Issue 29: Our Rights, Our Stories (5/13/2008)

From the walkout of 100 South Asian migrant workers in Mississippi to the perseverance of arbitrarily detained human rights advocates in India, South Asians across the globe are organizing around human rights and challenging state oppression in interesting ways. This issue of SAMAR focuses on human rights abuses, absences in state accountability, and creative responses for social change, particularly in using storytelling as a way to counter systemic issues.

Svati Shah's piece on the shipyard worker walkout in Mississippi illustrates how the state has turned a blind eye to protecting migrant workers against exploitative working conditions and the need to reform flawed anti-trafficking policies. The unjust imprisonment of Dr. Binayak Sen and other Indian activists who challenge the state have made holding government officials accountable increasingly more difficult and dangerous. At the same time, his imprisonment is being countered by a worldwide series of vigils, protests and free health clinics this week. Rahela's Story demonstrates that in Bangladesh, despite laws specifically targeting perpetrators of violence against women, the lack of implementation of these laws renders them powerless.

In a recent set of monologues performed in New York City, Sukh aur Dukh ki Kahani, South Asian domestic workers are challenging their portrayal as victims and retelling personal journeys and struggles in their own words. Through theatre, these women are connecting with audiences in new and innovative ways. Sky Kishore and Alicia Virani attended Satrang writing workshop for members of the LGBTIQQ community to counter silences because expressing ones gender identity or sexual orientation can be dangerous. Participants from the workshop performed their pieces this past weekend in Los Angeles. Sharmila Mukherjee's fiction excerpt, Tale of an Indian Lesbian, grapples with her protagonist Charu's struggle to come to terms with her sexuality against conflicting social norms in New Delhi. She gave in to dominant norms until she realized she couldn't not be true to herself.

This issue of SAMAR comes a few weeks after International Women's day, on the heels of the May 1 rallies for the rights of immigrants and workers, and a month before Pride events kick off. The struggles continue but whether expanding or enforcing current law, using protest and people to highlight unjust actions, or using storytelling as a way to expose or humanize experience, we feel we're seeing new and innovative strategies and strengthening of the familiar ones to continue our work for equity and justice.

From the walkout of 100 South Asian migrant workers in Mississippi to the perseverance of arbitrarily detained human rights advocates in India, South Asians across the globe are organizing around human rights and challenging state oppression in interesting ways. This issue of SAMAR focuses on human rights abuses, absences in state accountability, and creative responses for social change, particularly in using storytelling as a way to counter systemic issues.

Svati Shah's piece on the shipyard worker walkout in Mississippi illustrates how the state has turned a blind eye to protecting migrant workers against exploitative working conditions and the need to reform flawed anti-trafficking policies. The unjust imprisonment of Dr. Binayak Sen and other Indian activists who challenge the state have made holding government officials accountable increasingly more difficult and dangerous. At the same time, his imprisonment is being countered by a worldwide series of vigils, protests and free health clinics this week. Rahela's Story demonstrates that in Bangladesh, despite laws specifically targeting perpetrators of violence against women, the lack of implementation of these laws renders them powerless.

In a recent set of monologues performed in New York City, Sukh aur Dukh ki Kahani, South Asian domestic workers are challenging their portrayal as victims and retelling personal journeys and struggles in their own words. Through theatre, these women are connecting with audiences in new and innovative ways. Sky Kishore and Alicia Virani attended Satrang writing workshop for members of the LGBTIQQ community to counter silences because expressing ones gender identity or sexual orientation can be dangerous. Participants from the workshop performed their pieces this past weekend in Los Angeles. Sharmila Mukherjee's fiction excerpt, Tale of an Indian Lesbian, grapples with her protagonist Charu's struggle to come to terms with her sexuality against conflicting social norms in New Delhi. She gave in to dominant norms until she realized she couldn't not be true to herself.

This issue of SAMAR comes a few weeks after International Women's day, on the heels of the May 1 rallies for the rights of immigrants and workers, and a month before Pride events kick off. The struggles continue but whether expanding or enforcing current law, using protest and people to highlight unjust actions, or using storytelling as a way to expose or humanize experience, we feel we're seeing new and innovative strategies and strengthening of the familiar ones to continue our work for equity and justice.

Articles in this Issue

South Asian migrant shipyard workers who were promised Green Cards protest against miserable working and living conditions in Mississippi. The case challenges policies towards and perceptions of victims of human trafficking.

Svati Shah

Rahela was raped, mugged, and set on fire. She named her assailants before dying but four years later, the four men walk free. What is the point of the Violence Against Women and Children Act, if they aren't enforced?

Nadine Murshid

There is an alarming trend in India of arresting and detaining without bail human rights activists that challenge state authority. The unjust imprisonment of Dr Binayak Sen is the latest example.

S.P. Arun

"Satrang hosted a series of writing workshops for members of the LGBTIQQ South Asian community to excavate and craft their personal stories. Sky Kishore's "Shatterproof" and Alicia Virani's "Founder's Day" were presented, along with the other participants from the workshop, this month in Southern California."

Andolan members creatively organize around the exploitation of South Asian low-wage women workers through theatre. Through five poignant monologues, Sukh aur Dukh ki Kahani transforms the portrayal of domestic workers as passive victims into agents of change through storytelling.

Linta Varghese

While the single unmarried daughters in the city's posh enclaves fall into dreams of securing rings from America-branded MBA sons of high status families, Charu lies tossing and turning under satin sheets fantasizing about hibernating in the folds of the supple sari clad bodies of women.

Sharmila Mukherjee