This month oozes pink, candy, chocolates, flowers, diamonds and yes Valentine. Sappy sweet commercials flood every media – television, internet or hoardings. Valentine's Day (V-Day) expenses in India overall are at $27 million based on a survey involving 800 executives in major metros and 1,000 students from 150 educational institutions. Youth working in call centers, IT companies and large corporations spend anywhere between $20 and $1,000 on gifts while students to spend $10 to $200 in US dollars.
What was new in addition to the love fest, albeit covert, was the call to strike, dance and rise all over India. Social media was flooded with carefully worked plans, dance moves for flash mobs that were to strategically appear in crowded places. The participation everywhere was at its best. In the city of Kolkata, the Maitree Network, a women's rights coalition, organized a cultural program and walk to get people in the city involved. Women from low-income colonies in Delhi organized candle marches in their localities. In Andhra Pradesh, those who benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee program took a pledge to end violence. In Mumbai, popular actors and singers attended public events. This was not just an anomaly in India – but in many other countries.
One billion people from 199 countries including India participated and called for 'Strike, Dance, Rise', in a global campaign called One Billion Rising on Valentine's Day. The campaign was initiated by playwright and activist Eve Ensler (known for her play The Vagina Monologues) against all forms of "sexual abuse".
According to reports by the United Nations, one woman in three worldwide — that is one billion — is subjected to some form of violence in her lifetime. These are the women whose problem Ensler wants to bring into the public consciousness. She wants governments to know that “ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty, or AIDS or global warming”. Ensler declared that it is time for women to rise to proclaim their aversion to violence.
The campaign for One Billion Rising (OBR) is characterized by: a global strike; an invitation to dance; a call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends; an act of solidarity demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers; a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given and a new time and new way of being. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers and our solidarity across borders. Activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities and women and men across the world will strike, dance and rise, coming together to express their outrage, and demand an end to violence against women and girls.
While reports from around the globe are representative of collective activism on violence against women, OBR remains a “foreign” as is Valentine’s Day for many countries. It is as alien as bra burning, or slut walk and many other demonstrations. It is seen as pure hype.
And right wing political parties went to lengths to ban celebrations on Valentine’s Day. According to them, celebrating Valentine's Day and other "Western traditions" results in rape and sexual assault. The battles are perpetually drawn between “Indian Values” and “western imports.”
There have been local women’s movements that may not be part of the waves of western feminism and further call for protests relevant to their issues. And for them too, OBR may be foreign yet they remain appreciative of “strengths in togetherness.”
Celebrations for V-Day reflected and in a sense leaned on the momentum gathered after the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi in December. It brought women’s rights and safety to the center stage of collective narratives on politics.
The reality is hard to swallow and ignore. According to National Crime Record Bureau in 2011, 14.7% rape cases are registered in cities while 85% rape cases are registered in rural India; there are more than 1 lakh rape cases pending; a total of 2,28,650 women faced violence and abuse during 2007-2011 which includes rape, kidnapping, abduction, dowry death, cruelty by husbands and relatives, molestation, sexual harassment, trafficking of girls and women. The National capital Delhi has the highest percentage of crime rates against women which is 31.2%.
Given the facts, the V-day movement designed to bring thousands to the streets is focused on changing public consciousness and engage in persistent debate on zero tolerance for violence against women. It proclaims a larger effort at changing social mindsets and attitudes. Much time has been lost at blaming ineffective government and agencies such as the police and it is time to work with people. And as the reports show, V-Day now has a more substantive relevance than what Hallmark cards or decadent chocolates can perhaps bring to bear on people’s lives. That is to say, roses have more meaning when the giver and the recipient are on an equal footing in the relationship.
Rajashree Ghosh is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.