A week-long outrage, a speech by the PM, petitions for justice for the Manipur survivors, black arm bands, the action by the police after the fact and even SC’s angry statements – none of this is enough.
These are all seasonal and will come and go, till the next viral video or news report of another gut-wrenching sexual assault, hits our phones again. Then the cycle will begin again. I am done and so angry.
I am angry and deeply disturbed, just like you, about the sexual assaults and rapes in Manipur and our collective apathetic response to not only these incidents in Manipur but so many others that have become a part of our daily Indian lives. It is very personal, for me as it is for millions of women in India. I am raging, women all over the country are.
But I don’t want to sign a petition that will at some sub-conscious level help me save face or pacify me into believing that I have done my part.
Because I haven’t. I need to do more; we need to do more.
So, here’s what I propose: A Strike on August 26th.
However impractical this may sound to some, could the women of India - please STOP WORK for one day? Let me qualify what WORK means. All kinds of WORK– paid and unpaid. No going to office, school, college, no working from home, and no WORK related to home either. It all needs to STOP – no caregiving, no looking after the kids, no cooking, no cleaning, no grocery shopping, no kin-keeping, and the like. Na. Nothing. Nien. Nada. Aniyo - FOR ONE DAY.
By the way, this idea isn’t an original one. I am merely following a path once taken, by our foremothers. Actually, twice.
“Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot”
On Aug 26th, 1970, 50 years after American women got their right to vote, Betty Friedan proposed the idea of a national work stoppage.
The Day Women Went on Strike – She called for women to cease cooking and cleaning in order to draw attention to the unequal distribution of domestic labour. It was a topic she had written passionately about along with the Problem That Has No Name, in her 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique. We don’t know how many women truly went on “strike” that day, but the March served as a powerful symbolic gesture. The city of New York alone saw 50,000 women take to the streets and many more joined in other cities.
Women’s Day Off – The Long Friday
On a sunny Friday in October of 1975, the women of Iceland went on strike - they refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. The country was paralysed as men had to step up and take care of the home and the children. It was a watershed moment in Icelandic history and changed the way the country looked at women and enabled Iceland to be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.
We have done this before - Nirbhaya
In 2013, when Jyoti Singh became the victim of a horrific gang rape in Delhi, women from all parts of the country came together as one, even the men joined in. And though she ultimately succumbed to the injuries caused by the heinous nature of the sexual assault, for the people she became a symbol of justice. The unprecedented and unexpected wave of anger and the consequent protests in Indian streets, as the extensive media coverage of the incident nationally and globally; put the powers that be under the scanner and led to transformative changes in the rape laws.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, also known as the Nirbhaya Act made changes to the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act; was passed. It widened the definition of rape, defined consent and changed the phrasing of the law that lifted the burden from the woman.
We The Women of India need to do more.
We need to do more than ‘respond’; we need to raise our voices to make a transformative impact on the way Indian society and men view Indian women, once again. Though I am deeply inspired by Betty Friedan and other women like her who worked hard for decades before us, granting us the freedoms we enjoy, and enabling us to raise our voices and our pens - I am no Betty Freidan. I can’t do this alone.
So can the Women of India, STOP WORK for one day?
Yes, I know I am coming from a place of great privilege. I know that millions of Indian women don’t have the choice to take a day off from earning their livelihood, not even to not cook and care for their families. I understand that and therefore only ask of the women, who have the choice to take the day off. I want to neither force other women to #StopWork, nor judge them for not participating. And yes, this includes - your mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters and daughters, et al – all girls and women need to #StopWork. I also ask that you explain the reasoning and give all the female domestic help, a day off too.
Let’s not be the bystanders of such unjust history.
Yes, I know for this protest to be even remotely successful, we will have to make a herculean effort. I look towards gender stalwarts and feminist influencers in India, to help lead this mission and formulate our asks.
Anupama is an equity and inclusion professional and the founder of the returner women professionals’ community, rebootHer. Views expressed by the author are their own and not of the platform.
Suggested Reading: Manipur Women Paraded Naked: How Low Will We Fall As A Nation?