Coordinator’s Report for the South Asian Women’s Network on Arts
The countries of South Asia share a unique geographical and cultural
space. There are many religions, many languages, many ethnicities,
but essentially one civilization and culture. The commonalities
in the cultural identity of the people of South Asia bind them together.
This includes shared traditions in the arts, including music, dance
and theatre, in literature, in crafts and textiles, in environmental
practices, in traditional medicine and much, much, more. The finest
aspect of South Asia’s shared identity is the plurality, the syncretism
that forms the core of this identity. The people of South Asia celebrate
their diversity but rejoice in this, the essence of their unity
The South Asian Women’s Network on Arts and Literature determined
that the strengthening of these common cultural bonds is of critical
importance not only in preserving South Asia’s cultural traditions
and passing them on to future generations, but equally in ensuring
a stable, peaceful and prosperous South Asia. These cultural traditions
taken together represent a set of values , a way of life, a system
Without these cultural roots, younger generations are losing their
moorings, their value systems, their livelihood, and their unique
South Asian identity. The onslaught of globalization is further
destroying indigenous cultures and traditions. Modernisation and
the benefits of science and technology can and should be brought
in without weakening these deep roots of society in South Asia that
have been nurtured through millennia.
The forces of extremism and fundamentalism are targeting these
cultural and value systems in their efforts to make inroads into
the societies of South Asia and destroy the internal and regional
cohesion and inner strength of these societies. This is particularly
evident in the rural areas, where over 65% of the women of South
Women in South Asia have played a singularly important role as
repositories and conveyors of the most important artistic and literary
traditions of South Asia. Most artistic, literary and crafts traditions
in South Asia are the gift of rural South Asia. They were created
and perfected in rural South Asia. The women who nurtured these
traditions may have been and still are illiterate and poor, yet
they have, for millennia, kept families and societies moored together
by sustaining and passing on to younger generations the oral traditions
of rural South Asia. This has always been an important source of
empowerment for the women of South Asia, even though they themselves
may be unaware of this. The women embroiderers who sing folk songs
as they work, reciting wondrous tales of courage, kingship and heroism
are not necessarily conscious of the moral and social values their
songs instill among listeners.
Plurality and pluralistic traditions lie at the core of these rural
traditions. Indigenous performing arts, theatre, literature and
crafts promote plurality and strengthen the syncretic culture that
has been the hallmark of South Asia. Here, too, women have played
a crucial role as evidenced by the traditions of Lal Ded, Meera
Bai and many others.
The continued onslaught of poverty in rural South Asia, the resultant
forced migration of millions from rural to urban slums, has severely
imperiled the survival of many of the artistic, literary and crafts
traditions of South Asia. When histories and traditions are not
assimilated into contemporary life-styles, the very foundations
of society become shaky. Instead of celebrating each others’ joys
and festivals, sharing each other’s sorrows, groups within society
become increasingly isolated. These are the spaces where fundamentalist
ideologies can and do get lodged. These are the spaces where social
violence, exploitation of women and children, and destructive exploitation
of the environment set down firm roots.
To combat these ills, the countries of South Asia should reinvest
to revive the rural traditions of the arts. Each tradition that
is lost disempowers the women that formed the backbone for its survival.
Reviving the traditional arts is, therefore, a critically important
part of the process of empowering the women of South Asia. To be
effective and self-sustaining, this process of revival and empowerment
should be holistic, comprising cultural, social and economic empowerment.
The South Asian Women’s Network on Arts and Literature adopted
the following programme and projects for their activities in the
coming months. They agreed to conduct these activities under the
rubric of ‘Bawan Buti’. Bawan Buti or ‘Fifty-two Motifs’ refers
to the efforts currently underway to revive and recreate the lost
tradition of weaving the khadi sari that was known as Bawan Buti.
Women have traditionally played a significant role in creating this
khadi sari, particularly in spinning khadi yarn. The Bawan Buti
sari has fifty-two different motifs along its traditional length
of six yards. In many ways this symbolizes the syncretic mosaic
of South Asia, where all nations share the same geographical canvas
and therefore must be at peace with one another. Each ‘buti’ or
motif is unique yet remains an inherent part of the larger canvas.
The Bawan Buti Programmes and Projects are:
I. The South Asian Women’s Network on Arts and Literature has been
established. Regular meetings should be held, on an average of once
a year. In the interim this Network will function through exchanges
over email. The Coordinator will explore the feasibility of using
Solution Exchange or any similar facility to ensure the smooth functioning
of the Network.
II. Women’s Voices in the Sufi, Bhakti and other Pluralistic Traditions
of South Asia. This project will include :
(a)Seminar on this theme with South Asian and other international
(b)Performances, poetry readings and workshops of theatre, music
and dance reflecting the sufi, bhakti and other pluralistic traditions
of South Asia. These are envisaged as traveling events that will
visit universities and colleges, particularly in the non-metro areas
of South Asia. Lal Ded, the play conceptualized and enacted by Meeta
Vasisht(India), was agreed upon as one such performance.
(c)Leading artistic and creative theatre personalities of South
Asia, particularly women, including directors, musicians, playwrights,
actors and technical experts will come together to create an artistic
production on this theme. This can be done through meetings of this
group hosted in different South Asian counties over the next year
to 18 months.
III. Women’s Testimonies in South Asia. This project will focus
on compilation and translations of South Asian women’s writings/statements/poetry/plays.
The translations will be into English and into the languages of
each South Asian country. Three volumes are envisaged, covering
the areas of :
(a)South Asian Women in History and Politics,
(b)South Asian Women in Literature,
(c)South Asian Women in Philosophy.
