(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 31 , 2008
National Convention Of Muslim Women Demands Justice And Equality
THE All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) organised a national convention of Muslim women on August 27, 2008 in Delhi. The meeting, after a daylong interactions with grass root workers and after hearing gruesome stories of exploitation and listening to eyewitness accounts, resolved to fight unitedly for a better tomorrow.
Over 800 women attended the convention. They demanded recognition as equal citizens and equal access to amenities like education, health as well as employment. Women from across twenty states gave detailed testimonies that spoke of neglect, of harassment, of discrimination not only by successive central governments but also by the so-called custodians of culture and religion. In very clear terms, the women expressed that the responsibility of the welfare of the community was not an issue confined to the leadership of the community but the government had a major responsibility towards addressing the problems of Muslim women.
The convention saw participation by elected women representatives, home-based workers, self-help group workers, riot victims, women who had faced harassment at the hands of the police in the aftermath of terrorist attacks as well as women who had suffered due to the decisions made by leaders of their community.
Inaugurating the convention, AIDWA president, Subhashini Ali said that AIDWA, as part of its understanding of giving attention to different sections of women who are even more unequal than others, had been organising meetings of Muslim women at area, block, district and state-levels across the country. Women participants had voiced their problems and demands and also their fears and sense of insecurity. The Sachar committee that looked into the conditions of Muslims had only vindicated AIDWA’s understanding by giving a picture of the neglect that the community had suffered and their social, educational and economic backwardness. Despite the poverty, neglect, injustice and violence that they suffer, it was remarkable that so many Muslim women displayed such courage in not only fighting for their own rights but also participating in joint struggles for justice and change.
Brinda Karat, MP and AIDWA leader said that there was an urgent need to break the stereotypes of Muslim women being backward and weak. The determination and courage of so many burqa-clad women attending the convention exposed this stereotype. She was extremely critical of the fact that the government of India which had no money for implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations or for meeting the minimum needs of Muslim and other poor women, was planning to spend billions of dollars on imported nuclear reactors and pleasing America on the nuclear deal. She said that raising the issues of different groups of women like dalits, Muslims, tribals etc., was an important task for the united women’s movement and could not be the responsibility of members of these groups alone but had to be fought by organisations with special focus on them. On the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, she said that the pain of women in riotous situations increased manifold and called upon the government to ensure that they catch the terrorists and not innocents.
The meeting is a part of the broader women’s movement where its important that specific issues faced by different sections of women, in this case Muslims are raised, said Brinda Karat. She added that issues of dalits, tribals and others should have the right focus. She also said the government should realise the suffering of the women in Kashmir due to imposition of curfew. The government should start political negotiations with the people of Kashmir to bring peace instead of leaving it to the army and the paramilitary forces to deal with the situation. Brinda Karat said the freedom struggle was fought together by women, irrespective of their religion but the policies now being followed by the government were divisive.
Besides the AIDWA leaders, the meet was also addressed by social worker and writer, Teesta Setalvad, local panchayat leaders and Muslim women from all over the country who had been victims of exploitation.
Women from Rajasthan and Gujarat lambasted the concerned governments for their inability to control the inflammatory situation after the bomb blasts which had aggravated their sufferings while the centre and concerned states acted as mere spectators. Muslim women who came from Calcutta are harassed as ‘Bangladeshis.’
For Naseem, a bead worker from Old Delhi, business still means trading in loose change-she gets 50 paisa for every double-stringed necklace that she makes. And earning even 20 rupees after a whole day’s work is something of an achievement. She was abandoned by her husband twenty years ago but chose to fight for getting her rights. “Women’s wages in the home-based handicrafts industry like ours have remained the same for ages,” she said.
There were several other voices too at the convention of Muslim women. The concerns they shared were same on issues ranging from dowry to talaq, on women’s work, citizenship rights, justice for riot victims, violence and negotiating the public sphere. From Uttar Pradesh, there was zari worker Malka who got a mere rupee for the work on a chikan kurta. From Assam, Manwara Ahmed spoke of those five lakh beedi workers like her, who are not still registered and hence do not possess BPL cards.
Other participants demanded the abolition of triple talaq that had left many Muslim women stranded, with no maintenance. “We will take these demands to various political parties and request them to include them in their manifestos” said a speaker.
What also came through during the convention were stories of women, who were fighting against discrimination and injustice, recognition of inter-religious marriages and dowry-related issues.
CHARTER OF DEMANDS
This national convention of Muslim Women demands guarantee of security from communal violence and discrimination, and equal economic, educational, employment, health and citizenship rights for Muslim women of India. We do not accept an approach that puts the responsibility of the upliftment of Muslim women in society solely on the Muslim community. Our struggle is to ensure that the Indian government bears its due responsibility and takes the following concrete steps and measures for the advancement of Muslim women in India:
SUB-PLAN FOR ALL ROUND DEVELOPMENT
Prepare a sub-plan for the socio-economic, educational, health and other development of the Muslim community in India. Allocate 15 per cent of the annual budget under various ministries for the targeted development of the Muslim community, especially in wards/blocks/districts with large Muslim populations. Make an equitable allocation under the sub-plan for specific schemes aimed at advancing the Muslim women of our country.
Provide recognition and support to Muslim minority educational institutions which should ensure an equitable number of seats for girls.
Provide more facilities for formal education of Muslim girls and women. Set up day boarding and residential schools for Muslim girls in Muslim areas. Provide more scholarships for Muslim girls.
Upgrade registered madrasas (Following the West Bengal example) to provide modern education and vocational training to Muslims. Ensure the right of madrasa educated students to join the regular stream of education after passing out.
Open more institutes in Muslim concentrated areas and ensure equitable admission to Muslim girls who should not only be relegated to learning traditional skills like stitching, cooking etc., but also trained in modern technology.
Open more health centres and ICDS centres in Muslim areas. Ensure adequate female staff including more female doctors in them.
CREDIT AND EMPLOYMENT
Provide 15 per cent of bank loans to Muslims in priority sectors as well as commercial and business sectors and ensure that Muslim women get a fair share of these loans. Create easy credit facilities for SHGs, craftswomen and women involved in petty trade and commerce. Provide incentives to Muslim craftswomen to form co-operatives.
Open training centres at district level for skill upgradation in the unorganised sector for both traditional and other work in which Muslim women are employed. Provide a marketing network (on the lines of Khadi Gramodyog) to women employed in this sector.
Ensure better representation of Muslim women in government jobs and public sector units. Ensure at least one Muslim representative on all recruitment boards.
Pass the 33 per cent Reservation Bill for all women without delay.
Provide reservation to dalit Muslims and also ensure that women get better benefit of reservations.
Ensure preparation of comprehensive OBC lists in all states so that all Muslim OBCs are included in respective OBC lists. Provide quota within the OBC quota to Muslims. Ensure adequate representation for women for it.
JUSTICE AGAINST COMMUNAL VIOLENCE
Provide justice to riot victims and deliver speedy punishment to the rioters. Provide adequate compensation on the lines of that provided to victims of the 1984 communal violence against Sikhs in Delhi to all victims of communal violence in the country (especially in Gujarat). Implement the recommendations of the Srikrishna commission report and other reports on communal violence without delay. Enact effective central legislation to curb communal violence. While taking effective steps to curb terrorism, the harassment of innocent Muslims in the name of combating terror must be stopped.