By Sanjana Sanghi:
“In paanchon ko riha karo,” shouted a group of protesters who assembled at Jantar Mantar yesterday. While a protest regarding a national or local issue is an everyday affair at Jantar Mantar, the reason behind this particular protest was different.
On March 6, 2015, the authoritarian regime in China detained five feminist activists because they planned to campaign against sexual harassment on buses right before International Women’s Day on March 8. The protest at Jantar Mantar was, in essence, a symbolic attempt to send a message of solidarity to the global movement that is gaining momentum in retaliation to actions taken by the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The turnout at Jantar Mantar, according to the organizer of the gathering Aapurv Jain, was fairly disappointing. A larger turnout was expected.
“While many showed support on Facebook and other social media platforms, hardly a handful have turned up today. Not only does this show a lack of genuine concern for fellow activists all over the world, it suggests a high degree of selfishness,” remarked Ashley Tellis, a gay rights activists and co-organizer of the protest along with Aapurv, on being questioned regarding the low turnout.
An activist present at the protest on behalf of the Citizens Collective Against Sexual Assault was deeply moved by the incident. “We are here to raise our voice, and condemn this arrest because it has happened in India before and is very likely to happen again,” she said.
Those protesting consider this issue far graver than any other. “It is a day marked by humiliation and sorrow for us all,” they believe. For this incident was an outright violation of the rights of Chinese Women, more than 600 million in number, cumulating up to one-tenth of humanity.
“We should come together and fight. What activists in China are facing today, those in India will face too, sooner or later. It is only a matter of time,” said Aapruv Jain.
What really happened?
On the evening of March 4, leaders of the Chinese feminist community were taken into police custody, in three Chinese cities. They were detained, without any arrest warrants, on the grounds of creating disturbance. They planned to protest against sexual harassment on public transport, a phenomenon fairly common in China. The Beijing Police has advised women to, “not sit on higher levels of buses and to stand on lower stairs, to avoid being the target of inappropriate picture-taking, and they should shelter their bodies with bags, magazines and newspapers.”
In addition to this, their phones, laptops or any other means of communication and documentation were confiscated. Feminist and civic groups all over the world have condemned the brutal crackdown by the Chinese authorities. A campaign page has been launched by Amnesty International on Tumblr. #FreeTheFive is being used on Twitter to gather support.
Several organizations in the Chinese mainland continue to fight for the rights of the arrested through online petitions and social media, despite the hostile political conditions. Feminist groups in Taiwan have expressed their outrage over the arrest and urged President Ma Ying Jeou to include issues pertaining to gender equality and human rights on his agenda.
In Malaysia, considering the large Chinese population, a statement condemning the Chinese authorities and discussing safety of young feminists has been co-signed by over 26 organizations. The 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women declared its aim to be the discussion of obstacles pertaining to gender equality in China, and has made the recent arrest a case study in achieving this aim.
Twenty years ago, China hosted the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, signed the Beijing Platform for Action, and made a commitment to promote women’s rights and gender equality. The detainment of these 5 activists, (Tingting LI, Man WANG, Tingting WEI, Rongrong WU, and Churan Zheng) is not only a violation of the spirit of the agreement, but also an outright breach of human rights. Today, twitter is trending with #Beijing2020. The irony leaves us all flabbergasted.
Considering the Chinese One Party system, that prioritizes stability above everything else, there arises a certain possible reasoning for such absurd actions being taken. Speculation suggests that the Two Sessions (Chinese Legislature’s annual meeting) being underway could be the reason behind taking the feminists into police custody. This could be followed up with possible plans of releasing them once the sessions are adjourned.
This really isn’t the first time the Chinese Government has committed such actions. Previously, arbitrary detainments, arrests and harassments have occurred with civil rights lawyers, human rights activists and liberal intellectuals. The prevailing atmosphere of intensified censorship and cracking down on civil liberties in China only seems to be a breeding ground for such atrocities to occur even more frequently.
Far greater suppression by the Chinese government has been seen before. In 1989, the Tiananmen Square Massacre saw troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicting brutalities on unarmed civilians. The recent detainment may be vastly different on grounds of both number and expanse, but it is certainly just as grave an issue. It also extends a common ground to what happened in “Democratic India”, soon after the infamous Nirbhaya incident. When water cannons, lathi charges and all other forms of suppression were imposed upon the peaceful protestors, fighting against the heinous act of rape at large, and revolting against the particular December 16 incident.
Posters reading “Indian feminists support Chinese feminists”, and “Free these Chinese women now” were ubiquitous at the protest. Not only is curbing the freedom of those who seek to make change entirely draconian, it is also regressive. We await the release of these 5 activists, and a restoration of basic human rights and dignity.