Women’s Solidarity Festival, 2016 – Udhayam Women’s Federation, AVAG
India is a land of many festivals, each celebrating our rich cultural tradition, each representing a certain important date in the history of one or the other religion. These timings often correspond to events in the natural cycles of land and water, such as the coming of rain or harvest season. The Women’s Solidarity Festival at AVAG stands out in some ways from these traditional festivals.
And so the question arises, why do the women of the Bio-region, coming from a rural background; that puts them not just at an economic disadvantage but also subject to a severely prevalent gender bias at every level of society, contribute a portion of their savings to host a Women’s Festival for themselves?
To find the answer to this question we must dig a little deeper to know the lives of the women in the Bio-region.
Understand the value of the Udhayam Women’s Federation, Auroville Village Action Group and most importantly, the value of the network these bodies represent in their lives. The Federation is a sisterhood of which every member is proud to be a part. Auroville Village Action Group gives a safe space for them to express, learn, share and grow as a strong community. Together, we are a family, and the Women’s Solidarity Festival is our family function.
This is a sentiment echoed by several women on the morning of the festival as they stood at the entrance of the campus, clad in their brightest, happiest sarees to welcome the women’s groups.
They were full of excitement and pure joy even though many had stayed awake through most of the previous night at the AVAG office to complete the preparations for the event. If their bodies were tired, their soaring spirits were hiding it well. The women feel at home and celebrate the Women’s Festival like they would a family function.
It had been a long night. All the AVAG staff including the directors Anbu and Moris had stayed till the wee hours of the morning, personally supervising the cooking and food packaging. Several Federation members too had volunteered for this work. They were assisted by some Men’s Clubs and Paalam members (an AVAG initiative to bridge the gap between the youth in the Bio region and the resources available in Auroville).
And then there were the cooking teams who had been diligently working over four days to prepare snacks for all 5000 expected women and on the last night were cooking tamarind rice for lunch. The cooking was done in vessels large enough for some of the smaller women to curl up in. It was fascinating to watch them as they maintained proportions of ingredients on this large scale. The food packaging and distribution system too had been designed in detail. Each development worker was in-charge of distributing to the groups from villages under his/her care.
In addition to this the entrance to the campus had been decorated with a kollam and stalls arranged for the social enterprises of AVAG. And then there was the ground. 5000 women was just a number to us volunteers until we saw the size of the ground with temporary shading erected called “shamiana”. A large area had been covered and the blue, red and white fabric roofing was decorated with frills arranged as wide chandeliers. At the head of the ground was a raised stage for the performances and the rest of the floor was carpeted.
Through the week we had thunderstorms every night and the water from the flooded ground had to be pumped out and then the swamps filled with dry sand for the event. Fortunately, the day of the festival was clear and sunny. When Anbu Akka apologised to them for how uncomfortably warm the weather is, the women said that the heat does not bother them because they had in fact been praying for it to not rain on this day lest their festival be cancelled.
We stood with Anbu at the entrance to greet the women as they arrived in groups. The first groups entered dancing to the sound of drum beats and were accompanied by the AVAG staff to the ground.
One after the other followed the rest, the front row of each carrying a placard with the name of their group and a mention of the Udhayam Federation and AVAG. They made different drawings and designs on the placards. Many groups came in uniform sarees adding to the visual of unity and solidarity.