If My Vagina Could Speak...

If your yoni could talk, what would it say? Would it complain about the treatment it's received? Would it sing a Bollywood song? Would it laugh, or weep, or shout with joy?

The yoni (Sanskrit word for "vagina") has long been held sacred in Hindu mythology, but, through years of patriarchy and colonialism, it has rarely been allowed to speak its mind. In 2003, South Asian Sisters, a collective of progressive desi women, decided that the yoni needed a chance to get on stage and tell its side of the story. Thus, "Yoni ki Baat" was born.

"Yoni ki Baat," which translates loosely as "Talks about the Vagina," was inspired by Eve Ensler's renowned show "The Vagina Monologues." Though Ensler's piece has been performed around the world, including Pakistan and India, South Asian Sisters felt that putting on a production of the original show simply wasn't enough. We needed to create a space in which South Asian women could express their own views on sexuality and their bodies - topics which are traditionally kept "hush-hush" in desi culture. As with "The Vagina Monologues," "Yoni ki Baat" also aims to end the silencing so common around violence against women, especially in South Asian culture.

Once the call for submissions was sent out over email, the entries began pouring in. Those of us who were working on the script were amazed at both the volume and the quality of the various poems, stories, and personal narratives that flooded our inbox (wink, wink). Clearly, desi women wanted to talk about sexuality, and the YKB call for submissions had opened the floodgates. There were pieces on abuse, masturbation, orgasm, menstruation, homosexuality, heterosexuality, incest, joy, discovery, and pleasure, to name just a few. Many pieces combined a number of these themes, and one even combined poetry with dance.

The performances themselves, which were held at the UC Berkeley campus in July, 2003, were extremely powerful in that they brought together the dynamism of the pieces, the performers, and the audience. Nineteen women took turns performing before a 500-plus audience, in a show that broke the barriers our culture often unwittingly creates for us.

The excitement of both the performers and the audience was palpable, says South Asian Sister Maulie Dass. "I thought it was overwhelming. It was like we all came out of the closet at the same time - the writers, performers, and the audience. We all were standing up for the yoni, whether it was just by our presence or our serious involvement. I have never, ever been in a more supportive environment on that grand of a scale in my entire life."

South Asian Sister Anjali Verma concurs. "The best part of YKB was its mission: to voice taboo subjects. [I enjoyed] being given the opportunity to express suppressed feelings and thoughts, and [meet] the fantastic group of women who came together for this great opportunity. The vibes, the comfort level, the closeness we all felt at an emotional, intellectual, and almost spiritual level was amazing. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain - a great group of friends, and an unforgettable experience overall."

"Yoni ki Baat" was South Asian Sisters' first solo foray into the thriving Bay Area South Asian progressive scene. Started in 1999 by Maulie Dass, the group slowly gained momentum with small meetings, which then led to collaboration with other groups which share common goals, such as Trikone (the South Asian LBGTQ organization), ASATA (the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action), Narika and Maitri (groups which support victims of domestic violence in the South Asian community), and several others. SASisters gained a great deal of visibility and interest through its participation in the March 2003 South Asian Progressive Collective Conference, held in San Francisco. "Yoni ki Baat," however, was the group's most intensive endeavor, and it not only appealed to audience members of both genders, but also drew responses from women who were interested in getting involved in the group.

One of the most common responses from audience members after the show was that the performance had created within them the desire to discuss the various topics raised through YKB. In February, South Asian Sisters organized a "Yoni ki Baat Day of Dialogue," in which women got the chance to do just that. The workshops and informal discussions throughout the day not only provided the opportunity for meaningful conversation, but also highlighted the need for future "Yoni ki Baat" performances.

Women of varying ages were also touched by the performances and the viewpoints they gave voice to. When Verma showed a videotaped copy of "Yoni ki Baat" to her aunt, "she pulled me aside and almost had tears in her eyes when she said that we brought out into the open sentiments she had held onto throughout her life. That humbled me, and reinforced the fact that we need to do this again, and again, and again!"

Submissions for this year's show are currently being accepted, and new writers are welcomed to share their work, and submissions can be written anonymously. Volunteers are also welcomed to help out with the entire production process.

"'Yoni Ki Baat' is more process-driven than product driven," explains Dass, "and because of that, you get to be more comfortable with yourself and those around you."

For more information about "Yoni ki Baat," and how you can get involved, email yonikibaat@yahoo.com. For more information about South Asian Sisters, visit http://sasisters.org.

The pieces submitted to "Yoni ki Baat" reflected the diversity of the sexual experience for South Asian women. Some pieces were intensely personal, and reflected a sense of anger and anguish, while others were more celebratory and humorous. The piece below is just one example of the talent and courage that desi women across the country shared with South Asian Sisters.

"Take Back the Light," written and performed by Shailja Patel, makes a strong political statement about violence against Muslim women in Gujarat at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists.

I want to celebrate my yoni,
but the drumbeat in my body
is Gujarat. Gujarat, where Hindu
fascists raped, murdered, mutilated
thousands of Muslim women.

I always gloried
in my Hindu tradition,
that made my body
sacrament, carved
yonis as temple
doorways, named
my pussy the substrate
of creation.

But I can't block
the screams from
Ahmedabad, Baroda,
as Hindu men
rip out my sisters'
vaginas. Can't paint over
avid faces of Hindu women
as they urge
their boys to finish, finish
her off! I hear bloodlust
bay in their cunts.

I used to be smug
when Catholic and Jewish friends
moaned their tradition
of guilt: the fall
of Eve, mortal
sin, shame
of the carnal, torture
of childbirth, woman's
punishment for sex.

I waved my Hindu
saffron banners:
Khajuraho, Ajanta
and Ellora. My
religious crest
was rampant devis
squatted to birth
the world. My
creation story was
shiv-shakti, the big bang
cosmic fuck! Sex
in my Hindu tradition
was woman's reward
(in advance) for pangs
of delivery.

But saffron now
is headbands on fascists
who march to murder. Chants
to Durga and Kali beat out
rhythms of genocide. Muslim
women's yonis
are the battleground
of monstrous ideologies
that turn India
to a charnel ground, my Hinduism
to a grinning corpse.

So where does this leave
my Hindu yoni? She
sings herself beautiful
now. She grows
three lethal fangs to puncture
the necks of three demons:
fascism
fundamentalism
genocide.

She springs
7 sacred rivers
Om Gange cha Yamune chaiva
Godaveri, Saraswati,
Narmade Sindu Kaveri
to avenge every one
of her Muslim
sisters, she spews legions
of devis armed
with justice and truth.

She howls grief
to the burning skies
of Gujarat
where the carrion circle
for Nasreen, Farida
Zeenat, Aaliya, Zahra,
she is cunt
of rage and atonement, she
reclaims the holy doorways, she
will not
forget.

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