Violence against women is an international problem. Women in India are frequent victims of dowry killings, honour killings and domestic violence. Covering up these crimes is also a massive problem as corruption is widespread. Its is common practice, that officials are bribed by the defendant’s family and then refuse to pursue the case. The position of women in India is problematic in many ways: ill-treatment, sexual harassment, abortion of female fetuses, abduction, and rape are not isolated cases but a mass phenomenon.
Social Sculpture | Pink Silence
At the Ghandi square at the Pondicherry beach in Tamil Nadu state, 365 free-standing bamboo sticks were publicly displayed at the beginning of the year. This is a common meeting place in the middle of the city. The mass of large and small pink sticks shone brightly on the otherwise pastel-coloured promenade and fascinated many pedestrians*. Some of the sticks carried messages written in Tamil on mirror foil. The interactive dimension of the sculpture was seen as many people quickly gathered around the installation, some began to read and discuss the messages written on the strips of mirror foil. In addition, leaflets written by students* of the Auroville Institute of Applied Technology (AIAT) in Tamil were distributed to explain the political and symbolic power of social sculpture. Meanwhile, the civilian police also came to inquire about the lawful location of the installation and not, as first suspected, to remove it and disperse us on the grounds of an ‘unannounced demonstration’. Later in the day, the AIAT students* spoke on the stage of the International Yoga Festival that was being held nearby and broke the taboo! They spoke in public about violence against women and children and it’s causes. Finally, they asked for a minute of silent remembrance for the victims.
Pink Silence at Ghandi-Square at the International Yogafestval in Pondicherry
Breaking Taboos and Ways to Self Empowerment
PINK SILENCE, the EachOneTeachOne project in Auroville and Pondicherry, brought together more than 200 participants to create a large social sculpture. The installation underwent several stages of creation: the construction in the Auroville Bamboo Center, the workshop for the AIAT students*, and above all the sharing of the personal messages, from the women of the Auroville Village Action Group and their association with the self-help groups for women who have fled violent households.
One of the project’s particular challenges was how to delicately introduce this sensitive topic. The shame of talking about experiences of violence is huge. Mostly those affected do not file a complaint and shy away from conscientiously confronting the situation, as it often takes place within the immediate family circle. If a case comes up, the women concerned are often stigmatised and marginalised by their social and professional circles. The #metoo debate only arrived in India in October 2018, opening the platform of social media for the well-educated middle and upper classes. But the lower classes still have great difficulty in getting support and making their voices heard.
To introduce the topic we watched the film Gulabi Gang by Nishta Jain with the AIAT lecturers*. The director documents the efforts and development of a feminist movement by the lower castes in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh over a period several months. This sparked a debate which brought forth much impetus. Although the women and families shown spoke a different language, the similarities depicted of “ordinary” everyday life motivated the teachers* to address the subject. They began by exchanging information about known cases in the area and speaking about the systemic problems in their society.
Project week with the AIAT, the Bamboo Center Auroville and the women of the Village Action Group
In the following project week, 365 sticks were painted pink by the pupils* – initially without any further indication as to what the installation was all about. At the end of the week, other participants*, such as the women from the Village Action Group, were invited to participate in the day the theme for the installation was to be revealed. The joint viewing of the film and the removal of the associated taboos of the theme became an “aha moment”. Many participants* sat down together and discussed the causes of domestic and institutional violence, which they then wrote down as slogans on strips of film. They complained about abuse, access to education, and especially alcoholism. These strips were then glued to the sticks and thus gave each individual stick a personal story – one could see that a switch had been flipped in the participants* and made a “click”. To regard the installation as a mouthpiece in its own right was fully accepted by the community. Volunteers* were then quickly found for further follow-up.
Gulabi Gang | Pink Sari Revolution
The inspiration for the social sculpture is the feminist movement GULABI GANG from the region of Uttar Pradesh. The group fights against the daily violence and oppression of women and is formed under the leadership of Sampat Pal Devi. This outspoken community, numbering 20,000 women, wears pink saris and carries bamboo sticks in public as a sign of justice and strength. They demonstrate loudly to make their grievances heard – this is absolutely unique in India. It was remarkable that although this movement had received a lot of media coverage in the north, the GULABI GANG was unheard of in the south of the country. All the greater was the impression on the women in the south, who could clearly identify with the everyday life and stories of those in the north.
Pink Silence in Germany
To this day, Pink Silence is independently continued annually at the AIAT in order to dispel the taboos surrounding the topic. A few of the sticks made their way to Germany and were displayed at the following events and exhibitions:
- Pink Silence | Unity Pavilion, Auroville 2015
- Gulab Jamun | Goethe45, Bremerhaven 2015 (solo exhibition)
- Human life begins beyond despair | Blond&Blond Contemporary, Berlin 2015
- Adabana – Flowers that must not bloom | Rathaus Bochum 2015
- Borrari | Prima Center, Berlin 2015
- German Scholarship Award | Lichthof der Technischen Universität Berlin, Berlin 2015 (solo exhibition)
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