Raising Gardens of Hope and Love towards Feminist Solidarities

by Sangat: A Feminist Network

We find ourselves today caught in the currents of tumultuous time. All around us we can see the consequence of letting years of plundering Nature, systemic oppression and exploitation continue unchecked. The Covid19 pandemic has revealed and deepened the existing social and economic fault lines of our society. It is a subtle reminder from Mother Nature of the importance of living in harmony with Nature. It is a hint that this race for power and control is futile. The pandemic is an exposé of the myth that humans are the supreme race.

Even as Human Right Defenders, we are often stuck in this race for Power and in the love for Power, we often lose sight of the power of Love. This pandemic has given us the chance to look within and towards each other for hope and resilience, imagine a different world and work towards giving it life. At Sangat, for long, our motto has been “Not love for Power, Power of Love.” And, now more than ever, it has become essential to talk about love because we are being engulfed by hate, othering and violence of all kinds, including violence against mother nature.

Since 2012, Sangat has been the South Asia Secretariat of One Billion Rising (OBR). OBR, a campaign based on the principle of love, is probably the largest campaign to end violence against women (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence) in human history. In this campaign, our main message is that violence can be challenged and eliminated only by love. For us the opposite of violence is not non-violence, it is love. The campaign, which was launched on 14th Feb –Valentine’s Day— 2013, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS .

It will teach us to love and nurture, making us sensitive to the needs of plants, and hopefully of other people.

This year, around the globe, the OBR campaign, with its theme, Rising Gardens, calls upon us to work towards healing our communitiesand our world by growing gardens. This is a symbolic call to raise all kinds of Gardens, actual vegetable and other gardens, gardens inside us, gardens of friendships and love, gardens of hope. The act of growing gardens connects us to our inner self, to others around us and to nature. Gardening is an act of survival and nurturing without harming the sacred around us. This work is deeply political as it directly challenges capitalist patriarchy which has increasingly pushed us away from mother nature. This is a step away from chemical agriculture and towards organic agriculture. Cultivating a garden is a process towards freedom from greed as we share the experience and the produce with our neighbours. It deepens our interconnectedness as we connect with nature, fostering a connection not just with the plants but also the most micro being in the soil that contributes to the growth of the plants. This miraculous interconnectedness can humble us. The patience required in the task of growing plants will pull us away from our dependence on instant gratification. It will teach us to love and nurture, making us sensitive to the needs of plants, and hopefully of other people. It will bring to us new friends as we learn from those who know more than us, and teach us new things about old friends as we share our experiences and grow together. And lastly, the blossoming of flowers, the growing new leaves will teach us hope: all good things to those who wait and work.

Across the world, several communities, including feminists working on ecology, have pointed out that we cannot continue the ongoing extraction of women’s labour and earth’s produce, with no gratitude to both. This year at OBR we want to put this idea in the forefront of our campaign. We believe that the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women are deeply linked. We must honor and protect the Earth and women in order for any future life to exist. It is larger, unjust systems that make this violence acceptable and even necessary for its perpetuation. We recognize this and call to build such gardens, such communities, where women and girls can also flourish.

Sangat, as a feminist network, relies on feminist solidarities for its sustenance. Year after year through the OBR campaign we aim to create spaces where we can nurture our collective joy and solidarity. This year, we expand this solidarity beyond humans to include all sentient beings. We want to raise a few gardens of hope where radical love may flourish - radical love which is both secular and spiritual. It can be inspired by a faith or religion but it is not limited to one faith. Connecting with the self and connecting with the Universe, with all sentient beings; going beyond a purely materialist understanding of things; aspiring to be in touch with something larger than oneself, having a bigger dream for the world based on human values. With OBR 2021 campaign we hope to move a step closer to this dream.

The OBR organisers across the South Asian region are undertaking various initiatives to realise this dream. Some of the efforts are:

  1. Attempts to revive traditional seeds and document stories of women who preserve these seeds are taking place across Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka workshops are being conducted with children to instill responsibility towards nature through creating art and music and taking care of saplings.
  2. In Bangladesh artist collectives are coming together to create zero waste food art. Innovative gardens are being created in both rural and urban areas for communities to work and share and come together during the pandemic.
  3. In Nepal, kitchen garden workshops are being conducted and stories of how gardening has touched people’s lives are being put together. Innovative ideas such as plant exchange and melas (gatherings) are being planned.
  4. In India, an event is being planned to honour the women frontline workers. A poetry and literature session by dalit women writers will be organized. Currently there are 100 herbal gardens in Himachal which are being created by OBR partners. In Delhi, OBR partners are creating urban vegetable and herb gardens in their localities and offices. A film festival and series of discussions are being conducted on the theme of Rising Gardens.

Apart from these initiatives, OBR will continue to spread the message of love, focusing on ending Violence against women, capitalist patriarchy and violence against mother earth through traditional OBR fervor of cultural festivals, dance, music and films.