Of This Technology and Ideology – One Billion Rising (India)

In a world where information and networking are seen as ubiquitous, especially after the emergence of the new ICTS, new collectives and communities and their concerns have forged new solidarities through newer platforms. These collectives have transcended the usual understanding of politics and dissent. They have widened the concept of a 'political' and a 'civil' society. But the questions one needs to address are; are these collectives the 'actual' representation of a diverse population or do the collectives represent a certain section that has the ability to use information and networking in the hope of change, while not engaging directly with those at the grassroots? If the latter is truer, is it because we as privileged 'somebodies' have accepted the trickle down effect of the campaigns in the hope that these technologically enabled spaces are democratic and will surface the needs and demands of all?


We, as women, consumers and participants of the Internet, have negotiated this beautifully wrapped neo-colonial space of the World Wide Web as a medium that can enable 'equality.' Equality here is fractured in various ways and has manifested itself as a mosaic painting – where some colour patterns appeal to some and some don't, but overall it looks colourful and pleasing. Out of this thinking around technology and ideology, came about an initiative for women's solidarity to fight violence against women in public spaces. The initiative was intentionally named 'One Billion Rising (OBR)' by the founder Eve Ensler. The movement which began its campaign in September 20102 gained momentum in India after the rape of a 24 year old girl by six men in a bus in New Delhi. The brutal rape in a public transport vehicle, which has always been presumed to be safe, shook the country to its roots and people from their houses came onto the streets demanding justice, protection of women’s rights and implementation of policies that make public spaces women friendly. It was a sight that the country had never before witnessed. A passive, self contained middle class stood up for the justice and rights of women, challenging the stereotypes that justified rape.


The overwhelming response and participation of women and men in the fight against a structural problem made Ensler call for women in India (as well) to rise and assemble in public spaces and fight violence. She declared that One Billion women will rise and occupy public spaces by expressing their entitlement to it all over the world. Ensler stated that women will assemble to dance, sing and indulge in activities in public spaces, that are thought to be inappropriate. The campaign was initiated on Twitter for women all over the world to express their solidarity and their similar experiences of violence – this was to indicate that violence is neither individualised nor a rare act. The campaign culminated on 14 February 2013, marking a shift from the day of 'lovers' (where women experience violence more often than not), to a day of women fighting against the oppression and celebrating a new freedom.


The campaign was born on Twitter with women showing unconditional support to the idea of one billion rising. City-wise pages were created on Facebook requesting women to collect at a particular site to express their solidarity, videos were uploaded on YouTube of women speaking on prevalence of violence and their desire to rise and on Instagram women clicked their messages against violence and uploaded them and other platforms were used 'to spread the word'. Technological platforms were being creatively used to mobilise women, or so was it thought, but mobilisation on the streets was close to nothing. Women's access to these platforms were seen enabling for empowerment but for women who didn't have access to technology found it difficult to visibilise themselves in the larger picture of violence against women.


On the OBR day women in India – did rise – they came together and danced to the freedom to have been able to assemble in a public space. The raunchy dance numbers and the conversations were an experience that can't be put simply in words but the exclusive nature of the campgain can be. The technology motived campaign instantly ignored those who didn't have access to the Internet and the social networking platforms. It spoke of dance as challenging violence against women but this remained exclusive as the middle class women who danced – on certain music and gesture that symbolises certain cultural capital – might have seemed alien for others. This is because it doesn't take into account the language or community based experiences. Also, women who live in, what we refer to as, risky city spaces might not have had either the option or the capital to participate in such an event. Women and feminists at grassroots felt alienated because middle class feminism (like OBR) didn't speak of violence at home, by members of the family and assumed easy mobility of women to collect in a public space.


A disparity of such character was observed in a campaign like OBR but so is the case with most of the other campaigns, like in the case of 'Slutwalk' and others. But a movement like OBR appealed to women across the globe and has the potential to reach the grassroots if inclusion is made a priority. In OBR technology became an indispensable medium for the activists for mobilisation. It could have been taken further by including women collectives from rural areas, by speaking of it on community radios, and engaging with women who wield power (like Elected Women Representatives) to ensure certain participation.


Technology is not a valueless construction but a culturally embedded entity that can be wielded as one demands. Hence the hope that these campaigns, that are technologically initiated, will benefit by trickling down to those who have been unintentionally excluded won't materialise, unless a conscious attempt is made. While the intention and motivation of OBR can't be dismissed, its parochial lens to view violence and women's engagement with it needs to be thought over.


We need to broaden our understanding of how technology can be used and disseminated as its capacity varies depending on the context. Therefore, women's participation on the Internet to empower themselves through various negotiations can't be forgotten but what is needed is to take it further and to look at technology that can be used in various ways – to form new collectives that represent diverse needs, demands and ideas – and then every woman will rise.


-Shivani Gupta