At the ‘Garima Yatra’ (Dignity March) in New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, voices that have been stifled for decades, refused to be silenced anymore when they came together. Survivors of sexual offences and their families culminated their 10, 000 km-long march in the heart of the national capital in the hope that they had brought the fight for their basic rights closer to the seat of power.
For 42-year-old Taslim Bi from Ujjain, the march is the only remaining way for her to help make her neighbourhood safe for her girls. “Girls are often sexually assaulted in our village. It’s either their uncle, or their father, or at their school. There are cases where even the principal has done it. Girls have been asked to stay back, strip and dance. If principals and teachers are doing this, then how do we send our kids to learn?,” she laments.
Thousands of men, women, and families from rural Dalit and Adivasi communities walked 10,000 km, across 200 districts of 24 states to raise their voice against sexual offences they’ve faced. The ‘Garima Yatra’ or ‘Dignity March’, which ended in Delhi, became a platform to share all kinds of injustice they have to face.
“People usually think that it’s unsafe if the girls step out of their homes, but we fear for their safety even when they are at home or out in their neighbourhood. We are scared for the safety of girls even when they are playing with other kids in the neighbourhood. We fear they might be sexually assaulted,” Taslim says.
Shakuntala (33) spoke about how she can’t send her kids outside the village to study despite the lack of proper higher education institutes. “We can never send our kids to another village. People often make derogatory comments. They say if my daughters go to another village to study, they will become disobedient. They tell me to send my kids to the local institutes (where facilities are lacking),” she said.
For Savitri Sisodia, this march is about finding solace in fighting for their individual rights as a collective. “In-laws or parents will never support us in times like these. They tell us that now you’re married, you’ll have to live and die there. We now have the platform to air our grievances, especially when it seems like there is no one apart from the ‘Garima Yatra’ (Dignity March). Seeing the support system here, it will help more women come forward,” Sisodia said.
Before 2019 Lok Sabha elections, these women are hoping for a sense of security, and the hope of getting their basic rights. “If something untoward happens in our family or in our locality, we want to be empowered so that we can also raise our voices against it,” says Priti Valmiki, a resident of a village in Madhya Pradesh.
Ujjain’s Taslim Bi, however, wants help in protecting her family’s dignity from the ever-impending threat of sexual violence. “For a poor man, the most important thing is their honour. They don’t have any riches to protect. They just need help in protecting their dignity,” she says.