O symapathiser of the heartbroken, arise and see your Punjab
Corpses are strewn on the pastures and blood is overflowing in Chenab)
On 15th August 2021 India celebrated 75 years of political independence from colonial rule but to this day the joy of freedom is marred by the tragedy of partition (August 1947) which was presented as a fait accompli to gaining the long awaited sovereignty. The partition of India was the division of the subcontinent into two independent dominions, India and Pakistan based on religious differences. This led to one of the worst refugee crises in history, resulting in about two million deaths and an estimated 20 million people displaced along communal lines. The excerpt above from Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam’s elegy “Aaj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu” reflects on that fateful decision which resulted in en masse displacement and gendered violence in both grotesque and insidious ways. The poem is addressed to an acclaimed Punjabi Sufi poet of the 18th century Waris Shah, and asks him to arise from his grave and bear witness to the pain of partition by adding another chapter in his book of love (written a century ago). Shah was well known for his tragic love story Heer Ranjha which symbolises eternal love and separation. Pritam’s poem recalls how Shah penned an entire saga when one daughter (Heer) cried about her misery to him, but now he needs to rise up to the occasion when a million daughters are grieving and river Chenab is overflowing with blood.
In March 1947 communal riots and the ensuing violence resulted in mass scale abduction, rape and forcible conversion of women from both communities. In September, the leaders and representatives of the government of India and Pakistan met and resolved to restore abducted persons to their original homes. Soon an Inter-Dominion Conference was held at Lahore where the two countries agreed upon a joint exercise which resulted in the ‘Abducted Persons Recovery and Restoration Act 1949’. Mridula Sarabhai, who was a frontrunner social worker in the recovery program, estimated that about 1,25,000 (0.12 million) women were missing on both sides of the border (Balakrishnan 2011). Though the Act was to remain in force for a year or so, the recoveries continued for almost a decade. The full extent of abductions remains a matter of debate. While on the one hand the forcible abduction and conversion had caused outrage and rancour; on the other the process of recovery had opened a Pandora’s Box. Many women were either pregnant or had children with their abductors and were not sure if they wanted to return or would be accepted by their families. Hence they neither had a choice in their abduction nor a say in the recovery program as both decisions were made outside their consent.
The stories of the women as victims or men as aggressors usually come from oral testimonies narrated by family members, neighbours, social workers, leaders, administrators or reports circulated through newspapers. Other heartrending accounts come from fictional representations which brought out the dilemmas associated with partition. Jyotirmoyee Devi’s ‘Epar Ganga, Opar Ganga’, Jamila Hashmi’s ‘Exile’, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s ‘Lajwanti’, Manto’s ‘Khol do’, ‘Thanda Gosht’, ‘Khuda ki Qasam’, and many other literary works brought out the predicament and effects of violence on both the victims and the aggressors.
It has been observed that antagonism based on religious differences before and since 1947 seem to exacerbate and not wane with time. With each incidence of new hostility between Hindus and Muslims, the ghost of the past is resurrected and traced to the communal riots of partition and beyond. While some fiction writers have written cathartically about the event, creative writing along with newspaper reports and political propaganda through pamphlets can also be seen as a means to produce and reproduce stereotypes both historically and in contemporary times.
Historian Charu Gupta (2009) has emphasized the deeper historical roots to stories and beliefs that the abduction and conversion of Hindu women is a characteristic Muslim activity. She draws from diverse sources to show how a communal narrative was constructed during the public campaigns of the Shuddhi Movement in Uttar Pradesh in the 1920s. In colonial Bengal as well, the privileges associated with majority-minority status acquired communal overtones where a prejudiced portrayal of lascivious Muslim men was publicised post the 1919 Montford Reforms, which introduced self-governing institutions. P K Datta (2010) ascertains that abduction as a phenomenon and a narrative allowed powerful binaries of antagonism and desire, permissibility and repudiation to thrive, which have left enduring legacies.
