
Women from across the city, including areas like Dhanas, Manimajra and Mauli Jagran, were present at the rally. Little girls stood amidst a seated gathering of women holding placards stating “Down with patriarchy”. Roshni, a 60-year-old woman from Manimajra, claimed that she is part of the protest to fight for the right of her community. “I am here because we cannot let things like the violence that occurred in Delhi happen again. They say Muslim women are bound to the household, but here I am shouting slogans with the rest of you,” Roshni said.
Pakeeja, who is an ASHA worker from Sector 35, claimed that she was at the rally to voice her anger against the government’s apathy towards women’s issues. “They promised us achchhe din, and still most women cannot leave their house without fearing for their safety and that of their loved ones. Look at the rampant violence everywhere and the communal tension. It is taking away our attention from basic human rights and issues like unemployment, inflation and poverty,” said Pakeeja, adding that women have the strength and anger to sustain resistance. “We always suffer the most, we are shackled to domestic duties no matter what the circumstances are. Hence, we have to raise our voice for our rights, and the rights of our families and our children,” she said.
Amidst slogans praising women for their strength, a few protesters hoisted a banner with the faces of iconic women activists and feminist leaders painted on it. These included women like Rosa Luxemburg, Irom Sharmila, Gauri Lankesh, Savitri Bhai Phule, Soni Suri, Amrita Pritam and Simone Beauvoir. Referring to the women who pioneered the fight for equality and justice, Riyaaz stated that the women from Shaheen Bagh will not let their fight for justice and their sacrifices go in vain. “There are many who have tried to make false accusations and propagate inappropriate rumours about women from Shaheen Bagh. However, the more slander they throw at us, the more motivated we are to continue our fight against injustice,” Riyaaz stated.
Apart from women of all ages and social backgrounds, a diverse crowd of men too participated in the rally. However, instead of taking centre stage, they stood in supportive silence around the women.