People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 18, 2007
CALL OF THE EIGHTH ALL INDIA CONFERENCE OF AIDWA
Confront Globalisation, Defend Secularism & Assert Equality
THE eighth all India conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) concluded with a huge open rally on November 4, 2007 at the Dum Dum Jail Grounds. It was presided over by the president of AIDWA, Subhashini Ali and addressed by the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha MP, Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary, AIDWA, Shyamali Gupta, working president, AIDWA, Minati Ghosh, secretary, Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Mahila Samity, Rekha Goswami, minister for Self Help Groups, Tania Chakraborty, state secretariat member of the Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Mahila Samity among others.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said women’s organisations have a pivotal role in initiating women into the development process and to ensure their right to live with dignity. He said, “There can be no development without bringing women in the forefront of the development process.” He called upon the women to resist with greater intensity the social scourges and injustices they were subject to in a “society where being a woman is still considered to be a crime.” Mothers should rally together on issues like dowry and early marriages, and women’s organisations must play a greater role in ensuring that all children attended primary school, ensure proper implementation of mid-day meal scheme, ICDS, literacy campaigns etc.
Buddhadeb referred to oft-repeated claims of 8 to 9 per cent growth rate and a fall in the inflation rate and said the generation of job opportunities is not commensurate with the growth rate. He said the bane of social unrest and communalism cannot be addressed unless people are ensured a livelihood. Buddhadeb questioned the UPA government as to why farmers are being driven to committing suicide in different parts of the countries and being denied remunerative prices for their produce; why wheat is being imported after all these years and why the rise in prices of essential commodities. He said these are the results of the neo-liberal policies of globalisation. Buddhadeb urged women to get together in greater numbers to ensure their right to earn a livelihood for which employment opportunities, particularly in micro-enterprises, need to be opened up.
Brinda Karat in her speech said women’s movements across the country could not move forward without the support of Left forces. She said the inspiration for such movements came from the alternative path of development being adopted by the Left Front government in the state – an alternative path based on serving the interests of the poor. She stressed the need for protecting women’s rights, their right to having jobs and the need for a judiciary that is independent, accountable and trained in gender-sensitivity. Karat said the national conference of AIDWA resolved to continue the fight against imperialism, communalism and to eradicate gender inequalities.
The four day national conference that began on November 1, 2007 deliberated on various issues facing women and chalked out a future course of action.
GEN SEC REPORT
Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of AIDWA, placed the report on international and national issues and on organisation. The report took note of the unabated miseries inflicted by US imperialism on those it sees as its enemies as well as some of its own people in its efforts to establish its hegemony over world resources and markets, and the increased use of armed might in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, recent years have also witnessed challenges to its hegemony and to Bush’s war-mongering. Tony Blair, Bush’s closest ally, has had to step down; Russia and China have tried to reassert their political and economic influence in different ways. Elected governments in Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador have challenged the neo-liberal economic policies even as they have tried to promote social security and anti-poverty measures. The socialist countries have continued to challenge US hegemony while also countering the Bush regime’s attempts to use international platforms, including international meets on women to push its politically and socially reactionary policies. Taking note of developments in the South Asian region and Myanmar, the report pointed to the important developments with regard to establishing/restoring democracy in neighbouring countries even as this region faces certain common problems of poverty, unemployment, increasing violence, adverse effects of globalisation. Women have been in the forefront of struggles for livelihood, restoration of peace and democracy.
The report highlighted the challenges facing women in India in the shape of the onslaught of globalisation and fundamentalist assertion. Despite the much highlighted GDP growth, the growth rates in agriculture remains as low as 1.8 per cent. Around 1,32,000 peasants committed suicides in the last nine years due to largescale indebtedness and inability to cope with the vicissitudes of the market economy. This tells the story of India’s crisis ridden rural economy, the brunt of which is largely borne by women. The state and central governments have singularly failed to address the problems of the agrarian crisis and limited themselves to hollow promises and undelivered, inadequate relief packages that are totally gender insensitive. Cuts in food subsidy resulting in collapse of the Public Distribution System, uncontrolled speculative futures trading and market manipulation have resulted in serious problems of food security for the mass of people. The development policies being pursued have led to jobless growth, affected people’s livelihood and specifically increased women’s hardship. The mass of women are concentrated in the unorganised sector with no social security, harsh and insecure conditions of work, performing the bulk of ill-paid and unpaid work. The unorganised sector Social Security Bill recently finalised by the union cabinet only makes further mockery of their plight, promising nothing. Privatisation of health care and commercialisation of the social sector have wreaked havoc in the lives of women, and put quality education out of people’s reach. Withdrawal of the State from commitments to provision of even basic civic amenities has further added to women’s burden.
While all the poor are affected by these anti-people policies, women from the dalit, tribal, minority and other marginalised groups have been the worst sufferers. Further, violent attacks on these sections have increased as seen in Gujarat 2002, Khairlanji and continuing incidents in Haryana, etc. Recent mobilisations around caste have to be seen in this context. Particularly alarming are the atrocities perpetrated on women in the form of punishments meted out in the name of honour, custom and religion. There is an increased assertion by the conservative forces, moral policing and social pressure on the young to abide by moral codes inflicted by these forces. The women’s movement and AIDWA - which have always confronted these forces - are now specifically being targeted.
