People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 11, 2007
AIDWA Membership Crosses One Crore In Silver Jubilee Year
An AIDWA procession protesting Narendra Modi's visit to Kerala.
IT was with a sense of pride and collective achievement that the 58 members of the AIDWA CEC, who had assembled in Trivandrum for their central executive committee (CEC) meeting, greeted the welcome announcement they had been waiting for. Yes, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) had crossed the one crore membership mark in its silver jubilee year, reasserting its position as the leading organisation in the battle for women’s rights. An increase of 10 lakhs in one year indicated that the campaigns and struggles undertaken by the AIDWA, and especially the inspiring social reform jatha conducted in November 2006, had indeed proved successful in mobilising and attracting women to the organisation in significant numbers. The mood was set for a celebration, and it was also a time for reflection on how to take on the challenges facing the women’s movement today.
The hospitality extended by the Kerala state unit of AIDWA, and the thoughtful arrangements it had made, greatly encouraged such a process. The Trivandrum CEC meeting was organised in the beautiful precincts of the EMS Academy, situated in the middle of wooded hills, with birds nestling in the trees, while the brickwork buildings inspired discussions and deliberations. In spite of the difficulties involved in reaching such a far-off place, the members who attended greatly enjoyed the ambience, and many were the interactive sessions that occurred during the daily walks through the shaded pathways of the mini forest on the campus!
The meeting began with an important resolution, through which the CEC condemned the visit of Narendra Modi, the chief minister Gujarat and notorious for stoking communal passions and strife wherever he goes, to Kerala to attend the Golwalkar celebrations. AIDWA CEC members, along with local AIDWA activists marched through the streets of Trivandrum, and held a black flag demonstration demanding that the killer of Muslim people in Gujarat should go back; he would not be allowed to foment trouble amongst the harmony loving secular minded people of Kerala.
The issue of communal forces trying to use the Golwalkar centenary to push Hindutva by holding Virat Hindu Sammelans in every part of the country was in fact one of the main issues that came up during the discussion. Discussants were affronted by the RSS attempts to exploit leaders and social reformers like Narayana Guru, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh etc by using their pictures in posters alongside those of RSS leaders. Participants in the discussion said that Christian minorities were being targeted by the BJP in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Haryana, a child care centre run by Christian missionaries for poor children was forcibly closed down by some BJP activists, and the local community was too intimidated to question this injustice.
States also shared some of the campaigns to combat communal polarisation undertaken by them, often jointly with like-minded organisations. They emphasised the need to formulate diverse strategies to counter the communal mobilisation.
In Karnataka, for instance, a larger interaction with religious leaders who were opposed to the Sangh Parivar’s communalisation tactics had very good results, as they also could be involved in the attempt to prevent the exploitation of the mutts for this purpose. The high point of the campaign was a Manusmriti dahan (burning of Manusmriti) in which wider sections of people participated. The AIDWA’s Tamilnadu unit has been celebrating festivals like Pongal, Id etc in an inclusive manner, involving different communities in the festivities. They reported how this enthused the local people, especially women, and strengthened the bonds of friendship between them.
Speakers expressed concern at the BJP’s growing aggressiveness, and the scope for it to exploit the discontent among people due to the effects of UPA policies.
INSPIRING JATHA EXPERIENCES
In this context, the importance of conducting campaigns for social reform was stressed, and state reports of the jatha showed that the local people gave an overwhelming response when AIDWA members went into the interior areas with their cultural programmes and their publications and spoke on social reform as well as other related issues.
The Andhra Pradesh committee, for instance, collected 1,10,000 signatures from women whom they met during their four jathas from different corners of the state, and submitted a 21-point charter of demands to the chief minister. Tripura reported that they had contacted 50 percent of their members through the jatha activities. In Kerala, during the concluding programme in Trichur, 15,000 women gathered, with sizeable participation of Muslim and adivasi women. In Assam, the AIDWA recalled the role of the women who had participated in the independence movement but had been ignored, and published a booklet about them in Assamese. Even states like Haryana, without much of a social reform tradition, were able to build on the strength of the independence movement. The Delhi concluding programme in Jama Masjid witnessed a big audience of Muslims who listened to the AIDWA speeches avidly.
The AIDWA has decided to bring out a compilation of all the state level experiences in the near future.
