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Women Forging New Bonds to Break Old Chains
But to keep their sons from serving jail time for honor killings, families began urging daughters accused of dishonor to kill themselves with poison or other means.
"There is this silent genocide going on against these women," Ramdas said.
'Your Bodies Are Not Impure'
Some female activists are moving beyond the rescue and protection stage to healing. Sohini Chakraborty, a sociology major and trained dancer from Calcutta University, remembers strolling through a book fair in 1996 and seeing a poem pinned to a board outside one stall.
They sell me, my own blood, for some gold and some silver.
I rinse and rinse my mouth, but the treachery remains.
I am no more a bride to be, I am no more a mother to be,
I am no more a future to be.
Chakraborty's curiosity led her to a shelter for trafficked women, many of whom had been sold by their families.
Trafficking is deeply rooted in economic inequality, Ramdas said. In India alone, the wives and daughters of an estimated 10,000 farmers who committed suicide last year because of meager crops migrated to cities, many becoming sex workers. Abused women often are unable to bear or raise healthy babies.
It occurred to Chakraborty that she could help them, through dance.
When she went to a West Bengal village, women there thought she would teach them Bollywood dance routines. "Your bodies are not impure, they are yours," she instructed them, as they reenacted traumas through dance to reconnect with their bodies.
Chakraborty won a three-year stipend from Ashoka, a global association for innovators in social change founded in 1980. Now, her trainees perform to Indian music and such favorites as Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and John Lennon's "Imagine" to raise funds for expanded programs.
"It makes my day when I see them not needing society's sympathy to feel good . . . fighting for an equal chance," Chakraborty said.