Interviewing Sufia Khatoon, Co-founder, Rhythm Divine for the the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream 2016
“A woman who knows how to weave stories, who inspires people, who runs the world yet never complains about her struggles and violations is a woman of strength.”
This message, warm, empowering and worth remembering for long, comes from the poetry group ‘Rhythm Divine’ in Kolkata, which is an assembly of strong poetic minds who work for poetry and art as vehicles of social change.
In the wake of the persistent violence, sexual objectification, mindless marginalization of women which has taken its toll on the world since a long, long time, Rhythm Divine has collaborated with the 6th Woman Scream International Poetry and Art Festival to raise their collective voices and tell the world that all is not lost. A rejoinder to the worldwide chain of events commemorating on the cause of eradicating violence on women, the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream 2016 is being spearheaded by Rhythm Divine on March 26, 2016. The event will celebrate the power of womanhood through the celebration of poetry, art and dissent by various empowering voices comprising of the artistic and also the academic fraternity of Kolkata.
As one of the online media partnering with Rhythm Divine for the cause, it is my honour and privilege to speak with one of the co-founders of Rhythm Divine, Sufia Khatoon, a social activist, an art curator of Art Fair, Kolkata, an artist and a widely published poet and writer about the 6th Woman Scream International Art and Poetry Festival and its collaboration with her poetry and art group, Rhythm Divine.
Lopa Banerjee: Hello Sufia, it is such a pleasure to connect with you regarding the wonderful cause of the 6th Woman Scream International Poetry and Arts Festival 2016. This year, the theme of the festival held internationally is “Desert Flowers’. Can you give us a bit more details regarding its history and origin, and which are the countries participating in the festival?
Sufia Khatoon: Actually Lopa let me tell you a little bit about the movement started by Poet and writer Jael Uribe called Woman Scream 2016.
Woman Scream is a movement contemplated since 2011, a long chain of simultaneous events in over 500 locations across 5 continents. Born and coordinated from the Dominican Republic and created by the writer Jael Uribe, the festival counts with the support of hundreds of helping institutions worldwide, with a main goal: paying a tribute to women throughout the month of March, and delivering messages of self esteem, respect and zero tolerance against women violence.
A desert flower actually can live and grow where there is nothing, not even soil and water. It survives and fights the oddest climate and situations and flowers again. So the theme means woman have the ability to survive worst situations and grow again like a desert flower. It states that no matter what, a little hope goes a long way. It’s all about the fighting spirit and strength of a woman that the world needs to admire and respect. She deserves to be free, to grow and blossom and she will continue to do so, no matter the extreme level of brutality and violence she goes through.
The theme of “Desert Flowers” is a special dedication to many women who have faced the horrible and unjust reality of brutal barbarities like stoning, FGM, rape, acid attacks, ablation, etc in all corners of the planet and specially it is meant to pay tribute to the Iranian Soraya Manutchehri, killed by stoning on 15 August 1986, for being an “inconvenient wife.” She was framed by her husband with the support of other powerful men of her village, so he could marry a younger woman, a practice that has taken away many innocent lives too. Soraya was judged and falsely found guilty of adultery. Her own family despised her, and her father, husband, and even her children were urged to throw the first stones at her, while buried on a sand grave. Her story was captured in the film “The Stoning of Soraya M”, a drama adapted from French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s book La Femme Lapidée.
So this cause of rising up against all sort of violence has been taken by countries like The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain (2016 host), Argentina, Mexico, USA, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Portugal, Canada, France, Haiti, Greece, Morocco, Italy, Australia, Russia, Switzerland, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, India, Germany, Macedonia, among others.
Lopa Banerjee: Some of us know from the Woman Scream blog that the international event has already kicked in the city of Madrid, Spain in the beginning of this month. How relevant do you think this celebration is, in regard to the international women’s day, March 8? What is Rhythm Divine, the poetry group in Kolkata doing as a rejoinder of this international event/campaign to celebrate non-violence against women?
Sufia Khatoon: The event is being celebrated in over 30 countries throughout the month of March from 1st to 31st. The festival grand opening took place for the first time in the city of Madrid. The 6th Woman Scream Festival included exhibitions, concerts, theater, music, dance, performance and other presentations, with the participation of poets and artists from different supportive institutions and groups, acting together as a big chain of events in favor of non-violence against women. So a movement like this is absolutely relevant to the international women’s day on 8th March. We only think on this particular day about the plight of woman, sigh and do nothing. But what Jael has done is giving artists and creative people all over the world a reason to rise up against violence through their creativity throughout the month Which I feel is beyond words.
