India: Report of the Court of Women on Dowry and Related Forms of VAW

Vimochana and Asian Women’s Human Rights Council

Daughters of Fire, the India Court of Women on Dowry and Related Forms of Violence was held from July 26 -29, 2009 at Christ University, Bangalore. Organised by Vimochana and AWHRC India in partnership with forty women and human rights groups from different parts of the country and in collaboration with several local organisations and institutions the Court sought to open up new political spaces in civil society that would help us to bring the phenomena of dowry violence that has been made invisible, normal and routine back to the centre of public consciousness and conscience.

While initiating a rethink on our analyses of what constitutes dowry in the present context of globalisation and understand its links with the other forms of domestic violence related particularly to the institution of marriage, it sought to reflect and review methodologies of redress available to us. It sought also to revision a mass movement that through multi layered collective interventions would be able to take deeper root in people’s collective consciousness and public polity.

This Court was the culmination of a journey that began in January 2008 when the core group was formed in Bangalore to plan for the event. Since then several events including public hearings, workshops, consultations, theatre performances, film screenings have been held in different parts of the country including Kerala, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and different districts of Karnataka particularly Mandya, Mangalore, Guruvayanakere, Kolar and Bangalore. Through these initiatives we sought to reach out with the issues of the Court even while gathering together the diverse experiences, knowledges and analyses on the changing face of dowry and related forms of violence against women in today’s times; times that are embedded in the dominant ethic of consumerism and materialism.

This process culminated in the four day programme from July 26 – 29, 2009. Inaugurated with a Women in Black action on the evening of July 26, a series of six simultaneous roundtables on some of the core issues of the Court followed on July 27. The actual Court was held on July 28 and the programme culminated with a follow up meeting and press conference on July 29.

While about 200 individuals from different organisations from across the country participated in the four day event, the Women in Black action drew around 300 participants; the roundtable discussions drew about 800 and the Court itself over 2000 participants from different sections of civil society. They included social activists, students, academics, professionals from diverse fields, women and men from different rural and urban communities from in and around Bangalore and different parts of the state, ordinary housewives and also senior representatives from the different departments of the Government related to the judiciary, police and women’s development.

This Court was part of the process of the Courts of Women a global movement that seeks to relook at rights and other notions of justice from the lives and life visions of women – particularly from the global south. Envisioned and initiated in 1991 by Corinne Kumar, the founder member of Vimochana and AWHRC in the Asia Pacific region the Courts of Women have subsequently moved through El Taller International, Tunis, where she is now based, into different regions of the world: Africa, the Arab world, Central and South America.

With violence against women at its centre, thirty five Courts of Women have been held on diverse issues specific to the different regions; from the violence of poverty, globalisation and development, the violence of cultures, caste and racism to the violence of military sexual slavery, nuclearisation and of all conflicts and wars.

The unique feminist methodology evolved by the Courts of Women revolves around weaving together the personal, the political, the affective and the aesthetic. It seeks to invite the audience to relook at these issues not as experts but as witnesses to the violence of our times. The Courts of Women are public hearings. They are sacred spaces in which we hear individual testimonies of survival and resistance that guide us in our search for new paradigms of knowledge that challenges the one, scientific, neutral, objective, universal knowing as the only way to know.

Shortly after this Court from August 5 – 7, 2009, AWHRC and UNDP in partnership with several regional organisations and networks held the South East Asia Court of Women on HIV, Human Trafficking and Migration in Bali, Indonesia on the occasion of the ICAAP conference. The other upcoming Courts include the Columbia Court of Women against Forgetting and for Re-existence; the Court of Women on Poverty and Homelessness in the USA in 2010 and the World Court of Women on Genocide at the World Social Forum in 2011 in Senegal.

What follows is a brief overview of the events of the four days of Daughters of Fire along with the processes that preceded the actual Court. Please see attached report.

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