The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | Untold stories of women who fought for independence

At The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Anita Ratnam, Shovana Narayan and Shalin Maria Lawrence will share their thoughts on personal and societal freedom

Updated - January 26, 2024 11:33 am IST

Published - January 25, 2024 11:37 am IST

Anita Ratnam.

Anita Ratnam. | Photo Credit: Potok's World Photography

Political freedom is not separate from personal freedom. Three women – through stories, talk and dance — will map the connections between these freedoms in ‘Imaging Women Nationalists: Serving the Nation State’ at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024. When nationalism and feminism meet, and three powerful women practitioners of art and activism bring them together – you know you are in for an evocative session.

The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 LIVE updates

Veteran dancers Anita Ratnam and Shovana Narayan, in collaboration with Dalit activist Shalin Maria Lawrence, will bring alive untold stories from India’s freedom struggle in their session ‘Imaging Women Nationalists: Serving the Nation State’. These narratives will be set in the past and present at once. There will be two performance segments weaving in and out of a moderated discussion on how domestic freedom is closely linked with national freedom. Personal and historical narratives will be showcased side by side.

Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan.

Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

“You can Google the story of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal but what is not known is the number of working class women from Malaysia who were enlisted in the army during India’s freedom struggle,” says Anita Ratnam. She will tell the story, not just in the voice of Lakshmi Sehgal, but also her own. She will share the story of a woman from her family who fought for her right to marry by choice, against caste norms. Women’s search for agency and autonomy within the domestic sphere is hardly separate from their search for freedom of their country, she highlights.

Excerpted from a larger, well-received performance comprising more artistic forms and dancers, these two performances by Anita and Shovana in Bharatanatyam and Kathak have been shaped to fit the stage of The Hindu Lit Fest. “Performances engage the senses in ways that discussions and talks cannot,” Anita adds, stressing that their collaborative offering will be special.

Shovana conveys the same excitement as she speaks of her performance about a “feisty female” who, from being sold off into a brothel by her parents, became the Begum of Awadh. “She had the temerity to confront the British. She would mount an elephant and fight them fearlessly, giving her dejected people courage and restoring their pride,” says Shovana, describing Begum Hazrat Mahal.

“She kept the British at bay for ten years. She spoke of equality and was a woman of progressive values. She even wrote poetry,” elaborates Shovana.

Shovana gently declines to talk about the personal story she will share during the discussion. “You will have to attend the event to hear that,” she says. She highlights that there were “many women from all classes of society at that time who gave up everything, stepped out of their privileged positions and joined the freedom movement. These are women we know nothing about.” Our performances and discussion will fill that gap, she says, promising that “the music will be remarkable”.

Shalin Maria Lawrence will speak about Dalit women, their freedom and their war with caste.

Shalin Maria Lawrence will speak about Dalit women, their freedom and their war with caste. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Shalin Maria Lawrence draws attention to how “tawaifs or courtesans were learned women” but not accorded “dignity in society or in the public memory”. She adds that “every political party is patriarchal. No importance is given to issues around women’s bodies. Even now, abortion is stigmatised.” Shalin will speak about Dalit women, their freedom and their war with caste. She will also speak about Ambedkar and his modern ideas on women’s rights.

The session will be held on January 26 at 6.50 p.m. at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Harrington Road, Chetpet.

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