“You address everyone else by their names. Just because i have some extra grey hair doesn’t mean that you have to call me didi. I would rather you treat me equally. Please call me Sudha.”
This gentle yet firm reprimand came from the tall, strapping woman in a starched sari that she hadn’t changed for the past two days ever since she arrived. There was no time! The moment she entered, after a quick round of hugs to all the feminists in the room, she had simply settled down to work, leaving her floor “work desk” only for washroom breaks. She accepted all food offered to her with a grateful smile apologizing for not volunteering in the kitchen or helping with chores.
People had queued up much before she had arrived, clutching their files with case papers. She went straight into work, listening attentively. Her entire demeanor reflected kindness and i instantly felt a connect towards her. Her voice like her presence was assuring, yet came with a razor edge. Very similar to another woman i admired and often called her “mountain” for her unwavering, rock solid stand in most difficult situations.
She, the mountain however, point blank rejected this pedestalization. A bit taken aback by her upfront remark, I withdrew with immediate effect! A day later as we (group of women activists from across states, here for a fact finding mission to investigate the arrest and sexual assualt of Soni Sori, a hostel warden)were on our way to meet Soni in jail, Sudha gave me a warm hug saying, “hope i did not offend you seema, forgive me if i hurt your feelings”. She was wearing her lawyer’s coat over the same sari…I only hugged her back.
We were stopped from meeting Soni in jail. As her advocate only Sudha was allowed to meet her. I was hugely disappointed. I had all my writing ammo ready… We barely had one glimpse of Soni before she was whisked away at a last moment change of decision by the jail authorities. We tried to negotiate but nothing worked.
I was hugely disappointed but there I was in this circle of strength, experiencing the oneness of the women, united by their resolve – justice for Soni. Despite the police brutality the brave woman had refused to buckle under the pressure of the state administration. Soni knew that a fact finding team representing women’s collectives from across the country was here to meet her…she had smiled at us!
Sudha came back, rather subdued and narrated all that Soni had shared with her. We flocked around her, hanging on to every word she spoke. Someone hugged her. The look on her face did not change. “I am shaken, but I have just met a very strong woman. It’s not easy for a tribal woman to stand alone and unafraid. She is determined to fight till the end. Our visit gives her a lot of hope. She only requested all of you to stand by her and give her strength to fight…she is in much pain. Her children are unattended. This case runs much deeper. They are trying to break her spirit. They are unable to digest the fact that a tribal woman is speaking up…”
We listened – It was difficult to not feel rage and frustration. Yet, my mountain-woman who had by this time regained her composure had already moved ahead to the next level of action. As we walked together, she turned back and made a general remark.. “i am telling you, do your law, complete it, practice in court. We need women lawyers. We need more of those law practice licenses which would enable us access to the hundreds of tribal women undertrials languishing in jails…prepare more young girls to take up legal aid work. We are very few of us. We should concentrate on building our strength…”
We went back to more work, Sudha had to go. Probably more cases – of working class undertrails, adivasis, coal mine workers, young people picked up by police. She carried multiple bags with case files, and that’s what I last saw of her – she, her brisk walk, sari…her files, her people.
You know why the State is afraid of my mountain-woman!
Languishing in jail for two years now, she has developed a heart ailment…Her comrades, present in across the globe have stood up for her. But fascism runs deeper in our country. We need to amplify our voices and efforts to ensure Sudha and all comrades, political prisoners – are released immediately.
Join the campaign on social media.
We will meet soon…