WOMEN AND VIOLENCE
Increasing violence against women and children was another issue that was highlighted, especially the assaults on dalits, tribals, Muslims and marginalised sections like migrant workers. The Khairlanji and Nithari killings reveal the vulnerability of the poor and the dispossessed in the era of neo-liberal growth, and the members shared their deep anguish at the bestiality and the expose of our country’s democratic credentials through these incidents.
In Bihar, the horrifying rape of 6 children aged between 6 and 7 years was indicative of the extent of the problem. The speaker also reported that there had been 14 incidents of murder of the wife due to suspected infidelity.
There was great consternation regarding the Supreme Court judgement on dowry, which said that money demanded by the husband’s family for domestic purposes or to overcome financial stringency would not amount to dowry. The AIDWA decision to file a curative petition in the Supreme Court was fully supported.
The importance of appointing whole-time officials as protection officers under the Domestic Violence Act, the immediate need for infrastructure and allocation of resources towards implementation of the act were pointed out as crucial for a significant intervention in arresting domestic violence. The initiative shown by Kerala in appointing probation officers temporarily as protection officers was appreciated. However, the AIDWA stand that the decision to appoint a stratum of officers for this purpose would lead to unnecessary bureaucratisation is now being amply justified.
The passage of the tribal bill after an effective struggle was hailed and the committee decided to hold district level meetings of tribal women in states with a large tribal population like Jharkhand and in regions of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura, to decide how the act could enhance the status of tribal women. The act has positive implications for tribal women, as joint pattas and the right to minor forest produce form part of the legislation. But the realisation of these as well as the general rights would depend on the launch of as struggle to ensure the implementation of the act.
The problems of Muslim women and the Justice Sachar committee’s recommendations formed an important issue of the deliberations. Though the BJP’s eternal cry of Muslim appeasement has been effectively disproved, members were concerned about the state’s inability to address this backwardness. The CEC decided to place before the UPA government a charter of demands that will include a special sub-plan for the development and advancement of the Muslim minority, to be funded by allocation of 15 percent of the budgetary resources. Moreover, the expenditure of this money should be made in a targeted fashion. Muslim-dominated districts, blocks and villages are well defined and it is necessary that appropriate wards in all these are also identified so that the funds and programmes reach the people for whom they are intended.
The CEC members recognised how important it is to be aware of the special needs of Muslim women and the need therefore to prioritise proper sanitation, health facilities, educational institutions including residential schools, and credit facilities for women involved in craft and home-based work.
The CEC was particularly dismayed that the ruling UPA government is failing to recognise the growing discontent and anger amongst the masses, especially women, in view of the steep increase in prices of essential commodities and the virtual dismantling of the public distribution system. It resolved to highlight how the UPA has gone back on its Common Minimum Programme’s pro-women promises, especially the manner in which it failed to move the Women’s Reservation Bill in the last session of parliament. The AIDWA will continue its struggle for the bill and press for its passage during the forthcoming budget session. It also decided to raise these issues among the mass of women on the occasion of International Women’s Day to be observed on March 8. It is seen that women everywhere are in the forefront of various struggles, including the all-India strike on December 14. The CEC congratulated the women of Rajasthan for their participation in the valiant struggle of the kisans for their right to water, in the midst of stiff repression from the BJP’s state government.
The tremendous struggle that was launched in Bidar district of Karnataka, which resulted in thousands of women getting their job cards, availing of work and receiving proper payment, and the huge upsurge in AIDWA membership as a result, indicates how desperate women are for work, how willing they are to enter the struggle and how the struggle for NREGA can transform and energise the whole organisation. This is a task to be undertaken and followed up in all states. The movement must also address the issue of listing and extending the tasks women can perform.
A very useful exchange of experiences from 9 states regarding the self-help groups (SHGs) being run by the AIDWA, helped to evolve a deeper understanding of the wide range of problems facing these women. Different vested interests are in the field, trying to pull women in their own direction. These women join the SHGs with their own aspirations and expectations. The AIDWA has to intervene in order to save them from exploitation, assist them to grow stronger on the basis of their own experience, and facilitate their entry into the women’s movement and into the larger struggle for social change.]
As AIDWA steps into its conference year, with the eighth national conference scheduled to be held in November 2007, the CEC gave a call for unit level, district level and state level conferences. There is no doubt that the one crore members, when activated and involved in struggles, will significantly strengthen and take forward the struggle for women’s emancipation.