People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 21, 2007
Make The 8th National Conference Of AIDWA A Success
“I HAVE learnt to speak out only after coming to AIDWA. Now, I boldly oppose whenever there are instances of violence.” Delegate at the Madhya Pradesh State Conference.
“On the one hand, a woman has become the President of our country, but on the other, many of our sisters are forced to live their lives with no toilets.” Delegate at the Karnataka State Conference.
“When we started out, there were only 2 of us in AIDWA. Then we went to work, and we began by asking for BPL cards for all as everyone in our tola is poor. Then the women said, what about the liquor shop, so we got together, and closed down the liquor shop in our village. If women join hands, nothing can stop us.” Delegate at the Orissa State Conference.
“Without political awareness, no development is possible” Delegate at the W. Bengal State Conference.
AIDWA NATIONAL CONFERENCE
These, and many more passionate voices resonated in the 18 AIDWA State Conferences and 3 AIDWA special conventions that were held across the country as a build up to the 8th National Conference of AIDWA, to be held in Kolkata from November 1 to 4, 2007. The North 24 Parganas district is getting ready to host the 956 delegates, and a number of special invitees, observers, and friends of AIDWA. The venue has been named “Kanak Mukherjee Nagar”, in memory of our beloved founding leader and valiant freedom fighter from West Bengal. The conference stage has been named after Iva Mehta, in honor of our young and vibrant leader from Gujarat, whom we lost in this period.
The Reception Committee is in the middle of hectic preparatory activity which ranges from organizing the logistics of hosting a four day massive conference to highlighting the political context in which the Conference is taking place. The reception committee is chaired by the veteran leader comrade Jyoti Basu and the working chairperson is our National Secretary and SHG Minister for West Bengal, Rekha Goswami. The committee includes our Working President, Shyamli Gupta, our Treasurer Banani Biswas, our assistant secretary Anwara Meerza, and our State general secretary, Minoti Ghosh, among other leaders from West Bengal.
ISSUES BEFORE THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT
It is appropriate for the 8th National Conference to be held in Kolkata, given the anti-imperialist tradition of the city and the state, at a moment in time when the people of this country, including the women, have to lead a powerful movement against US imperialism. The UPA government’s vacillation over the Common Minimum Programme and its readiness to ally with the US on the nuclear deal need to be challenged and resisted by the massive mobilisation of people. The women’s movement too has to take up this challenge, because the neo liberal policy paradigm which is implicit in this pro US tilt is extremely retrogressive for women even more so than for other sections of society. Indeed, the UPA Government has to be reminded that they came to power on the disillusionment of the people with “India Shining” - self congratulatory back-thumping by the NDA carried away by Sensex figures and growth rates even while the people were reeling under economic deprivation.
Under three and half years of UPA rule, the spurt in economic growth rates reflects the increasing profits of big business and the creation of billionaires and multi millionaires. But there has been a phenomenal increase in inequality which no democratic government can countenance. While India has the fourth largest number of dollar billionaires in the world, it is ranked 126th in the Human Development Index. The latest NFHS data are a stark reminder that the country cannot boast of its 9 per cent growth rates when one third of its women are malnourished, and over half of them are anaemic.
77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day, and the majority of these are from the dalit, tribal, and other marginalized sections. With loss of natural resources, intensifying agrarian crisis, jobloss growth, and casualization of employment, and a jump in prices, living standards of the people have fallen, and women are the worst hit by these policies of liberalization and privatization. The withdrawal of the state from many sectors, particularly from the PDS, the provision of health care, and education, especially higher education, have all spelt further denial of basic entitlements to women. The privatization of water poses new threats to women’s lives and livelihoods. The failure to invest adequate public funds in the provision of basic civic amenities and the privatisation of such services is also increasing the burden on women’s work and women’s health.
The Conference would not only discuss these developments, it is also an assertion of AIDWA’s resistance to imperialism and our struggles against the neo-liberal policies. One of the main areas of intervention in almost every state has been against the dismantling of the PDS and many states have been demanding the implementation of the NREGA. But as the draft report notes, these are areas where much more powerful joint struggles have to be launched.
NEED FOR EXPANSION
As the people’s disillusionment, and distress grows, the ground becomes fertile for extremist and divisive forces. Communal forces too grow in such a milieu and they have already begun exploiting the situation, in the hopes of staging a come back.