One such legacy can be seen in the hostility and jeopardy regarding consensual inter-faith marriages in India. Seven decades on from partition-era abductions, the Hindu and Muslim communities continue to be suspicious of each other and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ (war on love) forbids interfaith marriages. There is a belief that Muslim men feign love and use seduction, deception and kidnapping as a means to convince, coerce, convert and marry Hindu women. The consent or elopement of women in such cases is disregarded because it transgresses prescriptive norms. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India restored the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin Jahan which had been annulled by Kerala High court on the plea of the girl’s parents who believed that she had been influenced and forcibly converted to Islam. The couple had to undergo 15 month long legal battle to win their conjugal rights. In another state, for instance Dakshina Karnataka, the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (Hindu People’s Awakening Organisation) claimed that 30,000 young women had been duped by ‘Love Romeos’ (Rao 2011).
There is constant anxiety about development of amorous relationships particularly between men hailing from the Muslim community and women belonging to the Hindu community. Hence most of the cases are either fought in courts or end up in honour killing. Whether it was 1947 or it is 2021, the honour of the Hindu family, community and nation is inextricably linked with a woman’s body and any amatory desires towards Muslim men is considered illicit or a challenge to social norms which is neither forgiven nor forgotten.
Das Veena (2007) Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, (UCLA Berkeley)
Datta P K (2010), Heterogeneities: Identity Formations in Modern India (Tulika, Delhi)
Gupta Charu (2005), Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India (Permanent Black, Delhi)
Pritam Amrita ‘Aaj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu’ poem
Rao Mohan, (2011), ‘Love Jihad and demographic fears’ Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 18 (3), pp.425-430.
Bio:Dr Rachna Mehra is Assistant Professor in the Urban Studies Program (SGA), Dr. B. R Ambedkar University Delhi. She completed her PhD in history from JNU and her research interests include partition studies and urban history of small towns and cities. https://aud-in.academia.edu/RachnaMehra
Nancy Yadav writes about stereotypes embedded in myth and colonial history that oppress the Bonda tribal women in India.
Featured Image: Bonda women at Bhubaneswar (Odisha) Tribal Fair (author’s own)
“We have the same colour of blood as others, why are we kept behind and exploited?”
Mini (Bonda Adivasi/Tribal advocate
The right to live free from violence is one of the most fundamental human rights; the Universal Declaration of Human rights internationally recognised documents advocate these rights. In India ‘Article 21 of the Constitution of India, constitutes a basic human right, the right to life with dignity sans violence. The introduction of “Report no.230 on Atrocities and Crimes Against Women and Children” mentions that women’s “status witnessed a sharp decline with pervasive gender stereotypes in society.” The situation of tribal women remains perilous, the reports observe that in the rural, tribal areas the communities accept atrocities as a way of life in the absence of organisational assistance. As per the National Crime Records Bureau records, which are documenting crime against women from Scheduled Tribes (ST) specifically since 2015, we see 1137 cases of rape being recorded against ST women in 2020 as against 885 intent to outrage the modesty of ST women. The situation of Bonda women is no different.
Odisha’s “Remo” Bonda tribe is one of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) among 13 PVTGs in Odisha and 75 PVTGs in India. The PVTGs categorisation, which was supposed to provide special rights, itself creates a divide discriminating the tribal women based on their ethnicity, gender and class in the larger Indian society.
Mini’s experience of hostility is one such example which indicates the systemic violence faced by tribal women in Odisha. Mini is a Bonda woman from Malkangiri district Odisha (whom the researcher met and conversed with during her fieldwork), every year she puts up her stall, selling agricultural produce at Adivasi Mela Ground (annual tribal fair) at Bhubaneshwar.
When asked about her community, Mini says that she does not like the attitude of people from the plains; her community is often perceived as “violent” and women are seen as photographic objects because of the customary attire. “Only for mere 10 rupees tourists take pictures and advertise our community women as ‘exotic’ Indians and “naked” Indian tribes”. As someone actively engaging in social work in her region, Mini is determined to shatter the stereotyped identity of her community and challenge the idea that by “giving alms to the tribals they (the non-tribals) cannot exploit and restrict them from developing.”
Mini’s reaction is against a long-standing historical violence and injustice done to the Bonda community. The narratives and knowledge formation of the community have its roots in colonial ethnography which stereotyped the community as “primitive” and “savage.” The “strange dress” and appearance of Bonda women, violent and homicidal ways of men, and inaccessibility of their villages, in the colonial narratives remained the primary information, recognising the Bonda tribe as “classical savage type.”
