I am one of forty-seven women from 24 countries who are meeting with more than 100 Indian women activists here at the Gandhi Research Foundation. The facility, made of Jodhpur stone to last for centuries, houses a unique, interactive museum and an unmatched library of Gandhian writings and photography. It can accommodate hundreds of students and visitors. The skills of homespun are taught and in-house shops sell the resulting khaddy garments.
We first met one another over dinner, savouring the diversity of women present, meeting a few, getting a sense of the three-part programme we were about to dive into. Part one has been a rapid relaying of information – as show & tell – from so many women in so many places, doing the work of peace in all of its forms – from human trafficking and human rights monitoring to struggles in the diverse, yet linked, areas of cultural norms that keep women enslaved or under constant risk, situations of debt slavery and landlessness, education for girls, workers’ rights, trade agreements that prioritise capital over people and the environment that sustains economies, climate change and training in conflict transformation, and the role of women and religion.
Early on the first morning a few hearty ones not yet felled by jet lag, joined hundreds of women in the streets of Jalgon, marking Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Non-violence. For activists, this was a sacred moment to savour and celebrate women, humble, village women who have found and raised their voices, changing the lives of the communities; a sacred moment to recall and reflect on the Gandhian principles of non-violent direct action, of satyagraha – experiments in truth. I guess that’s what brought us together: to share our respective experiments in truth.
The organisers for the event are members of Ekta Parishad, including the two founders, Canadian-Indian, Jill Carr-Harris, and her Indian husband, Rajagopal P.V. Ekta Parishad’s history now spans almost three decades of training and organising of grassroots people in the ways and means of Mahatma Gandhi in a campaign for social, economic and political change. More than 100,000 people in 5300 villages in a dozen states have been trained; many of them have participated in lengthy walks that recall Gandhi’s famous Salt March of 1930, an action that so effectively hastened the departure of the British Raj. Most of those formerly landless people are now holders of title to their land, agents of social change, of their own economic viability and legislative change at a national level.
See Part 2: The Permission of our Hunger for more on Ekta, the results of its work and its plans for marches that transcend local issues of land and poverty to embrace the global need for collaboration across nations, an understanding of the oneness of humankind.