Hence, the Conference has before it a crucial agenda. The secular space that was obtained for women in the previous elections when the NDA was defeated has to be safeguarded. Many anti-woman manifestations of fundamentalism, like so-called honor killings, moral policing in its various forms and communal assaults on women have been the focus of many protest actions by AIDWA and the Conference has to evolve further forms of resistance to communalism. One dimension of the women’s movement that has made considerable progress and which the Conference will seek to strengthen is the interventions in the rights of minority women particularly Muslim women and efforts to increase our organisational presence amongst these sections.
Similarly the conference needs to plan the strategy to increase its presence and its work amongst dalit and tribal women, and amongst unorganized women workers,- who are among the most marginalized sections and are maximally affected by current policies.
The social status of women has also got eroded through the process of economic and social devaluation, which is linked to both patriarchal norms, and increased commodification. As a result, violence against women has risen alarmingly. There is a murder of almost genocidal proportions taking place through the elimination of the female foetus, which is receiving social sanction in a number of ways, and which state policies are contributing to intensify.
The conference will highlight the role that AIDWA has played in getting justice for countless victims of violence and for resisting violence against women in all its dimensions. The conference would strengthen women’s collective battle for gender-just legislations. This includes the implementation of the hard won prevention of domestic violence act and the PNDT acts. It also includes the ongoing struggle for legislations like amendment of the rape law to make it more effective, introduction of a law against sexual harassment at the work place etc.
One of the issues that AIDWA has been increasingly seized with in the last three years is the devaluation of women as part of the commodification of women in the culture that neo-liberal globalization fosters. The conference will review our work with respect to the impact of such commodification on issues like dowry, on women’s portrayal in the media, and in the cultural arena and the diverse forms which women’s resistance to such cultural trends have to take.
Hence, the call of “Kolkata Chalo” is a particularly inspiring and significant one for the women’s movement, and the enthusiasm that was on display during the state conferences proves that women are going to be in the forefront of this political campaign to reaffirm the AIDWA perspective for achieving women’s equality and emancipation. The AIDWA slogan for the Conference puts forth our objective uncompromisingly:
THE CONFERENCE PROGRAMME
The Conference will be inaugurated by the indomitable leader of the anti-imperialist struggle, our own Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. Veteran communist leader, Comrade Jyoti Basu, will address the Conference. AIDWA President, Subhashini Ali, will preside over the inaugural session.
The Rajya Sabha MP and AIDWA Vice President, Brinda Karat will deliver a special address on the 25 years of AIDWA, and its achievements. This is significant as AIDWA has just completed its silver jubilee celebrations in March 2007 and has reached the milestone of a one crore membership in this silver jubilee year.
One major feature of this conference is the expected participation of many fraternal delegates from many anti-imperialist women’s organizations and movements from other nations, especially from our immediate neighbours. Under the theme “Confronting Globalization, Women Unite” delegates from abroad, coming from Pakistan, from Palestine, from Bangla Desh, will address the conference.
In commemoration of the 60th year of Independence, we would recall the glorious contribution many women who founded AIDWA have made for our freedom. Freedom fighters and leaders like Laxmi Sehgal, Pappa Umanath, and Swarajyam, who are with us today, will be felicitated.
In the delegate session of the conference, the political report that would cover the major developments in the international and national scene is being presented. This report would be discussed and adopted by the conference. The conference would then deliberate on the organizational report and work report which would be placed before it. These discussions would inform our future course of action. Resolutions on important issues would be passed.
The national AIDWA conference has identified certain emerging problems and issues of immediate relevance to women for a deeper discussion. The 8th National Conference will discuss Commission papers on the following seven themes-
NREGA and Women’s Employment;
Problems of Single women and Widows;
Women in Panchayats,
Issues before Self help groups;
Women and Health;
Women and the Crisis in Water.
The Expanding Dimensions of Dowry.
The group discussions on these themes will be collated, and presented in the plenary.
Representatives from the national women’s organizations, as well as from the fraternal organizations, will greet the Conference to enhance the spirit of solidarity and plan for joint struggles in the future.
The Conference will conclude with a massive public rally on November 4, in which the chief guest will be comrade Buddhadev Bhattacharya, the West Bengal chief minister, and other leaders of AIDWA will also address the public meeting.
On the whole, the Conference will place before the women of this country an alternative to the current neo-liberal path of development. It will demand from the UPA government a serious commitment to the CMP and to its assurances on passing the women’s reservation bill for achieving 33 per cent Reservation in Parliament and State assemblies. It will build resistance to fundamentalist and communal forces. The 8th National Conference of AIDWA is both a celebration of our work and our struggles and an inspiration to unitedly build an organization large enough and militant enough to comprehensively address the diverse challenges facing the women’s movement in India today.