Women crossed all barriers to share the platform

In this sleepy back-of-the-beyond village in Punjab, even the relatively aware may not have heard of terms like patrilocality or virilocality, but this phenomenon of social anthropology has been defining their lives for centuries.

This week, they defied it.

Nearly 1,000 married daughters of village Lobana of Nabha in Punjab’s
Patiala district came back to the village, some of them with an eyesight too poor to recognise faces they last saw when Ambedkar’s team was writing the
Constitution, some who married the year Nehru died, many who lived through
Indira Gandhi’s second reign, and some so young that they had not even heard of the older ones.

Generations of women who once spent their childhood in the village, then marri­ed and went on to live in different parts of the state, some even abroad, had never thought that across generations, decades, economic strata, caste, and changing mores, they also had another identity that bound them together-- they were
sisters of the village.

“We are all daughters of the same village, so we are all sisters. That’s why we had to come for this Mela Dhiyan Da (Fair of the Daughters),” said an excited Jal Kaur, hunched on her walking stick but grinning ear to ear.

Parsin Kaur is 86. Her married life is as old as independent India’s and her eyesi­ght as poor as the current growth rate. But this week, surrounded by many of her age, and a lot of far younger women, she was keenly scanning each face.

“I live in village Bharthala, just 30 km from here, but once I got married, I never got to see many of my friends of youthful years. I just hope I am able to find Chindo and Milkho… I forget her name but anot­her saheli (friend) whose mother used to always come to my mother’s rescue whenever my father tried to beat my mom,” Parsin Kaur said. Women have always been for women, clearly. Underpinning her words was the entire raison d’être of this mela--the missing intra-women dialogue.

“In a hugely patriarchal society, women networks are discouraged and
often even forcibly demolished, banned or bad-mouthed. Disregarding other identities as wives, daughters, professionals, poor, rich, educated, illiterate, but sharing their concern as women poses a challenge to patriarchy. This Daughters’ Fest is a first small step in that direction, and men are afraid of the giant leap it can lead to,” said Hamir Singh, a social activist and brain behind this mela.

While many village men came forwa­rd, some didn’t appreciate their daughters excitedly working for a festival whose significance eluded them initially. Persistence finally won over the doubting Thomases, but by now the girls were in full control.

“From going house to house, collating data about village’s daughters from pre-Independence days, then contacting them across the length and breadth of Punjab, to collecting money and tying up logistics, women of the
village did everything by themselves,” said Ramanjit, a 10+1 student of government school in Nabha, whose association with the mela was like an internship in feminism.
Manpreet Kaur, a teacher at Lobana’s Government Senior Secondary School, where this mela was held, didn't go home for days, preparing various cultural
programmes for girls.

“We wanted every song, every skit to say what has been
suppressed for decades inside women,” she told Deccan Herald.

“Punjab has many melas but this one drew its inspiration from years of feminist struggles, gender debates and a growing realisation that no country can make its mark in the comity of nations if 50 per cent of its population is afraid of venturing out of their houses after sunset,” said Daljit Ami, a well-known documentary film maker. “I see this mela as important a step as Gloria Steinem coming to India and joining the gender debate, as a tribute to Nirbhaya, as a proud representation of what some politicians deride as dehati aurat,” said SP Singh, columnist and activist.

Anita Pathania, a young teacher of media studies at the local ITFT College, who had come to study the patterns, forms and content of this unique intra-women dialogue, said it is symptomatic of the dominant male mindset that women’s conversations are characterised as gossip in a range of forums, from popular literature to stand up comedy shows on TV. “Anyone who saw what these women had to say to each other, and to society, is bound to realise that he has been living on Mars all these years,” she said. “The real success of this mela will be if it spawns a thousand more such events,” she added.

Former Union Minister M S Gill said he will organise a similar mela in every
village of his Tarn Taran district. Lobana already has ambitious plans and many villages are in line seeking its help .

Prof Rajesh Gill, a Professor of Sociology at Panjab University and currently
coordinating a multi-crore UGC project on honour killings, said the internal
dialogue of any repressed section of society is also suppressed, and that’s what has been happening with women.

“Empowerment starts from realisation, and realisation comes from engagement, and no engagement happens till they talk about their issues,” she said.
Lobana has started that conversation. Join it to listen to what the other half says, and dreams of.

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