Historically, Bonda women keep their head shaved, covering it with a fillet of palmyra, olive shells or scarlet seeds. They cover their upper body with brass collars of different patterns of brass chains and beadwork necklaces of different colours. Their lower body is covered with a small ‘ringa’ skirt tied by a waistband attached in front. Though Bonda women cover themselves with a lot of ornaments and necklaces, their semi-naked appearance to others is determined to form the identity of the community as “naked tribe.”
In the Bonda community, all significant roles of gender-based identities are attached to myth and rituals, and the customary attire is part of myth which constrains Bonda women from wearing any other cloth except” ringa” (loin cloth). Gregory Staley (2008) in his essay published in the anthology Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought, articulates that investigating myth is a constructive feminist exercise.
Myth becomes a tool through which women can escape the world which men have constructed for them through myth, can attack it, can begin their voyage of discovery’
Gregory Staley (2008:219)
Revisiting the Bonda myth explains the origins of the prohibition of clothing among the Bonda community.
The shaven heads and half-clad bodies are the result of a curse given by goddess Sita, as a penalty for laughing at the bathing goddess. It is necessary to note that the goddess Sita is a Hindu goddess, and the curse version is most widespread among ‘outsiders’–the non Bondas, most likely the non-tribals. The second myth explains that the scrap of cloth is given as a gift by Mahaprabhu (Bonda deity). There is no offence and no curse, the skirt is a gift of Mahaprabhu’s mercy, as an advance on complete nudity. In the third myth, a Bonda woman who has removed her clothes to husk grain on a warm day, jumps below the earth to avoid being seen in the nude by her brother; he catches her by the hair, and it comes in his hand. The woman thus stayed hairless and with only a tiny rug she was holding to wipe off her sweat.
These curse myths are the most narrated myths explaining Bonda women’s attire. The significant issue with the myth is that it propagates the stereotyped identity of the Bonda community as “naked,’ and ‘uncivilised”.
Over time, wearing sarees (as many women in some parts of Eastern and Southern India do) and shedding the traditional clothing and nudity led to the Bonda women being outcast from within the community. On the other hand, appearing in customary clothing in weekly Onukadelli markets, Bonda women are objectified through a sexual gaze and ‘voyeuristic tribal tourism’ and “human safaris.”
In sum, the myth and recorded history of the Bonda community intersect with violence against Bonda women making them stereotyped and reduced to bodily descriptions. But Bonda women like Mini brings a ray of hope, interrogating negative stereotypes that they are born into and repositioning their identity.
Nancy Yadav is PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Human Studies at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.
Welcome to the 16 Days Blogathon 2021. From November 25 – December 10 we will be posting voices, stories and insights to raise awareness of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based violence.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which runs from 25 November to 10 December, Human Rights Day. Welcome to Day One of our annual blogathon bringing together voices from academia, activism, art and media to raise awareness of this ongoing struggle. The blogathon marks a continuing collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University, Delhi, and the University of New South Wales.
This year our theme is Histories, Legacies, Mythsand Memories. It is 30 years since the 16 Days of Activism campaign was first launched by the-now Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University in the States, and more than 50 years since feminists of the so-called Second Wave women’s movement began mobilising to expose, confront, and campaign for the elimination of violence against women. We reflect upon these contemporary histories and lessons, including reflections from Australia and the UK. But we also take the longer view with posts exploring manifestations of gender-based violence – sometimes hiding in plain sight – through the centuries. Listening as past voices surface — from the archive, or through myth, traditional songs and stories, or via truth-telling criminal and media investigation — highlights striking continuities of lived experience and feeling, of societal and cultural stigma, and of strategies of resistance.
There has sometimes been a reluctance by scholars and curators to fully acknowledge the historical traces of gender-based violence, whilst others struggle with the ethical dilemmas and emotional costs of recovering these marginalised stories of trauma, injustice and agency.
