V-Day 2009 Visit to India
Recap from Managing Director Susan Celia Swan
From November 5-12, Eve and I visited Mysore, Bangalore, and Mumbai, India for a series of events. The trip was eventful and the desire to work toward an end to violence against women and girls was strong everywhere we traveled. We began in Mysore at the first TED conference in India, which was organized by longtime friend of V-Day Lakshmi Pratury. The conference’s theme was celebrating and exploring the beckoning future of South Asia and featured a range of speakers from many disciplines including Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women and Sunitha Krishnan of Prajwala who brought the audience to tears with her personal story and that of the young sex trafficked girls she works with. Eve spoke to a full house on Saturday morning, the last day of the conference, about the “Future is Girl.” Positing that all of us – women and men – have a “girl cell” and that we’ve all been told “not to be a girl,” Eve engaged the crowd with stories of girls from her upcoming book/play I AM AN EMOTIONAL CREATURE: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (Random House Feb 2010) and a compelling argument for both men and women to reclaim their inner girl. After the talk, men came up to Eve to tell her that “their inner girl thanked her” and that they were now committed to having girl children as they understood they could be both “manly” and “girly.” A new paradigm shattering dialogue has clearly begun…Read about the talk at http://blog.ted.com/2009/11/the_buzz_eve_en.php .
From Mysore, we drove four hours to Bangalore for the world premiere performance on Sunday of I AM AN EMOTIONAL CREATURE. I AM AN EMOTIONAL CREATURE chronicles the struggle of girls everywhere to overcome the obstacles, threats, and pressures that rob them of their originality and power. It’s a journey with a group of girls from around the world who face the same dilemmas, although their obstacles vary from place to place, culture to culture. The piece tells the stories of what girls face, their resiliency, their humor, their wildness, their pain, their fears, their secrets and their triumphs. It will be a call, a reckoning, an education, a catalyst, and an act of empowerment. Produced in India by acclaimed theater producers and dedicated V-Day activists (they recently produced the 200th performance of The Vagina Monologues in India!), Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Kaizaad Kotwal, at the intimate 200 seat Kyra theater, two shows played to captivated local audiences and standing ovations. The exceptional cast brought the experiences of girls worldwide to the stage with performances that were vulnerable and powerful and show stopping throughout. The dance pieces were choreographed by Longines Fernandes, the brilliant choreographer for Slumdog Millionaire. The event which was organized by Lakshmi benefited two organizations who are doing critical work – Prajwala based in Hydrabad who provide rehabilitation after rescue from sex trafficking and PARIKRMA based in Bangalore who work to educate exploited street children, involving their families in the process.
The next day, in Mumbai, included a full schedule of question and answer sessions with Eve, Mahabanoo, Kaizaad, and I at three colleges – St. Sophia, Jai Hind and HR College. At each school, the students were informed about issues and eager for discussion about the state of women and the violence they experience, as well as actions to end it. Many committed on the spot to bringing V-Day and The Vagina Monologues to their schools. The dialogue was frank and inspired. Most students were not aware of the violence happening to women in the DRC, but upon learning of the atrocities, were even more eager to help women both within India, the Congo, and the world.
While in Mumbai, we were joined by Marie Cecile Renaud, French producer of The Vagina Monologues and the Director of V-Day France. Our first night, we were hosted by the American Consul at the embassy for a festive evening attended by many performers of The Vagina Monologues in India and esteemed journalists and guests. We were thrilled to see Dr. Armida Fernandez of CVWC (The Center for Vulnerable Women and Children, formerly SNEHA) which rescues women and children from violence in the Dharavi slum (one of the largest in the world) and where Eve, Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei and the V-Day team visited in 2004. The following afternoon, we were escorted to Kamatipura, Mumbai's oldest and Asia's largest red-light district, by Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a grassroots organization working on the issue of human trafficking and women’s rights. While there, we had the privilege to meet with a group of women survivors who are former sex workers. Most had been cast aside at 25, with nowhere to go, and few job skills. The women had a clear and concise vision for what they needed – a life of peace and a safe space to sleep and create a sustainable income. They were generous in sharing their ideas and experiences and extremely interested in the work of V-Day and the stories of women worldwide. V-Day made an immediate grant to Apne Aap and is dedicated to helping create a space for these extraodinary women. Later that day, we were hosted by Ashkara at the Mumbai Press Club for a dialogue with women’s groups and journalists where a lively discussion took place around issues ranging from sexual harassment to sexual slavery. With thanks to all at Ahhkara for their hospitality and wonderful work with gender equality, legislation and other issues particularly for destitute girls and women.
On Thursday, November 12th, I AM AN EMOTIONAL CREATURE had its world premiere in Mumbai at the 1000 seat Tata theater. Once again the cast presented inspired performances, with direction and production by Mahabanoo and Kaizaaad. The crowd who clapped throughout the performance rose to an immediate standing ovation as it concluded. The evening benefitted CVWC and Ashkara. Loveleen Tandan, the assistant and casting director of Slumdog Millionaire read the Manifesta to close the evening which by all accounts indicated to us that I AM AN EMOTIONAL CREATURE will indeed be a reckoning and a call to action for young girls.
The press covered all aspects of the trip. Check out the Idiva (one of the Times of India’s websites) review of the event: http://www.idiva.com/bin/idiva/Review-I-Am-an-Emotional-Creature and the preview in the Times of India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-5207843,prtpage-1.cm...
Altogether our experiences in India were extraordinary. We saw great need for change and an end to violence against women waged through sex slavery and trafficking, poverty, and patriarchy. And throughout the trip, we encountered women and men, college students and teachers, who are committed to working until the violence stops.