In addition, members are requested to encourage publication in their
respective South Asian country of the literary works authored by
women from other South Asian countries. This can be done through
publication in academic journals, popular magazines and newspapers.
This would greatly help in sharing the angst and highlighting the
common concerns of women throughout South Asia.
Jamia Millia Islamia (India) has, through its journal Third Frame
(published by the Academy of Third World Studies in collaboration
with Cambridge University Press) offered a special focus on women’s
literature of South Asia.
IV. Empowering Women Through Sustaining and Reviving Rural Traditions
in Performing Arts, Recitation and Crafts. This project will involve
several stages. First, identifying in each South Asian country the
traditions that are most imperiled. Second, locating surviving practitioners
who could then become teachers for the women and others from the
area native to that particular tradition. Third, spreading this
process of teaching beyond the native area. Residency programmes
could be started in relevant institutions in each South Asian country
to strengthen the process of revival and rehabilitation of these
traditions. Members are requested to send in details about imperiled
traditions in each South Asian country where women have traditionally
played a major role.
V. Documentation Project linked to IV above. This is a technical
and specialized task. Nonetheless it is an essential part of the
process of sustaining, reviving and rehabilitating the artistic
traditions of South Asia.
VI. The Arts for Rehabilitation of Marginalized Women. The poverty
of rural areas and urban slums in South Asia breeds violence, abuse,
exploitation and trafficking of women and children. Many women and
minor girls, victims of such crimes, if they are lucky enough to
be rescued, eventually find themselves in remand homes and rehabilitation
centres run either by the government or by NGOs. Far too often,
these homes and centres become spaces for another kind of hopelessness
and suppression. The challenge is to rehabilitate these women and
minor girls by restoring their self-esteem and self-confidence,
by empowering them holistically so that they can re-integrate into
society. Some non-profit organisations have successfully created
a programme called TAM (Theatre Arts Module) under which traditional
performing arts, theatre and crafts traditions are taught at these
homes and centres as a means of empowering these women and minor
girls. In addition, there are programmes for imparting communication
and social skills, including teaching of English. Both these projects
(TAM and the Programme for Imparting Communication and Social Skills)
can be popularized through Training the Trainers projects in each
South Asian country, so as to facilitate the use of the arts for
rehabilitation of marginalized women.
Participants in the South Asian Women’s Network on Arts and Literature
1. Coordinator : Professor Veena Sikri, Ford Foundation endowed
Chair, Bangladesh Studies Programme, Academy of Third World Studies,
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi-110025, INDIA
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
2. Ms Lubna Marium, House 69, Road 5 DOHS (Old), Dhaka 1206, BANGLADESH.
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +88-0171-304-0814
3. Ms Nasrine Karim, BANGLADESH.
E-mail : email@example.com
Mobile : +88-01711-523131
4. Ms Madeeha Gauhar, Ajoka Theatre, Lahore, PAKISTAN.
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +92-300-484-2285
5. Ms Dinithi Karunanayake, Deptt. of English, University of Colombo,
Colombo, SRI LANKA .
E-mail : email@example.com
6. Ms Ja Nan Lahtaw, Assistant Director (Programme and International
Relations), Shalom (Nyein) Foundation, 457/B Pyay Road, Kamayut
Township, Yangon, MYANMAR
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +95-9-2400-208
7. Ms Shahbano Aliani, Senior Strategy Manager and Gender Specialist,
Thardeep Rural Development Programme(TRDP), Karachi, PAKISTAN
8. Ms Savita Singh, Director, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti,
5 Tees January Marg, New Delhi 110003, INDIA
E-mail : email@example.com
Mobile : +91-98104-22055
9. Prof Anuradha Kapur, Director, National School of Drama, New
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +91-11-2338-7137
10. Ms Meeta Vasisht, B-201 Sangeeta Apartments, Panch Marg, Andheri
(W), Mumbai-61, INDIA.
E-mail : email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +91-98200-93050
11. Professor Anisur Rahman, Deptt of English, Jamia Millia Islamia,
New Delhi-110025, INDIA
E-mail : email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
12. Professor Ameena Ansari, Deptt of English, Jamia Millia Islamia,
New Delhi-110025, INDIA
E-mail : email@example.com
13. Ms Rakhshanda Jalil, Director, Media and Culture; Hony Director,
Outreach Programme, and Co-Editor, Third Frame, Jamia Millia Islamia
14. Ms Usha Ganguli, Rangakarmee Theatre, 200 PA Shah Road, Kolkata-45,
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : +91-98301-51114
15. Ms Sohaila Kapur, 5 Park Avenue, Maharani Bagh, New Delhi-110065,
E-mail : email@example.com
Mobile : +91-9811168586
16. Ms Sadia Dehlvi, Author of ‘Sufism : the Heart of Islam’.
C-32, Nizammuddin East, New Delhi.
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
17. Ms Amba Sanyal, New Delhi, INDIA
E-mail : email@example.com
Mobile : +91-98105-43522
18. Ms Musarrat H Khan, 502 Parswanath Platinum Towers, Sector
Tau Swarnnagri, Greater Noida, UP-201307, INDIA
Mobile : +91-98182-66162
19. Ms Nishat Zaidi, Associate Professor, Deptt of English, Jamia
Millia Islamia, New Delhi-110025, INDIA
20. Ms Tripurari Sharma, Associate Professor, National School of
Drama, 28 Munirka Vihar, New Delhi 110067, INDIA
21. Mr Ashok Sagar Bhagat, Associate Professor, National School
of Drama, 729 Sector16, Faridabad-121002, INDIA
22. Ms Averee Chaurey, Hs 1539 Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi-110019,
23. Mr Mumtaz Ahmad, M. Phil., Academy of Third World Studies,
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi-110025, INDIA