Over the next 16 Days we will travel from Australia to India, Scotland to the Caribbean, and Mexico to England. Our contributors take us from Ancient Rome to a squat in 1970s Sydney; from Scotland in the 1500s to the partition violence of 1940s India. We meet women seeking justice through medieval courts and modern true crime podcasts; we hear stories of abuse and survival from epic myths and traditional songs from India and Europe; we share the dilemmas of educators and curators; we learn about the struggles of marginalised and racialised women for justice and support both within their own communities and wider societies; and we reflect on lessons to be learned from both contemporary and ancient histories.
Ultimately, a focus on histories, legacies, myths and memories gives us a very important tool. It helps us to identify more lucidly what is unique and distinct about the moment and location we inhabit. It reinforces our understanding of the ubiquity of gender-based violence as well as the ways that the modes and experiences of gender-based violence are shaped by intersecting structures and identities of difference and inequality.
It helps us to understand where we have come from, and the continuing resonances of the past over the long haul of time. And it helps us to imagine where we want to go.
We launch our 2021 Blogathon with a powerful contribution by award-winning Scots singer and composer Karine Polwart who surfaces stories of sexual and gender-based violence in traditional music and oral traditions and their contemporary relevance.
Content note: posts inevitably address distressing experiences and issues around sexual and gender-based violence. We hope they also provoke, energise and sometimes uplift.
The 2021 curators:
University of Edinburgh: Prof. Fiona Mackay (Director) and Aerin Lai (PhD web and editorial assistant) for genderED; Dr. Zubin Mistry (Lead), Prof. Louise Jackson, Prof. Diana Paton, Dr Hatice Yildiz, for the Histories of Gender and Sexualities Research Group.
Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi: Prof. Rukmini Sen (Director, Centre for Publishing), Dr Rachna Mehra (School of Global Affairs).
University of New South Wales: Prof. Jan Breckenridge (Co-Convenor), Mailin Suchting (Manager) and Georgia Lyons (Research Assistant) for the Gendered Violence Research Network.
It’s a wrap! We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon! It’s December 10th, Human Rights Day and the final day of the global 16 Days of Activism 2020
The 16 Days Blogathon Team
Today is International Human Rights Day and the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence for 2020. We have been sharing daily blog posts to raise awareness in our annual 16 Days Blogathon as part of our commitment to the ongoing struggle to put an end to gender-based violence around the world, once and for all.
How often have you heard the phrase ‘Due to #COVID19…’ this year? In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large – exposing and exacerbating deep and intractable social, political and economic inequalities and vulnerabilities to gender-based and intersectional violence for women and members of marginalised groups. Lockdowns and restrictions on movement have thrown the spotlight on the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence and underlined the grim reality of “home” for many women and LGBTQ people.
This year, our main theme has been arts-based and creative responses to gender-based violence and we’ve been honoured to share the blogathon with a wonderful array of artists, writers, musicians, playwrights and performers. They join activists, academics, students, and survivors – noting that the boundaries between all these categories blur.
We’ve posted stories, reflections and performances from around the world. From Scotland to Brazil, from Australia to Nigeria, and from South Africa to India. Through images, video and text we have shared ideas, experiences and acts of remembrance and resistance that have been sometimes harrowing and challenging but always illuminating and, ultimately, hopeful.
On Day Eight, we explored art installations that play a role in transitional justice efforts. The Blue Dress in South Africa and Thinking of You in Kosovo (and travelling) provide alternative ways to remember and address women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations.
Gender-based violence still exists everywhere and in multiple forms
Gender-based violence and abuse is still happening across the world, in private homes, workplaces, and in public spaces. And it is comes in many different forms, a number of which we have covered in the last 16 days including domestic violence , psychological abuse, femicide, and mass conflict related sexual violence . The Covid-19 pandemic has forced much of our lives online, and has exposed the rise and variety of gender-based and intersectional violence and abuse online.
On Day Four of the 16 Days Blogathon, the UK Femicide Census released its ground-breaking report analyising ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gave an in-depth look at the findings of the report and what it outlines for the future.
