November 29 is the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Day. December 10 is the International Human Rights Day. These days are significant and part of the 16 days campaign protesting gender based violence against women and girls across the world. Why are the women and queer human rights defenders so crucial in today’s era? Across the world, violence in any form is normalised and trivialised. Human rights include civil, political, economic, social, cultural, collective, sexual, reproductive, indigenous, land, property, health, labour, workplace, disability access, ageing, queer, care work, digital access rights.
As women and queer human rights defenders, many proactive women and queer persons have challenged the prevailing norms to change situations of oppression. Professional women as journalists in all forms of print, digital, web and audio visual media have transformed mindsets. Women lawyers have also made tremendous contribution towards bringing justice in heinous crimes against women and girls, also transforming criminal procedures in existing social justice systems. Women social workers and practitioners have also devised dynamic grassroots and policy changes in building solidarity into the inhuman conditions of society which impacts people differently. Women human rights defenders whose books, articles and writings have changed people tremendously needs huge applaud in today’s misogynistic world.
Women human rights defenders have stood up for both issues concerning human rights of all genders and also specifically for women survivors of human rights violations.
It becomes equally pertinent to recognise the contributions of trade union leaders, women SHG office bearers, Aanganwadi and ASHA workers, village development committee members at every village, district and state committees whose invisible presence and perspectives determines the lives and liberties of people. All those people who demand clarity, accountability, debates and diverse opinions on state and institutional policies and reforms are human rights defenders. If they happen to identify as women then they are the women human rights defenders. Journalists like Tongam Rina, Patricia Mukhim and Late Gauri Lankesh, peace activists like Dadis of Shaheen Bagh, Irom Sharmila, Naga Mother’s Association, Mother’s Union in Meghalaya and Meira Paibis in Manipur, writers like Late Dr. Indira Goswami, Dr. Arupa Patangia Kalita, Taslima Nasreen, Arundhati Roy, A. Revathi, Anganwadi workers like Bhanwari Devi, forest farmers like Gaura Devi, millet farmers like Sangmana women farmers in Telangana, Meghalaya and Nagaland, ecological activists like Agnes Kharshiing, cyber activists like Bondita Acharya, Adivasi women activists like Soni Sori, lawyers like Sudha Bharadwaj, Vrinda Grover, Indira Jai Singh, Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhuti Katju, queer rights community from Humsafar Trust, Xukia, Naz Foundation, student leaders like Aishi Ghosh, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, women farmers unions like MAKAAM, sex worker rights and resistance groups like Durbar Mahila Samanay Samiti, Sangram, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, domestic violence resistance groups like AMAN network, SWAYAM, Jagori, Nirantar, NEN, PRERNA, tea garden worker support groups like All Assam Adivasi Women Association, Fishworker unions, Women Panchayat Leaders in different village level institutions.
Women human rights defenders have stood up against injustice, inequality and oppression of human dignity and social values which they stand up for.
In the context of current regime of stifling whistle blowers, most human rights defenders are pushed into oblivion and imprisoned for raising legitimate and constitutional demands on behalf of masses whose lives and livelihoods are at stake. People have migrated from cities to rural areas during the pandemic period. They cannot earn anything as they are not employed or given any work during this period. More than the money and the job, people lost their civil liberties, slightly empowered selves and negotiating capabilities which most of the migrant workers might have gathered after years of trouble, turmoil and tragedies.
Women human rights defenders are also raising their concerns about the state functionaries which constitute the frontline workforce. These categories of people are otherwise sidelined despite being in the frontline of defence during a pandemic. Women Human Rights Defenders have been structurally and systematically silenced through different state and non-state structures.
Women along with queer persons started the #ifwedon’trisecampaign few months back to demand justice, equality, dignity and freedom from violent and regressive practices.
Women in contract work suffered the most even during the pandemic. All working conditions were irrational and uncompromising keeping in mind the gender specific needs of all non male persons during the pandemic. It has been a situation of severe mental trauma for many women in temporary jobs of losing their spouses, parents, siblings or family members which left them drained from all ends. Temporary monetary relief of a few hundred can never compensate them equitably. Most WHRDs and QHRDS faced resistance from their intimate spaces and asked to remain confined to ensure safety. Even to address the needs and support one’s family and other support systems, WHRDs and QHRDs had to reach out, connect, act and respond to the problems of the most vulnerable. Such people were confined to jails or to Covid confinements or their homes to ensure a culture of silencing in the name of safety and security. This practice of crushing all gender diverse human rights defenders will further alienate the process of transformation of a progressive, rooted and constitutional nation like India. Human rights struggles are based on universal values of freedom, compassion, justice, equality and peace. If these values are distorted and redefined then human rights violations happen. Only the survivors and supporters of such survivors can make ripples of change into existing uncertainties and envision a renewed look into the future. Such radical transformations have indeed led this country towards a new horizon. Most non-violent, invisible, indigenous and infinitely impactful struggles of women and queer human rights defenders have led to most progressive transformations in recent decolonised times of the South Asian subcontinent.