REPORT FROM INDIA – INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S MEET ON PEACE AND NONVIOLENCE
by Lyn Adamson , VOW Co-chair
150 women activists from India and around the world gathered for a four day conference on peace and nonviolence. Of the 100 women from India 50 are being honoured for their dedication and long term community activism.
I was a panelist in the session on emerging global crises and solutions. My presentation on the urgency of climate action was well received and was followed up with a small group session the next day. We learned about the impacts of climate change in several parts of India, and what ws most striking in that sharing was the impact of coal in Orissa. Coal mining causes coal dust, air and water pollution as immediate impacts. Farmers are feeling the impact of rising temperatures, increased extreme weather, including flooding of crops. It’s very challenging to develop an effective response given the political power of private companies, resulting in long term leases and no follow through on clean up or regulations despite legislation that should provide some protection.
A question raised was: how to communicate effectively with villagers about climate change? We spent some time considering messaging. Our session was too short and we will continue to dialogue on this over the next days of the field trips and the film festival.
Our women’s meet was held at the Gandhi Research Foundation which is an amazing compound in the Jain Hills near Jalgaor. Here there’s a Gandhi museum, classrooms for advanced study, a beautiful hall, and statues of Gandhi on landscaped gardens. This was built by a Jain businessman (who made money in innovative efficient irrigation systems business) who revered Gandhi. (The motto is ‘Doing well by doing good’).
On October 2nd, our first day here, Lee Ann McKenna and I participated in a march to celebrate Gandhi’s birthday and the international day of nonviolence; I was moved by the presence of hundreds of school children truly incredible musical performances, prayers, candle lighting, and an earnest talk by Ekta Parishad’s founder, PV Rajagopal (all in Hindi of course!).
I just love what Jill is doing in terms of appreciating these grassroots women activists, many have been at this work in their villages for two decades or more. It is amazing just to see the women speaking, the women at the front tables and mikes and the audience full of women, and men doing all the support roles! They are managing the sound system, they are making the food, they are helping Jill and the other women leaders without taking up space…It’s quite remarkable. And tonight was an amazing Indian Kathak dance, one hour, incredibly beautiful both visually and sound; I would order the sound track, so so delightful – but both serious music as well as lively, jazzed up Indian classical music; the dance was the story of Kasturba Gandhi’s life. And the dancers were NOT thin and dressed in tights, they were ordinary female figures, they were smiling as they danced, they had loose pants, the kind with folds in them that billowed out as they danced, and their dances were very professionally choreographed, it really was transcendent.
There are five Canadian women here for the conference and we are very much enjoying each other’s company. As well I have made some good friends here among women activists from Colombia, from Kenya, from Cambodia, from Europe, and from all over India, including Sudha, at whose house in Bangalore I had stayed in 2002; great to see her again, very knowsledgeable about India’s actions on climate locally and globally, including the INDCs. I’ve especially appreciated getting to know Irene Santiago from the Philippines, Chair of the Implementation Panel for the Peace Accords in Colombia. When we talk about women in leadership roles, she exemplifies this transformative shift.
The youth participation in the panels has been outstanding.
Last night we watched an amazing dance performance based on the life of Kasturba, Gandhi’s wife, it was truly a transcendent experience with the combination of Indian jazz/classical music and very energetic Kathak dancing. I particularly appreciated women’s bodies in their natural form – and fully dressed with clothes that moved with the dancing, they looked so happy in the dance!
As we had tea before the dance I so enjoyed looking at the poster panels created for each of the participants honouring her life. These women from rural villages were very keen to have a photo taken with their international colleagues; it was very moving actually to realize how much this recognition means, and for many of these women their work has been over several decades.
I am looking forward to learning more about the Ekta Parishad method of organizing as we go through the next phase of our journey, which are different field trips. One difference I do notice is that each time we meet there are joyous cries of ‘Jai Jagat’ (victory for our cause) and other slogans, call and response, and performances of village songs; this can be 45 minutes at the start of each morning or afternoon session. And after the close of the conference we danced village dances out on the lawn, so much energy and love among the women!
It has truly been a pleasure to be among women in a gathering supported by men – who have made the food, handled logistics, run the sound and projection systems, and in helping in so many other ways.
This helpfulness is exemplified by Rajiji’s support for conference organizer Jill Carr-Harris.
I brought paper cranes made in Japan as little gifts for everyone, and as a token representing our common struggle for a peaceful future, one free of nuclear weapons. (Although the threat is very real here due to tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, this issue has not been a focus of any of the panels.)
Tonight we are packing to head off to the next phase of the seminar: field trips. I am headed to Gwalior. In 5 days we will go to Delhi for the last 4 days of our program. That’s a film festival and should be fairly relaxing. Next few days I should learn a lot about training and organizing as done by Ekta Parishad.
Here is an excerpt from the closing statement:
“The participants express an urgent need for the full implementation of socio-economic and political rights for all people. We, therefore, envision a consolidation of national and international efforts of solidarity to ensure for women a secure and peaceful world.
To achieve this goal, the IWM commits itself to nonviolent means to promote social and ecological justice, and peace for all.
A lasting and substantive peace, we reiterate, is deeply linked with social justice.
We participants of the International Meeting on Women’s Action
The fundamental dignity of each person
The human right to live in peace
Women’s crucial role in peace-building
That Peace is not possible without women’s full participation in all areas of human life
That men need to work side by side with women in the advancement of peace”
Thanks for your support too in the great transformation that is taking place – that needs to take place – to a life-affirming future, as envisaged by Gandhi. All throughout our time here we are guided by that vision, and thankful for it. Gandhi’s message truly belongs to the whole world.