Acknowledging the contributions of the many women human rights defenders who have brought about change in the world, DR SAMHITA BAROOAH calls for increased vigor in the struggle for human rights in today’s troubled times.
#HumanRights has connected the entire world during the current pandemic and redefined the meaning of human dignity across diverse platforms.
The diverse grounds of language, identity, religious pluralism, cultural assertions and freedom of choice, expressions and existence demand assertion of collective human rights as the need of the hour.
The International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29 and the International Human Rights Day on December 10, is part of the 16 days campaign to protest gender-based violence across the world.
Why are the women and queer human rights defenders so crucial in today’s era?
Across the world, violence in any form is normalised and trivialised. Human rights include civil, political, economic, social, cultural, collective, sexual, reproductive, indigenous, land, property, health, labour, workplace, disability access, aging, queer, care work, digital access rights.
Saluting human rights defenders
Many women and queer persons have challenged prevailing oppressive norms in society.
Professional women journalists from print, digital, web and audiovisual media have transformed mindsets. There are journalists like Tongam Rina, Patricia Mukhim and Late Gauri Lankesh.
Peace activists like Dadis of Shaheen Bagh, Irom Sharmila, Naga Mother’s Association, Mother’s Union in Meghalaya and Meira Paibis in Manipur have transformed resistance.
Women lawyers have strived to bring justice in heinous crimes against women and girls. In the process, they transformed criminal procedures in existing social justice systems. Lawyers like Sudha Bharadwaj, Vrinda Grover, Indira Jaising, Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhuti Katju have helped transform the law.
Women social workers and practitioners have devised dynamic grassroots and policy changes. They have built solidarities into the inhumane conditions of society that affect different people differently.
It becomes equally pertinent to recognise the contributions of trade union leaders, office bearers of women Self Help Groups, Anganwadi and ASHA workers, village development committee members, district and state committees. While their presence is invisibilised, their perspectives have changed and determined the lives and liberties of many people.
Let’s not forget Anganwadi workers like Bhanwari Devi, forest farmers like Gaura Devi, millet farmers like Sangamma, women farmers in Telangana, Meghalaya and Nagaland, ecological activists like Agnes Kharshing, cyber activists like Bondita Acharya and Adivasi women activists like Soni Sori.
One needs to applaud women human rights defenders whose books, articles and writings have tremendously changed the lives of people. They have stood up for the human rights of all genders and, also specifically, for women survivors of human rights violations. Writers like Late Dr. Indira Goswami, Dr. Arupa Patangia Kalita, Taslima Nasreen, Arundhati Roy and Revathi have enlightened the world with their writings.
The contribution of the queer rights community from Humsafar Trust, Xukia and Naz Foundation cannot be forgotten. Student leaders like Aishi Ghosh, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal have held their resistance steadfast against the state.
Women farmers unions like MAKAAM, sex worker rights and resistance groups like Durbar Mahila Samanay Samiti, Sangram, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, domestic violence resistance groups like Aman Network, Swayam, Jagori, Nirantar, Nen and Prerna have provided much-needed help and support to countless individuals in dire need. The efforts of tea garden workers support groups like all Assam Adivasi Women Association, fish worker unions, women panchayat leaders in different village level institutions have changed lives.
Human Rights During Pandemic
People migrated from cities to rural areas during the pandemic period. They cannot earn anything as they are not employed or given any work during this period. More than the money and the job, people lost their civil liberties. The pandemic snatched them of their slightly empowered selves and negotiating capabilities that the migrant workers had gathered after years of struggle.
Women human rights defenders have also been raising their concerns for the state functionaries in pandemic who are frontline workers, who are otherwise sidelined.
A few months ago, women along with queer persons started the #ifwedon’trisecampaign to demand justice, equality, dignity and freedom from violent and regressive practices.
Women in contract work suffered the most even during the pandemic. All working conditions were irrational and uncompromising keeping in mind the gender-specific needs of all non-male persons during the pandemic. It has caused severe mental trauma for many women. Temporary monetary relief of a few hundred rupees can never compensate them equitably.
Most women and girls faced resistance from their intimate spaces as they were asked to remain confined to ensure safety. They had to reach out, connect, act and respond to address their needs and support one’s family.
In the name of safety and security, many defenders of human rights d were confined to jails or to COVID-19 treatment centres or their homes to ensure a culture of silencing.
This practice of crushing human rights defenders will further alienate the process of transformation of a progressive, rooted and constitutional nation like India.
Rejuvenating the Struggle for Human Rights
Human rights struggles are based on universal values of freedom, compassion, justice, equality and peace. If these values are distorted and redefined then human rights violations happen.
All those people who demand clarity, accountability, debates and diverse opinions on institutional policies and reforms are human rights defenders.
Women human rights defenders have stood up against injustice, inequality and oppression of human dignity and social values which they stand up for.
The current regime is stifling whistleblowers. Most human rights defenders have been pushed into oblivion by imprisoning them for raising legitimate and constitutional demands on behalf of the masses.
Women human rights defenders have been structurally and systematically silenced through different state and non-state structures.
Only the survivors and supporters of such survivors can make ripples of change in the existing uncertainties and envision a renewed look into the future. Such radical transformations have indeed led this country towards a new horizon.
Most of the non-violent, invisible, indigenous and infinitely impactful struggles of women and queer human rights defenders have led to the most progressive transformations in the recent decolonised times of the South Asian subcontinent.
#Human Rights rejuvenates and redefines every position in the world.
(Dr. Samhita Barooah is the Founder of QueerUp. The views are personal.)