Mahila Samvad Yatra: Sabarmati to Srinagar

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20 October to 1 November 2018

The world is celebrating Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. And this is not just because of the calendar, but because of his contributions to mankind. He gave an alternate perspective to human civilisation and a unique way to fight injustice. To the world, driven by the idea of might against right, Gandhi propagated sympathy and compassion. His mode of struggle proved that the world can be made a better place for all, even when you are fighting for a cause. 

For the Mahatma, each and every human being was an agent of change, but he considered women to be the natural soldiers of his struggle. He believed that they possess the qualities and force of unbelievable strength that replaces violence with self-sacrifice. Even the Satyagraha in South Africa had women at the centre of it. This aspect of Gandhian movement demands more attention than has been given till date.

In this light, the idea of a Samvad Yatra Or the Bridges of dialogue tour by an all women team to pay tribute to Gandhi in his 150th Birth Anniversary year was thus born.  The Gandhian youth organisation Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan took the initiative and formulated the program. Gandhi: 150 platform created under the leadership of national Gandhian organisations provided the all-round support for its execution.

Around 25 women from various organisations and background showed interest in the yatra. The preparations began in March 2018. It was decided that the Yatra would be conducted from 19th to 31st October. A one-day training program was organised on 19th October at Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad, a university that was established by the Mahatma himself.

Most of the participants of the yatra were also activists and believed in the core values of democracy, were against communalism and had set ideas of how the socio-economic-political order of the society should be. The core content of the yatra was that the bridges of dialogue are collapsing amongst citizens, sometimes in the name of religion or caste, sometimes in the name of a nation or political party, or at times on gender issues. These cracks have appeared within our homes also.  Hence this team was traveling to create the bridges of dialogue—revive the process of dialogues between our families, relationships and the society.

We decided to ask questions without pointing fingers. Is it possible for a scared, uneducated, exploited and half dead woman to make a healthy family or a strong society? Can a relationship between a scary boy and a timid girl sustain? Does the solution lie in killing, humiliating and raping women of our society? Or is it in ending the gender based wrong practices, giving her a legit space and in helping to create an independent human being out of a girl. The Yatra aimed to inspire and generate confidence in girls, sensitise boys and girls towards each other’s point of view, and change the outlook of the society towards the man–woman relationship. The ‘only girls’ team was symbolic. The reality was that these were the youth of India working to create a society that is both honest and fearless.

The Yatra started form Ahmedabad, and passing through Shamlaji near the Gujarat–Rajasthan border, Udaypur, Ajmer, Jaipur, Delhi, Karnal, Ambala, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Samba, Jammu ended at Srinagar.  En-route the team created bridges of dialogue in around 40 schools, colleges, hostels, with around 11,000 students and 1,500 citizens. Citizens meetings were held in villages and towns. Various gatherings organised by local social associations were addressed by the girls. Special efforts was made by the yatris to make the discussion interesting, interactive and thought provoking. The team carried a laptop and portable projector, on which photographs of thousands of known and unknown women who participated in the freedom struggle as well as Gandhiji’s quotations on the subject were shown. The presentation challenged the traditional conception of bravery that is associated with physical strength, weapons and wars. Boys from the audience saw how women faced the brute police purely on the  basis of moral strength. Girls from the audience were inspired to rise above self and recognise the rich heritage of women who fought for the freedom of the country.

The all-women team was unique and got a wholehearted welcome even by groups that are conservative towards gender issues. The media also responded well to the yatra. The Yatris sold literature, mainly books by Gandhi, worth around Rs 40,000. People also generously contributed to the Yatra expenses: of the total budget of around 2 lakh, the yatris collected around Rs 60,000 through donations during the Yatra.

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