India’s Moon Catcher: Portrait Of A Feminist Activist

By Neha Dixit
Al Jazeera, Doha, Qatar.

It was a winter’s afternoon in 1980 when a women’s volleyball match between two Indian teams was delayed by an hour.

The team from Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India, was on the court. But the team from Haryana, a north Indian state, had locked themselves inside their dressing room.

The officials were fuming and one was allegedly heard to say: “Instead of being grateful that they have got a platform to play, these girls are acting smart.”

Inside the dressing room, intense negotiations were taking place.

Since Jagmati Sangwan of the Haryana team had returned from Mexico and South Korea, where she had played volleyball against women’s teams from those countries, the attitudes of the Indian sporting authorities towards women’s sport had jarred with her.

That day, she and her five fellow team-mates refused to go out onto the court until they had received some assurances. They had demands: better-quality kit, shoes and balls; improved training facilities; and an increased diet allowance. What they wanted, essentially, was equality with the men’s teams.

The officials eventually conceded and assured the team that their demands would be met as soon as the tournament they were playing in was over.

Sangwan’s team hit the court and won. She was 20 years old then.

Battle cries
In the 35 years since, one thing has remained consistent in Sangwan’s life: her belief in collective resistance.

The 55-year-old is now the vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, an independent, left-leaning organisation dedicated to achieving democracy and equality. In India, if anyone is responsible for putting the issue of “honour” crimes on the national and international agenda, it is Sangwan.

The day I met her, she had just returned to work a few days after her daughter had suffered post-delivery complications.
We are sitting in her office in Shadi Khampur, a working-class district of Delhi.

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