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Mirabai; the rebel princess and me.

Mirabai; the rebel princess and me.

by Marlies Dekkers
The sounds, the colours, tastes and smells; no other country inspires me like intoxicating India. But like its gods, it has many faces..

The first time I visited India, I fell in love. It was like I finally saw the world in colour! I was especially struck by the grace of the girls and women in their bright saris and the lusciousness of the many-armed goddesses. But there seemed to be two different Indias: a modern India where the top political positions are held by female power houses like Sonia Gandhi, and an India that seems to be stuck in the Dark Ages, where the vast majority of women have “no choice, voice or rights,” to quote Sushma Kapoor, South Asia deputy director for U.N. Women.

At the time, I was told a story of a sixteenth century poet-princess who was a feminist avant la lettre. Her name was Mirabai. Married to a rich prince against her will, she didn’t worship the gods of her husband’s family, she refused to commit suicide after her husband died and she remained childless for the rest of her life. Instead, she became an artistic nomad, traveling from temple to temple, possessing nothing but a saffron sari. The sacred songs she wrote –well over 1300- were incredibly sensual and are still sung today.

You understand I had to dedicate a collection to this rebel princess! And I believe the timing couldn’t be more right. As India’s global influence and affluence are growing, increasing numbers of women are becoming financially independent and are beginning to assert their own choices. Men who feel threatened by these newly emancipated women have been reacting in outbursts of sexual violence. At the moment in India, one rape is reported every 16 minutes. It’s a problem with very deep roots, linked to other forms of violence against women such as domestic abuse, female infanticide and forced prostitution.

A new movement of fed up women believes that tougher laws can only partly solve the problem; patriarchal views need to be challenged. And they are using their female energy to do just that. A great example is a comic book that was recently launched with a female rape survivor as its super hero. ‘Priya’s Shakti’ (more about this inspiring project in my next blogpost) tells the story of gang-rape survivor Priya and Goddess Parvati as they fight against gender crimes in India. The message to rapists and violators? Like Mirabai and our goddesses, no amount of violence is going to drive us back!

In the upcoming weeks, let me take you on a whirlwind tour of India with Mirabai as our guide. Enjoy the ride! And who knows; the rebel princess might even inspire you to find your own voice.

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