'On the day of Love, remember those that do not have the opportunity to Love'
Whilst many on Valentines Day spent time with their partners, amidst a wave of romance and sentiment, Restless Beings aimed to highlight the demise of romance for victims of Ala Kachuu by hitting the streets of London and Birmingham with our second annual 'Roses to Rags' campaign.
Ala Kachuu is a form of bride kidnapping that is largely non consensual and often involves the violent mistreatment and rape of women. This practice stems from a romantic tradition in Central Asia where the prospective groom 'kidnaps' the prospective bride from her home so that he can marry her. Whilst many of us take for granted our every day human rights and legal system, women in Kyrgyzstan face the fear of being kidnapped, forced into marriage and abused physically and psychologically on a daily basis.
The remnants and the worst affected are of course the women who cannot return to their home. Even when sex does not take place, once a woman has been kept overnight, even for a single night, her virginity is put in doubt in her community.
With her honour disgraced, the woman will have very few other options for marriage. Thus, after one night of capture, she is culturally compelled to marry the man who kidnapped her. Such immense social stigma is attached to a refusal to marry after being kidnap that the victim usually feels that she has no choice but to agree, and some of those who refuse even commit suicide after the kidnapping.
Similar to last year, yet on a larger scale our team kicked off the campaign in both London and Birmingham. Wilted roses were handed out to the public to symbolise the detrimental development of the tradition from once romantic to now oppressive and inhumane, alongside a white piece of cloth with a statement summarising Ala Kachuu. The white cloth represents the very same white cloth that is forced upon women's heads during the forced marriage.
The Roses to Rags in Birmingham was a great success! Despite only having a team of 8, we managed to reach many, many people, over 3 different locations. The team started off in the city centre of Birmingham, where what seemed to have started off at a slow pace, soon began to pick up and attract the general public to approach RB volunteers themselves wanting to know more about Restless Beings, as opposed to vice versa. The response there was phenomenal. Many people, who up until Roses to Rags, were unaware of such dire violation of human rights, and were starting to show interest into wanting to do something about this issue. Many showed interest in looking further into this issue on the RB website, and sharing with their friends and family.
The team then moved onto Aston university, where again, the response was just amazing. Majority of students we spoke to had never heard of Ala Kachuu, and those who had, were not aware of the extent of it. One student in particular was so moved by what the women have to endure under the practice of Ala Kachuu, that she began to tear up. This left us in absolute awe!
Finally, the team finished off in West Bromwich, with a smaller, but nonetheless, significant interest amongst the public.
The general feedback from all 3 locations was very positive, with majority of people loving the concept of handing out white cloths to signify the cloth placed over a woman subject to Ala Kachuu, and the wilted flowers to symbolize women as being delicate. Many people were also amazed at the effort that the RB team and volunteers were putting in, to raise awareness of this project, especially on Valentine's Day, and in the cold.
We took London by storm in Camden Lock, Kings Cross, Brick Lane and Queen Mary University with approximately 3,000 rags. It was the first time that the quirky ends of North London, Camden Town, was hit by a cluster of energy-fuelled and excitable Restless Beings. Not quite accustom to our out-of-the-box methods of awareness-raising the masses were curious of the cause and a few took the time to stop and ask about what we were doing. One lady in particular was so shocked by Ala Kachuu that, whilst stating that she would visit our website to find out more, she took a few more rags to hand over to her friends. The team members and volunteers never tired of having the friendliest smiles and an undying optimism to talk to the public regardless of the many preoccupied Valentine's Day enthusiast; Camden is definitely in need of more exposure to the idiosyncratic body that is Restless Beings!
Kings Cross - ah the hub of all transnational encounters! The plan was to campaign from 12-2pm, then recharge and continue 4-6pm. We stayed predominantly near the station to catch that large flux of people and if anything was emphasised that day, it was the cynicism of Londoners! We are a non-profit organization and Roses-to-Rags is about raising awareness and yet aspects of the crowd proved to be difficult to tap into but rest assured, they were conquered! We had some excellent responses from people of all ages who either had an interest in what we were doing, were polite enough to stop and listen and then developed an interest or marched swiftly off with a rag only to walk back seconds later out of a delayed interest! However, one of the main highlights of this location came from sparking the attention of three journalists who were passing by and not only stopped to converse about our campaign, but were so intrigued that took details, exchanged e-mails and even took some photographs of our human chain (yes even they joined in!) in order to write about us.
The wave of shock at the tradition, but support for the campaign continued at the Queen Mary University of London campus amongst the hardworking students, and even at the surrounding bus stops and parks!
The success of the campaign demonstrates that absolutely every word, every intention and every action makes a difference, whether you see the results instantly or not, the effort is rippling. So watch this space!