In the face of these challenges, the AIDWA resolved to organise women to “Confront Globalisation, Defend Secularism and Assert Women’s Equality”. The struggle for women’s equality and democratic rights cannot be fought from a de-politicised perspective, and AIDWA called upon women to actively engage in this battle for their own social emancipation. It asserted that forces representing globalisation and fundamentalism can be fought only by advancing the ideological struggle within the movement for the defence of secular, democratic and socially emancipatory agendas.
AIDWA has achieved an important organisational goal in this period, through its increase in membership from 74,99,767 during the time of the previous conference to 1,00,85,539 in the year 2006. It has successfully fulfilled the slogan given during the seventh national conference to enrol more than one crore members. The report reviewed the work done by the organisation in the last three years and formulated the following future tasks:
The eighth conference chalked out the following future tasks:
Safeguard the interests of the poorer, the most marginalised sections of women by
ensuring food security, and a stronger PDS;
demanding full and proper implementation of the NREGA;
increasing the participation of women in Self Help Groups; ensuring its independent functioning with government support.
addressing the vulnerability of the unorganised sector of women workers, like migrants, home based workers, domestic workers, etc.
Strengthen women’s political voice, secure democratic entitlements by
launching movements for passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill; enhancing women’s participation in elected bodies;
fighting for the equal rights of dalit, muslim, and tribal women;
struggling for implementation of government welfare schemes for women.
Challenge gender violence in its many forms by
campaigning against sex selective abortion, and the practice of dowry;
demanding implementation of Domestic Violence Act, strengthening the fight for legal reform;
countering the commoditisation of women in media, and work towards creating alternatives.
Resist fundamentalist and communal assault on women’s equality, unite to build secularism.
Over 76 delegates from 22 states deliberated for 11 hours on the report. The participants included several agricultural labourers and plantation workers, home-based, unorganised sector workers including domestic workers, dalit, tribal and Muslim women and other marginal groups.
During the discussion on the report delegates drew attention to the issues they encountered in their day to day work. One was the struggle to get BPL cards, and huge cuts in quotas for both BPL and APL cardholders and the failure of the UPA government to stem the steep increase in prices of all essential commodities came in for sharp criticism by the delegates. The delegates resolved to launch a nationwide struggle on the issue.
Several delegates gave concrete examples of how the forces representing the Sangh Parivar were manipulating people’s religious beliefs for their divisive goals. The recent exposure by Tehelka on the Gujarat genocide was the subject of a special resolution that demanded the resignation of chief minister Modi and investigation by the CBI, along with transfer of all the cases outside Gujarat.
Many delegates recounted experiences of severe discrimination with dalit women and of untouchability. The conference pledged to uphold the rights of dalit women.
Participants from Haryana and Maharashtra drew attention to the increasing crimes against women in the name of honour. There was concern expressed about the alarming decline in sex ratios and the non-implementation of the PNDT Act. They decried the growing devaluation of women manifest in newer and more vicious forms of violence, the increasing practice of dowry and of declaring women as witches in order to usurp their land. The urgent need to ensure the proper implementation of the Domestic Violence Act and appoint independent Protection Officers was emphasised by many.
A young delegate from UP recounted how she had discarded the purdah after she came into contact with AIDWA, and resolved to work for the advancement of Muslim women’s rights on AIDWA’s platform.
Many delegates pointed out how liberalisation policies were encouraging proliferation of liquor and increasing the hardship of women. From several states, speakers described their militant struggles for land rights, house sites and against demolitions, privatisation of water and electricity. Many narrated the difficulties in the implementation of NREGA and the difficulty in earning minimum wages due to the faulty productivity norms. Speakers from Assam and Tripura highlighted the challenges they faced in confronting terrorist attacks.
Delegates from West Bengal and Kerala drew attention to the trend of mounting attacks on Left Front governments even as they are pursuing policies to strengthen the position of women. The positive experience of reservation for women in panchayats and municipal bodies was noted, while pointing to the utter failure to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill by the UPA government. Tomalika Pandaseth, MLA from Nandigram, highlighted the plight of those affected by the violence perpetrated by the politically opportunist combination organised under the banner of BUPC.
COMMISSION PAPERS & RESOLUTIONS
Seven commission papers on water management, on the problems of single women, on the challenges in implementing the NREGA, on women’s health rights, on present dimensions and the struggle to abolish dowry, on interventions in Self Help Groups and on the experience of women in panchayats were presented.
Resolutions were passed on the rights of dalit women, on recent Tehelka expose on the Gujarat genocide, on price rise, on implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and on halting the Indo-US nuclear deal. The credential report was placed by Maimoonah Mollah. Fraternal delegates from CITU, AIAWU, AIKS, DYFI and SFI greeted the conference.
After thorough discussions, the general secretary’s report was passed unanimously by the conference.
The conference elected a 98- member central executive committee with Subhashini Ali as president, Shyamali Gupta as working president, Sudha Sudararaman as general secretary, Banani Biswas as treasurer and eight patrons including Mallu Swarajyam, Vibha Ghosh Goswami, Brinda Karat, Pramila Pandhe, P K Sreemathi, T Devi, Mythily Sivaraman and Sudha Bindu Mitra. The newly formed central executive committee elected a 29- member team of office bearers.