People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

July 26, 200

Many More Battles Ahead- To Be Fought And To Be Won



Sudha Sundararaman




IT was a sombre moment as the 56 members of the AIDWA central executive committee stood silently in homage to Ahilya Rangnekar, a founder member of the organisation, and an inspiring leader for the whole women�s movement. They recalled her fearlessness, her tremendous capacity to combat injustice wherever it occurred, and pledged to carry forward her struggle for equality and justice for women and all the oppressed people of the world. Condolence was passed for Mariapushpam, erstwhile AIDWA leader from Tamilnadu, and for Habib Tanvir, and Kamala Das - theatre personality and feminist writer respectively. The meeting was being held in the aftermath of the 15th Lok Sabha elections, creating a heightened awareness about the need to deal with a new political situation. With AIDWA president Subhashini Ali presiding, and AIDWA vice presidents Rampari, Amirtham and Jyothi chairing some sessions, the two day meeting held in Delhi on July 11-12, 2009 discussed a wide range of issues, and charted its course of action for the next few months.





 The members passed condolence for more than 60 people killed in West Bengal in pre and post poll violence. They resolved to extend support to the affected families in a variety of ways, including collection of monetary and material assistance for those displaced due to the violence. Later, members from West Bengal described in detail the horrendous cases of violence by the Maoists in Lalgarh, and by the Congress and the TMC in many other districts. This was roundly condemned. The description of how Jharna Mandi and her four year old daughter Sumana Mandi were killed by pouring kerosene on their heads and setting them ablaze, only because Jharna�s husband was an adivasi elected panchayat member from a Left Party brought out the chilling degree of violence engaged in by the anti Left forces, and the manner in which women and children are made its worst victims. The AIDWA CEC decided to launch a widespread campaign across the country with the theme �In defence of democratic rights in West Bengal�, to expose the attacks, and to counter the slanderous anti Left propaganda.





  The report on current developments was placed for discussion by the general secretary, Sudha Sundararaman. It pointed out the threat to the aam aadmi and the aam aurat posed by the unbridled neo liberal policies of the newly elected Congress led UPA government. The budget proposals, for example, had tax concessions for the corporates, but extremely inadequate allocations for the social sector. Many important programmes like the ICDS, mid day meal scheme, working women�s hostels, old age and widow pension schemes, had received little or no funds at all. Gender budgeting had become an empty slogan, as women had been totally marginalised, and the recommendation of the 11th Five Year Plan mid term review suggesting 30 per cent allocation for women within all schemes had not been implemented. Even before the budget presentation, the economic survey had called for the abolition of food and petroleum subsidies, and a push towards disinvestment, deregulation and further tax sops for the corporate sector. Petrol and diesel prices were hiked on the eve of the budget.





 The meeting resolved to launch a massive campaign to explain the implications of the proposed Food Security Act. In its present form, the act will actually reduce quotas for BPL and Antyodaya families by giving them only 25 kilograms of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kilogram and throw the APL families out of the food security net. Given the faulty nature of BPL categorisation, and the fact that 6.52 crore BPL families are already supposed to be receiving 35 kilograms grain a month at subsidised rates and the 2.5 crore AAY households are supposed to receive 35 kilograms at even lower prices than currently announced, this assurance is actually a withdrawal of the subsidy element by about 4000 crore rupees. The CEC resolved to struggle for an act that will universalise the public distribution system.


The meeting took note of the serious implications of the steep rise in prices of essential commodities, especially food items on women, aggravated by the economic crisis caused by worldwide recession. It decided that women would come onto the streets on July 30 and demonstrate before block offices, and district headquarters across the country, to protest against the spiraling prices and demanding that essential commodities be supplied through ration shops at affordable prices for all.





 A notable feature of the present Lok Sabha is that women�s presence has breached the 10 per cent mark, with 59 women having won, out of 556 contestants. But had the 33 per cent women�s reservation bill been passed, there would have been 181 women in the Lok Sabha. Thus, there is still a long way to go. If the presidential assurance of passing the bill in 100 days had been adhered to, the bill should have come up for discussion in the budget session. The fact that it is still pending with the standing committee proves that the Congress has not done a committed follow up of its promise. So, the women will have to once again engage in a struggle for this much awaited legislation. AIDWA will re launch its campaign demanding passage of the bill on the 101st day - September 12, 2009 - with country wide meetings, delegations, and memorandums to the president and state governors.





Discussants on the report noted that though the BJP had been comprehensively defeated in the elections, its communal agenda was very much alive. In states like Karnataka, the coastal region was getting vitiated by the communal propaganda of the BJP. There had been riots in Mangalore, organised by the RSS forces. In Uttar Pradesh, the Sangh Parivar is creating tension by opposing marriages between Hindus and Muslims. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government sponsored �Kanyadan� Scheme for mass marriages of poor couples became an occasion for humiliating and insulting the brides, who were forced to undergo virginity tests by the administration. The AIDWA CEC took note that the BJP�s anti women ideology had to be countered actively, and continuously.





 The increasing viciousness of atrocities against women was discussed in the background of increasing assaults that had occurred in many parts of the country in this period - like gang rapes in moving cars and in educational institutions, incestual rape of daughters by fathers, acid attacks on young girls by jilted suitors, blackmailing of girls after filming them in compromising positions on the mobile, to name but a few. The discussion also raised the question of a visible backlash against women�s rights, and attempts at imposing codes of behaviour on them. In Kanpur, for instance, a shocking fatwa was issued by the Pracharya Parishad (that claims to represent the principals of government aided colleges), according to which girls were barred from wearing jeans to college in Uttar Pradesh. This attempt to impose a regressive dress code was strongly opposed by AIDWA, which organised a militant demonstration in Kanpur. On the basis of our demand, the government intervened to issue orders that no such ban was to be imposed. There have been instances of inter-caste, inter-religious marriages coming under attack by self styled keepers of morality, in some of which AIDWA has intervened. AIDWA has decided to organise a national young women�s convention on the right to choice in Bangalore in December 2009.





 Meetings of the media committee, the health committee and the Muslim women�s committee were held, and interventions on these issues were planned. The Muslim women�s committee has planned to submit more than a lakh signatures to the prime minister demanding the implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations. The health sub committee gave a call for proper implementation of the Janani Suraksha Yojana, and demanded wages for the ASHAs. It also suggested that the bill to regulate surrogacy should be amended to ban commercial surrogacy. The media committee decided to follow up the media regulatory code, and gave a campaign call against advertisements that were derogatory to women.