What’s special about the whole thing is that everyone has extended their support in some way–from performers to people attending. The event is happening in a poet’s garden. We are extremely thankful to Berlia Family and a young poet Himadri Agarwal for letting us hold the event in her house garden.
We have organized an art exhibition on woman in association with Art Fair where we plan to support a girls’ orphanage through the event. The special feature is the kite installation on woman which has messages from poets, writers ,musicians from all around the world written on the kites to celebrate woman strength, done by myself.
We have invited internationally acclaimed poets like Sharmila Ray, musicians like Somali Panda and Kolkata Music Dairy to voice their support on woman non violence. Acclaimed Fashion Designer Sumita Banerjie, a descendant of Rabindra Nath Tagore and grand niece of the famous Bengali painter Jamini Gangooly to support the artists. We will have Modern High School girls put up a dance performance and paintings which is very special. So you see even we have associated with like-minded creative people to make this event a movement on itself and this is something Kolkata hasn’t seen before.
Lopa Banerjee: As an artist and poet, how do you think you, on behalf of Rhythm Divine, can contribute to eradicating violence on women worldwide? How do you react when you know about various ancestral torture methods on women? What is the role of poetry and arts, precisely, when it comes to such a disturbing discourse?
Sufia Khatoon: Lopa, I do believe drop by drop an ocean fills; every artist, poet, writer, musician, when united for a greater cause can bring a change in the social rigid mindset of humanity. I, a single grain of sand was able to draw all of you into this cause to raise our voices through our creativity. Like Jael was able to connect so many people to this cause to turn into into a global movement. This collective consciousness about stopping such brutal acts can only make the world realize where it is going wrong. So as a part of Rhythm Divine Poets, I feel I am making a difference somewhere in someone’s life.
And every day, as an activist I bring about a change in my community. I am an example of that change happening. We all have to keep doing our bit every day to change mindsets.
As a woman when I get to hear such things, something dies inside me. I feel every human being has the right to live a free life and follow dreams even men do have. But to take it from someone just because the world feels she is from the weaker sex is inhuman. None has the right to dominate or torture woman. As a woman, I feel we have to fight, if we don’t violence will continue to exist like the rotting notions that has continued to germ and plague us since generations. Poetry and art is a creative medium through which we can speak up without being afraid. I know even creativity is curbed and silenced when it crosses that fine line of accepting things as they are and protesting against them, but it’s the only way. As poets and artists, it’s our duty to show the world what it ignores, it’s violent face.
Lopa Banerjee: Jael Uribe, writer and social activist of The Women Poets International Movement (MPI) has famously titled an article published in the Woman Scream official website: “All it takes is a SCREAM to lit up the world.” How do you think these international chain of events and initiatives will cumulatively be an effective SCREAM to illuminate the world?
Sufia Khatoon: As I said a collective voice is heard better. What she has done is being heard and this will definitely lead up to something positive in the future. We all need to act than just to keep sighing away on every woman killed, raped, bruised and violated and a scream is exactly the way to be heard.
Lopa Banerjee: Could you tell us something about the actual sexist realities and the challenges, if any, that you face while coordinating such a meaningful chain of events like the Woman Scream International Art and Poetry Festival? Also, what the some of the voices of support that help you extend your voice regarding issues like violence on women?
Sufia Khatoon: As a woman I face such sexist challenges every day. I keep organizing events, I keep painting and initiating poetry and it’s like you get used to figuring and fighting various situations smartly because the world around us is aggressive. So while doing this event I face such situation isn’t true, I along with other millions of women who have taken the challenge of standing up and living an independent responsible life are facing the odds every day. We have been tamed to be scared to not fight back, but I feel we should fight back smartly. My support is my creativity and my friends through which I voice my concerns and opinions against any kind of social crimes.
Lopa Banerjee: Can you tell us a bit about how your poetry group in Kolkata, Rhythm Divine originated a year back? Was it only for the common love of poetry and the arts, or have there been greater social causes and impulses that triggered you to expand the horizons of the group? If yes, how do you go about accomplishing your goals?
Sufia Khatoon: Rhythm Divine Poets” is a poets’ group founded by three poets, Sufia Khatoon, Anindita Bose and Dr. Amit Shankar Saha basically. The poets of this group, from all over India as well as abroad, primarily share poems on a daily basis over Whatsapp groups and inspire each other through their poetic creations. They have an intention to serve poetry as a form of art as well as to use poetry for aesthetic, therapeutic and philanthropic purposes. The group meets regularly in Kolkata.
