Women in India kicked off the new year with a call for equality, coming together to stand arm-in-arm as part of a historic protest against patriarchy.
Today more than 50 lakh women built a 600 kilometres long human chain along the streets of Kerala to uphold gender justice in the face of severe oppression.The progressive people of Kerala took oath that #Kerala society can not be sent back to the old dark ages.#WomenWall pic.twitter.com/NDzmTWLePl
— Mayukh Biswas (@MayukhDuke) January 1, 2019
On January 1, hundreds of women formed a human barrier in the southern state of Kerala spanning 385 miles. The “women’s wall,” organized by a coalition of over 176 social justice organizations and campaigns, was one of the largest feminist protests in world history. Declarations of solidarity with the women participating in the historic action poured in from across the globe on social media during the protest.
The women gathered in Kerala were responding to multiple attacks on female worshippers at a well-known Hindu temple. Despite a ruling by India’s highest court which declared that women have a constitutional right to enter any place of worship, over a dozen women were violently assaulted by male worshippers in the month of November alone as they attempted to enter the Sabarmila temple, which recently opened its doors to all women of all ages, including those of menstruating age.
A general poll showed that 75 percent of people in Kerala disapproved of the ruling to allow women into all religious spaces; on January 3, counter-protesters stages a hartal, a strike which usually only goes into effect during mourning, and violence broke out as right-wing mobs took to the streets, throwing bombs and stones. Ultimately, 745 people were arrested and 14 were injured during the hartal.
Despite the backlash, the protest sparked hope for women across India that a real movement for gender equality is possible in their communities.
“I wanted to be a part of this because I believe it’s time for awareness and for change,” said Rakhee Madhavan, a 39-year-old teacher. 46-year-old lawyer Vigi Ninan echoed the sentiment in an interview with The Guardian: “It’s significant that many men supported the protest as well,” she said. “We weren’t alone in this.”
Citizens and politician of Kerala continue to debate whether it is the court’s place to instate religious rules which some say the public is widely not ready to receive, but advocates have made it clear that while public opinion shifts, they will not rest in the struggle for women’s equality.
“Social change doesn’t happen in a day,” Madhavan told NPR. “It needs time. But with these small steps, we’ve made it easier for the next generation to embrace it. In this way, the wall of women marks a new dawn for feminism in India.”