On Day Eleven, Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC – who fights contemporary miscarriages of justice in her day job – together with author Zoe Venditozzi shared their campaign The Witches of Scotland. Claire and Zoe hope their campaign will highlight historic miscarriages of justice and the persecution and murder of women during the witch hunts of the 16th-18th centuries in Scotland. The campaign also hopes to expose the accusations of witchcraft that continue to be used to persecute women and girls in other parts of the world.
Speaking out and speaking up has always carried risks for women, whether in the real or the virtual worlds. On Day Fifteen, Margie Orford traced how old and how deadly this taboo is on women’s free speech and their safety. The International PEN Women’s Manifesto takes stand against the vilification and censorship of women activists, artists, writers and journalists – and provides a powerful tool to fight for women’s right to free speech and creative expression.
Focussing on online abuse: on Day Two, we read a personal account from interdisciplinary artist and activist Megan Bellatrix Archibald who attracted persistent online misogynistic threats after going public with a campaign, and quickly realised there is much progress to be made surrounding technology and the law. The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism post on Day Three provides inspiration in terms of sharing and resisting online abuse. Through a digital installation, Isha Yadav is bringing the experience of digital harassment, usually suffered by women as individuals in private, into the public space in an act of collective reckoning.On Day Fourteen, Zelda Solomon outlined more subtle violence and the difficulties we face in fighting bias when it is encoded into algorithms; where “women of colour are often found in the intersections of oppression in the new digital world.”
Creative acts of resistance are happening everyday
Small and large acts of defiance continue to take place across the world. On Day One Jo Clifford wrote about her transgressive and transformative play Jesus, Queen of Heaven which continues to change lives in the face of transphobic hate and violence from Scotland to Brazil. Delhi is one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but also a site of creative resistance: on Day Nine, Meenakshi Nair shared three stories of young women speaking out against gender-based violence and harassment through challenging impunity, spoken word videos and public dance performances. In Australia, two academics turned their park orange, in support of the 16 Days campaign, creating a safer public space for residents and paving the way for future social change campaigns. And the Zero Tolerance Unseen Violence Campaign projected powerful images on public buildings in Scotland. Meanwhile a group at UNSW School of Public Health are campaigning to establish of a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, the first of its kind in Australia. In South Africa – where criminalisation of sex workers increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence, a small advocacy group literally ‘played politics’ – intervening in the presidential elections to put the rights of sex workers on the agenda (Day Fifteen).
The voices of survivors have been central to the blogathon and their stories of courage and creative agency have been inspiring: from the Scottish young survivors (Day Six) to Australian Musician Jack Colwell’s haunting new work aired on Day Five which addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse from the vantage point of a young man. In conversation with award-winning photographer Alicia Bruce, the Scotland-Gambia anti-FGM campaigner Fatou Badeh talks about the image they co-created: “That year was one of the most difficult years in my life. But that picture for me shows; I see a defiant woman who refuses to give up, who refuses to be defined by her experience.” (Day 10) And as Fatima Ishiaku, author and founder of a shelter for sexually-abused girls, describes her act of memoire: “My pain became my beautiful testimony.” (Day Ten).
The blog posts in a nut shell
Every #16daysblogathon post is summarised below. While there is a long way to go before gender-based violence becomes an abuse of the past, there are many powerful and effective initiatives underway designed to protect, empower and centre the survivors of gender-based violence. This gives us reason to hope.
By Jo Clifford, Scottish playwright, performer and activist
In Brazil – a country that kills more trans women than anywhere else – performing trans art as resistance can be a matter of life and death. Jo Clifford, acclaimed author of plays and internationally known trans performer and activist, shares the story of actress Renato Carvalho’s experience performing in Brazil.
By Megan Bellatrix Archibald, interdisciplinary artist and Masters student at Edinburgh College of Art
Megan gives a powerful personal account of being threatened online after speaking out about the laws on hysterectomies in the UK, and being faced with an unhelpful police force when she sought help. She discusses the lag in progress between technology and the law in Scotland, and the difficulties faced by someone who experiences online abuse.
By Isha Yadav, Founder and Curator of Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism and PhD candidate in Women and Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi
Isha Yadav introduces her curated art installation, The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism, and her experience creating it with crowd-sourced screenshots of rape threats and sexist comments that women have received online for raising their voices for social justice. The installation brings the digital artifact (screenshot) into the physical space of the exhibition, making something normally experienced privately, public.
