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#JLFDiaries: The Power Of Women’s Voices – Listening To Women At The Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted: January 30, 2017

Listening to women at the Jaipur Lit Fest, I got something I wasn’t expecting: solidarity and sisterhood.

It was my first time at the Jaipur Literature Festival, and I had planned to experience as much of it as I could. I couldn’t catch nearly as much as I would have liked (mostly because I wasn’t well and could finally only make it for two days, and then was still too tired and unwell to make the most of it).

But I got something I hadn’t expected — or even thought about — that was really amazing.

Almost everyone I met or talked to at any depth (barring volunteers, service workers, and so on) was a woman. Most of the people I heard from on stage were women (not that there were more women speakers — on the festival website, I counted around 130 women and over 200 men, including six men called David). But I was amazed at the number of feminist voices around me.

Women warn women about skeevy men. There are things you don’t say in a larger audience, but are murmured to each other when women meet. Men of power and privilege who are sexual predators. Women warn each other with stories: this happened to a friend.

Speaking of stories, aren’t they women’s medium? Ruchira Gupta told me that in her organisation’s ‘feminine workplace’, they rely on stories, not data. Because stories are how we tell the truth of our lives when there is no data, or to add nuance to data. Because feminism is about believing women’s stories in the face of gaslighting.

So many women’s voices. Bee Rowlatt railing against mansplaining (and the mansplainer). Ruchira Gupta talking about the “last girl” whom we must not leave behind. Anuradha Beniwal on our need to occupy places and make them ours. Kate Tempest’s magnificent performance poetry. Mridula Koshy’s passion for libraries, on introducing every child to books.

The woman in the audience who demanded why we sympathise with boys’ and men’s anger, with their violence, when women have it difficult too but they don’t react with that kind of violence. The young woman asking how she can advocate feminism better. A panel moderator handling with clinical efficiency the difficult task of keeping audience members (isn’t it always men?) from presenting long rambling opinions as questions.

Women I met briefly — who were there as speakers or as media people covering the event — whose eyes sparkled as they talked of feminist poetry or writing. A young woman who talked enthusiastically about how there are more women in her workplace and that she’s afraid that’s changing.

The friend I was there with, who is younger and brilliant and has taken me under her wing, for which I am very grateful. And her friend who also became my friend by the end of the two days: a quiet dignified young woman who is also brilliant and kind and uncompromising. Our conversations about clothes and shopping — women’s things — and about friendships and family and work and writing — also, I think, women’s things.

I came back from Jaipur with so many women’s voices —powerful, interesting voices — in my head. I feel so much stronger for it.

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Image source: flickr

Unmana is interested in gender, literature and relationships, and writes about everything she's interested

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  1. Lovely post! Identified with the underlying nuance-we often are unable to define what women need and want… we are complex creatures… but we do know what we know!

  2. So impressed by the women I met at JLF. As an older woman from Australia I especially loved the passion and energy of so many young Indian women. Feminism is alive in India. Great article, Unmana. Will pass it on to feminist friends in Australia.

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