When three us met on 12 March 2015, there arose the vision of forming a Whatsapp group of poets who would share their poetic creations and get inspired by each other. With such a vision was formed “Rhythm Divine Poets”.
The group shares their craft together over various fields, both real and virtual. They have an intention to serve poetry as a form of art as well as to use poetry for philanthropic purposes. We intend to use poetry as a therapy and in that direction we have visited old age homes to spread the effects of poetry. It was started with the intention of sharing poetry on a daily basis, especially among poets and poetry lovers. Soon it grew and we had poets from Germany, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore and various other places joining in and sharing their work. Anyone who is passionate about poetry will love to be here and just focus on writing poems and improve their skills by reading other poets’ works also.
One of the best moments was when Rhythm Divine Poets went live on air on 94.3 Radio One. Every week on Fridays from 1 pm to 2 pm, Rhythm Divine Poets session on 94.3 Radio One with RJ Arvind was held for over two months (May-June), featuring one poet in each episode. Another moment to cherish was to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event in Kolkata (8th Day Café and Bakery) as part of a global poetry@heritage.
I wanted to have a platform where like-minded creative people could meet and work on forms of poetry and other art forms. The journey has been really satisfying with us doing so much in the field of poetry. We want to experiment performance poetry as much as possible.
Now a year had passed and we are organizing another international event in Kolkata, it feels great. We would want to experiment with various forms of art and bring poetry in the lives of people in a simple manner. It is great to see Kolkata has this great community of poets where each of them contribute to the growth of our society in his/her own unique way.
Lopa Banerjee: As associate partners for the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream 2016, you already have online platforms like Incredible Women of India, Readomania and Learning and Creativity, and also Being Bookworms, who are collaboratively working to cover the event. Also, with Radio One 94.3 FM, you are all set to celebrate the power of women’s voices in the month of March. How much instrumental has the online and other media been to promote initiatives like this?
Sufia Khatoon: They have been really instrumental in bringing out the soul of the cause. It’s like everyone got together collectively to raise their voice against violence, it’s like a movement where everyone has put in their bit. The online and offline associations have been wonderful. I am thankful to each of them for promoting the young talents, focusing on various issues on woman through articles, interviews, art and poetry. So they also have taken action against these brutalities like us instead of just talking about it. I strongly believe the written word and visual art leave a strong impact on our sensibilities. We can only change when we get to know that our rigid beliefs are not greater than the social good of woman. We have to change, that is the key to continue our intelligence and reasoning. I am really thankful to you, Lopa for doing a special issue of poetry and art for us. This speaks volumes about the creative support that people can give when it comes to friendship and doing amazing creative things in life.
Lopa Banerjee: Can you also give us some details of the official sponsors of the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream: Incredible Women of India, Manya Education Pvt. Limited and The Princeton Review hosted by the Berlia Family? How do you think these associations have facilitated the cause and helped you lend your voice and vision to the project?
Sufia Khatoon: All our association with each one has fit it perfectly line a jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t know how would we go about it, but all of us put in our expertise and contacts. The Berlia family is actually the family of a young poet Himadri Agarwal, they have been immensely supportive. They let us use their residential garden for this event, taking care of lighting, refreshments, sitting arrangements, rain proofing, etc. We are so touched by the kind of support we got. Then Manya Education Pvt Limited partly sponsored the event along with our banner sponsors SIBCO Overseas Pvt Ltd and ADMAKERS of Rachna di. I am like so thankful to Incredible Women of India and Rhiti Bose, the founder of the blog for partly sponsoring the event and promoting it so brilliantly along with Learning and Creativity. All I know is, friendships and heartfelt bonds go a long way in life, and this event is a witness to this bond. We thank you, Rhiti, Rachna di, Somali di, our poets Sana, Rahul, Siddhaarth, Ipsita, Ranjani, Akash, Mohit, Chumki, Samrat, Niladri, Anindita, Amit, Kushal, Our painters of Art Fair Moumita, Swasti, Simran, Berlia, family, MJ Arvind of Radio One, Dipankar Mukherjee of Readomania for sponsoring the book gifts, Saurav and Kausik da of Calcalling, Kunal da of News Beat, Pavlu Banerjee of Kolkata Music Dairy, everyone for making this event happen. This will be the beginning to celebrating creative collaborations and we intend to take it literary heights. So we look forward to 26th March and hope Kolkata people will be generous to participate in the cause.
To know more about the 6th International Woman Scream event, do visit their official Facebook page.
To know more about Rhythm Divine and its various activities, events, please click here.
Read more poems as part of the Art and Verses: Rhythm Divine Collaborates with Woman Scream 2016.
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