By Rukmini Sen, Professor of Sociology, Ambedkar University Delhi
What does the home mean to us? Rukmini focuses on India in her post, and while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, she looks into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. In her writing she covers increased gender-based household work, access to technology, space, privacy, domestic violence, the implications for migrant workers and students.
By Natasha Chandhock, graduate student at the School of Design, Ambedkar University, Delhi
Natasha explores the ways in which dialogue-based design, or discursive design, can create safe spaces for Trans Binary and Trans Non-Binary identities – a need which has been significantly worsened in the Covid-19 pandemic. She suggests design has the capacity to produce triggers or nudges to make individuals reflect or realign their thinking, that journey mapping exercises could encourage empathetic ways of engaging with others, and design can be key in bringing the concept of non-binary into the everyday life.
By Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census
This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gives an in-depth discussion of the report’s findings.
By Jack Colwell, Australian singer/composer and activist
Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse. It is ‘a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.’ In his moving piece, Jack shares his experience of domestic abuse while growing up, and how he used music to work through childhood trauma.
By Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton, University of Edinburgh.
This piece shares a range of innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors, including websites, films, training videos and resources for professionals.
By Shwetha Gopalakrishnan, National Law University Delhi
Shwetha, a member of the Zanana Ensemble, tells the story of the Ensemble’s performance of ‘Zanana ka Zamana’ (The Era is Feminine), a collective act of resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act in India through expressions of solidarity using songs, poetry and conversations.
ByMaria Adela Diaz, Guatemalan native and international performance artist
Performance Artist Maria Adela Diaz discusses her performance piece tackling psychological abuse of women during Covid-19. She gives an insight into what prompted her to create, and how she hopes the work will inspire women who may be trapped in an abusive situation to speak up.
By Maria Alina Asavei, Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University Prague.
Maria’s piece focuses on women survivors of violence from war and conflict, centring artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s Kosova installation, Thinking of You. She asks how the experiences of women affected by sexual violence from war can be highlighted through art, without further reproducing and perpetuating trauma.
By Meenakshi Nair, a student at SOAS, University of London
Delhi as one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but it is also a site of creative resistance. In this piece, Meenakshi explores three acts of resistance by young women in Dehli against gender-based violence, including by filing police complaints, through spoken word videos, and performing in public spaces.
This post shares a conversation between photographer Alice Bruce and Fatou Baldeh, an FGM campaigner providing space spaces for survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Alicia photographed Fatou as part of the Zero Tolerance ‘Violence Unseen’ campaign launched in 2018. They reflect on the image they created together.
By Claire Mitchell QC , Scottish lawyer and author Zoe Venditozzi
The Witches of Scotland Campaign, set up in 2020 by Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC, seeks pardons, memorials and apologies for the women who died in witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th century. It is hoped that this campaign can shed also light on allegations of witchcraft and gender-based persecution that still occur in communities around the world.
By Patricia Cullen, Research Fellow, National Health and Medical Research Council Population Health, UNSW, and Sally Stevenson, General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.
While domestic and family violence is prevalent across Australia with a murder rate of one woman per week, there remains an absence of centres that offer support to women survivors over the long term. This post focuses on the campaign to establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, by the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and their partners.
By Zelda Solomon, History of Art student at Edinburgh College of Art
Zelda Solomon discusses the problems of digital discrimination and the racist underpinnings of algorithms, through the incident with An Nguyen, a Vietnamese curator due to exhibit at the Affordable Arts Fair, only to be rejected because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associations with ‘Asianness’.
By Ishtar Lakhani, feminist and activist, South Africa
On day fifteen, this piece from Ishtar Lakhani outlines how she, and SWEAT, an advocate group for the health & human rights of sex workers and the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa, used politics to bring sex worker issues to the public stage, by running for president.
Silencing and censoring women’s free expression date back to ancient times. In this piece, Margie examines the impact of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto in the struggle for women to speak and write freely without censorship or violence.
The Hummingsong Choirs in New South Wales build “community”, bringing together women of all backgrounds and stages in life to sing, laugh, nourish their souls and build close-knit connections. The other important purpose is to extend support to those most vulnerable in the community, women and children escaping domestic violence.
