When Sisterhood Is A Mighty Wave

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By Trudy Smith

Summer, 2014: monsoon season in India.

The autorickshaw speeds through snarls of traffic and past lush green parks as I look out at the gathering storm. The crowd of women and children converges under skies as dark and swollen as a bruise. I step out of the auto and join them moments before the clouds burst open, releasing torrents of monsoon rain that quickly flood the street and soak our clothes.

Then we flood into the street, voices and hands raised. I look around me: there are women in saris, women in floor-length black veils covering everything but their eyes. Hindus and Muslims march alongside each other with babies on hips and small children following behind; religious distinctions are unimportant in comparison with the sisterhood that binds them together.

They are all women. They all feel the injustice of sexual violence like a fire in their bones, and they all know the fear, the humiliation, and the alienation that comes from being second-class citizens in their own country. They know the intense worry that comes from a constant awareness that they and their daughters and sisters and friends are vulnerable to violence in a society where everyone looks the other way; where shame falls on the victim rather than on the one who has committed a shameful act.

In the monsoon downpour, we are marching in protest of the deluge of rape cases which the authorities in our state have yet to take seriously. How many more women and girls must be brutalized, used, and thrown away before the police are willing to file an incident report? How many must be left physically wounded, psychologically shattered, or dead before the attackers are held responsible for their violence?

As we make our way along the wide avenue of the city’s upscale shopping district, the fury of the skies is quickly spent, but our fury burns onward. The skies have cleared, but I see that the road ahead is blocked: policemen are placing metal traffic barriers across our path. When the women at the front of the column reach the police barricade, several of them lift the metal gate and throw it to one side. The police don’t stop them, but they nervously talk into their radios as we pour through the gap, powerful as an ocean wave.

When we make it to the government building that is our destination, we gather in front of the locked gate, waiting for a few delegates from the group to be allowed inside to make their demands. Meanwhile, I see what the cops have been radioing about: policemen and soldiers surround us on all sides until one hundred protestors are surrounded by an equal number of men in uniform, armed with rifles and bamboo canes.

They have come with their brawn and their weapons and their boots to display their power, I think, to intimidate us out of making our demands. But I can see that for all their mustachioed fanfare, this is a show of false power: their disproportionate reaction alone broadcasts their fear of what we women and toddlers are capable of.

The true power lies in the middle of the circle: in the courage of the women who turn to confront police with photos of women who have been raped and killed, without consequence.

It’s present in the deep, inner conviction that right is on our side, and that we are valuable and worthy of protection whether any politician or policeman or culture or system acknowledges the fact.

Our power lies in the recognition that we are all in this together, and in the sisterhood which nurtures our sense of self: the community in which we call forth the beauty, strength, wisdom, and courage in one another.

This power lies in claiming our bodies as our own, and freeing ourselves from the need to have anyone else’s approval or permission to love and respect ourselves.

True power lies in the ability to define ourselves rather than accepting the pre-fabricated definitions that society hands to us: inferior, weak, submissive, silent, or otherwise unfeminine, too loud, domineering, deviant.

The discovery of this inner power enables us to move through the world with confidence, bringing our full being to bear on the world, and using our skills and our passions without holding back. It enables us to question the status quo, to reject it, and to demand and work towards something else.

Our demands were not accepted that day, but I believe that the reason the police and the army tried to prevent us from even making those demands in the first place was that they could sense our power. They could sense that this groundswell of anger and grief and love would continue beyond the events of that day. They knew that this wave of sisterhood is determined to roll on towards justice, and that once its full power is unleashed, no one will be able to stop it.

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About Trudy:

profileimageTrudy Smith originally hails from Texas, but currently lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her Canadian husband, Andy. She blogs about faith, justice, and culture at TrudyDSmith.com, and is currently working on a memoir about the years she spent living and working in an Indian slum. She has previously written for the Huffington Post, Christ and Pop Culture, the ReKnew Forum, and elsewhere. 

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Image credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús

 

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