When Simran Prajapati left from her South Brunswick, New Jersey home for the Women’s March in New York City Jan. 21, she could not fathom the magnitude of the event. But during her commute she began to realize she was about to be part of a historical event.
“I knew it was going to be big, but I had no idea that it could escalate into this big movement,” the 17-year-old high school senior said. “It was not just women who marched, but there were almost 40 percent men and young kids as well as senior citizens,” she said. Her mother Jignasha Mehta and her 12-year-old sister Mahek Prajapati accompanied her to the march.
It was a sea of pink as many South Asians joined millions of people of diverse races, ethnicities, backgrounds and ages, as they took to the streets – from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between – in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Armed with handmade signs, many wore pink knitted caps with cat ears called “pussy hats,” a reference to comments Trump once made. Signs throughout the crowd bore messages like “We the people are greater than fear” and “Women’s rights are human rights”.
Where It All Began
What began as a negative response to Trump’s election, turned out to be a positive one, with support from all corners of the world. When Hawaii resident Teresa Shook invited 40 of her friends via Facebook to a March on Washington, she found 10,000 names had joined the group.
On the other side of the country, Bob Bland, a New York-based fashion designer who had grown a following after designing “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre” T-shirts, proposed a “Million Pussy March.”
“I think we should build a coalition of ALL marginalized allies + do this,” Bland wrote on Facebook on Nov. 10 . “We will need folks from every state + city to organize their communities locally, who wants to join me?!?”
Among those who joined Bland was Linda Sarsour, who recently led a successful campaign to close New York City public schools on two Muslim holidays, LA Times reported.
Parul Patel of Chatham, New Jersey, had never participated in a march “where a statement was being made”, but she and several friends felt it was imperative to join the New York City march. She described it as an “incredible” experience, held at a global level to make a powerful statement.
Her enthusiasm may match the numbers. The Women’s March website estimates the Washington, D.C. crowd at way more than a million, and possibly the biggest one-day protest in U.S. history. Some estimates put the number of people marching worldwide at more than 5 million. One out of every 100 Americans took to the street for the Women’s March, a Quartz report said. A statement from the New York City Mayor’s office says more than 400,000 people participated in the march, while organizers of the Women’s March on NYC put the tally closer to 600,000.
The Jan. 21 march also put a spotlight on concerns many South Asians have expressed, such as the idea floated by the Trump camp, of a Muslim registry, as well as religious, gender, and racial discrimination. Wider issues the marches called attention to included the gender gap in pay and access to Planned Parenthood and health care services.
“We’re seeing hate crimes on the rise, we’re seeing a lot of antagonism toward minorities, and I think it’s probably the result of the tone Donald Trump has set for this country,” Sonali Saluja, a 34-year-old medical doctor from California who marched in Oakland, told NBC News.
Indian-American Senator Kamala Harris rallied a crowd on the Mall in Washington, calling it a pivotal moment in the history of the country.
Harris harked back to the 1960s when her Indian-American mother and Caribbean-American father met during the civil rights movement. “This time is similar to when my parents met when they were students at the University of California … in the 1960s,” Harris said.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization went with her son and her husband to Washington. “Grateful to have these two who are equally committed to the fight for gender equity,” she wrote on Facebook. “We proved that we will not be silenced and the women’s movement is alive and well. We will continue to rise up.”
Dalit American artist Thenmozhi Soundararajan marched in D.C. with Dalit and Muslim women. “Dalit movements are one of the oldest resistance movements in the world,” she said. “We’re ready to contribute our resilience to stand up to Trump’s attacks on women, transgender, Black, Muslim, and other targeted communities,” she continued.
Describing Trump’s policies as “dangerous,” Sabiha Basrai from the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA) told The Aerogram that within 24 hours of taking office, Trump had recommitted to ending climate action, and targeting immigrants for deportation. “These policies would reward polluters, tear apart families, and make kids sick,” she said, adding, “That’s why South Asian women are pushing back – from Desi mothers and daughters protesting in the streets, to Pramila Jayapal in the halls of Congress.” Jayapal is a Democratic Congresswoman from Washington state, one of five Indian-Americans elected to office on Capitol Hill.
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
Addressing crowds at the Chicago march, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, emphasized that “women’s rights are human rights,” according to a statement from his office.
“A loud chorus of voices including mine will speak up for the rights of women and all Americans to make a better life in this country,” he told the crowd.
On the streets of Boston, South Asian women marched holding signs defending health care access. “Affordable healthcare is a right for everyone,” said Sheetal Acharya, from the South Asian Coalition for the Boston Women’s March. “Repealing the ACA will have a significant negative impact on millions of individuals,” she said.
“The way the people mobilized together and were watching out for each other, and the way the protests were carried in a peaceful manner, is unprecedented,” Jignasha Mehta of South Brunswick, New Jersey, observed.
“I am so proud that my girls and I could be part of this historic event, protesting for equal rights, women’s rights and civil rights,” she continued, adding, that it was a “massive boost of optimism to see the number of children being shown how to stand on the right side of history”
What stood out during these marches was the peaceful and orderly way in which they were conducted. No arrests were reportedly made at any march. D.C. police said they had no reports of arrests, a contrast to the Jan. 20 anti-Trump protest that saw 230 people arrested, the windows of businesses smashed and a limo torched.
Ruta Kale of Portland, Oregon, who attended the march with her 12-year-old daughter Anika Kale and other women from her neighborhood told News India Times the Portland march was friendly and the turnout amazing despite the cold and rain.
“Very encouraging and motivating to see the solidarity and people wanting to participate in democracy,” she said.
Prajapati was also surprised by how peaceful the New York City march was.
“There were hordes of people, but hardly any police presence was required,” she said. “It was almost like each one knew what they had to do, and everyone was marching with the placards they designed,” she said.