It’s a wrap!
That’s the end of the blogathon to honour the 16 Days of Activism campaign for another year – but the struggle for women’s human rights and the end to all gender-based violence continues. Thanks to our wonderful contributors and to all of you who have read and shared these stories. Please keep reading and sharing, and we will be back in 2021!
The 16 Days Blogathon team:
Fiona Mackay, co-curator, Director of genderED, University of Edinburgh
Louise Chappell, co-curator, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales
Rukmini Sen, co-curator, Director of the Centre for Publishing, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi
The Witches of Scotland Campaign was set up in 2020 to highlight the terrible miscarriage of justice that was suffered by people, mostly women, between the 16th and 18th century that were accused convicted and executed as witches in Scotland. It seeks to obtain a pardon, an apology and a public memorial to commemorate all those in Scotland who were convicted or accused as witches.
Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC set up the campaign. She is an advocate who specialises in appeals against miscarriages of justices. She knew that there had never been any attempt to address the wrongful convictions of women as witches. As a result she decided to campaign for a pardon for these women, to highlight the wrongs done to them and to make clear that an allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution was wrong then and is wrong now. She believes these women and men deserve justice.
Much of the record keeping, especially in the earlier centuries, was very poor but from what is available it is thought that the people who were accused of witchcraft 84% were women.
The “satanic panic” that spread through Europe in at this time used the allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution against women. Academics believe that the in Scotland approximately 5 times as many as the European average number of executions took place and it is estimated that of approximately 4000 allegations of witchcraft, 2500 people were executed as witches.
The Witchcraft Act 1563 came into force in Scotland when Mary, Queen of Scots was still alive, but it was her son, James VI of Scotland (and later James the first of England) who legitimised the idea that witches lived amongst us. So obsessed was he with the idea that witches and demons were real and that they preyed on men and women that in 1599 he wrote the book “Daemonologie” which was a study of magic, sorcery and witchcraft. The ruling classes, the church and the common people all believed that the devil walked amongst us and corrupted those who were not godly enough. The reason why women were more likely to be witches than men is because that it was thought that women were “weaker” and more likely to succumb to the devil’s charms. It seems that the view that women were more likely to be witches than men was a universal one.
Unfortunately, it took very little and sometimes nothing at all to be accused of being a witch.
Allegations could be made up, or a woman could fall out with a neighbour and if the neighbour or her family or animals became unwell the suspicion would fall apon the woman as having cursed her enemy. After an allegation was made the woman would be interrogated. In Scotland the preferred method of getting confessions was to keep the woman awake and use sleep deprivation until she “confessed.”
Unfortunately, many so-called confessions were obtained this way. It was not enough, however, to confess to being a witch – what was also required was that you gave up the names of the women who were part of the witches group too. This meant that if you knew someone who was accused as a witch you would fear being called a witch too. If you confessed then under the Witchcraft Act 1563 the punishment was execution. This was done by first strangling the women and then burning her body to get rid of any trace of her, so the devil did not bring her back to get revenge.
In some countries, they have apologised, pardoned and build memorials for those wrongly accused and convicted of witchcraft. Those that were convicted in the most famous witch trials, those held in Salem, Massachusetts, in the USA were all pardoned and there is a public memorial in the form of a garden where each of the 19 killed (15 women and 4 men) are remembered with their own bench-seat. In Norway there is a memorial in Finnmark to those women killed in one of the biggest witch trials in Scandinavia.
Unfortunately, gender-based violence is not a thing of the past, and women are still wrongly being accused of witchcraft in some parts of the world (See Mayur Suresh’s blogpost from last year on Witch-hunting in East India). Women and children continue to suffer harm through witchcraft allegations. It is hoped that in carrying out this campaign it also sheds light on the use of allegations of witchcraft as a tool of persecution in the modern day against women and children.
Author Zoe Venditozzi and Claire Mitchell QC host a weekly podcast which can be found on the www.witchesofscotland.com website where the allegations of witchcraft and the reasons behind the allegations are discussed as well as updates on the campaign.