In Pictures: How Students At Harvard University Are Raising Their Voice For Women’s Rights In India

Posted on September 27, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Dhruv Arora:

“19th century called, they want their attitudes back” reads one of the signs held up by one of the students belonging to Harvard University, Cambridge.

Their campaign, #embodyindia, aims at destroying the very stereotypes that reinforce the structures responsible for gender-based violence. Disha, one of the students behind the campaign, told us “As students from India, we feel extremely strongly about women’s rights back home.” The campaign page on tumblr also published a powerful letter talking about the entire Deepika Padukone — TOI debacle, connecting it back to the larger debate around the problems surrounding women’s safety in India.

An excerpt from the article reads:

“To walk down the street in India as a woman is to understand the complexity, discomfort surrounding feminism and women’s rights in India. Whatever one wears, however unengaged and stoic one may be, the very presence of a women in a public, likely male-dominated space, ‘invites’ attention. Those that might show a shoulder or a midriff? Well, they’re obviously ‘asking for’ the leers, the whistles and the lip-smacking.”

The idea behind the campaign is to come up with strong and bold messages that the students come up with themselves, based on the things that bother them. “It bothers us that we are at Harvard and can’t always make an impact on the ground”, they said. “I think the fact that the Indian community at Harvard can mobilize to send across this message is a powerful thing”.

We asked the people behind the campaign what they hoped to do with the campaign. “We want to undertake the daunting task of changing how people think”, they told us. “Yes, we need better laws. Yes, we need better security. Those would be effective, but they don’t change the roots of the problem- and that is how people think about a woman in relation to her body. It’s the very basic premise of a woman’s ownership of herself that we need to accept.”

Violence against women is a global issue, be it India or the United States. This is why the group strongly believes that the region divide does not hamper the idea behind the campaign in any way. “The manifestation varies, but it’s a challenge everyone needs to address”. The campaign is no longer limited to the Indian community at Harvard either, “Even on campus, this movement is growing beyond just Indians, if you look at our second set of photos. It strikes a chord with people from across the globe. As one of our signs said, ‘different symptoms, global disease’”. The faculty at Harvard has shown great support for the campaign as well, and one of the images even features the Dean of the college holding up a sign that reads “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”.

Although there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the campaign from across the world, there are still a few comments that reinforce the problems that the campaign is trying to fight. When asked about why the image above was reuploaded after the image on the left had already been posted, Disha replied, “The second image is a response. People, and the media, have paid our campaign a lot of attention, and the portrayal of our message has been extremely positive. But then you read the comments sometimes, and the focus is ironically just what we’re protesting against- our attire. Our campaign wants people to look at our message, not our clothes, and the second image addresses that some people still don’t do that”.

Does the campaign inspire you? You can be a part of it. Take a photo with your own message, share it with #embodyindia, and contribute to the conversation!

To know more about what I think of this story, follow me on twitter at @thedhruvarora