People's Democracy

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


No. 21

May 23, 2010

JMS Conf Pledges To Strive For Widest Unity Of Women


Kiran Moghe


CALLING for more militant struggles on crucial issues such as the increasing number of crimes against women in the state, the dismal state of the public distribution system and against the liberal liquor policy of the state government, the eighth state conference of the Akhil Bharatiya Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana, Maharashtra concluded at Mumbai on April 25, 2010. The conference, held against the backdrop of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the formation of the state of Maharashtra, recalled the glorious struggle for the formation of the state on the basis of linguistic principles. It noted that the slogan of 'Samajwadi Maharashtra in a Samajwadi Bharat' remained unfinished. The conference pledged to strive for the widest unity of women across the state, especially at a time when regional chauvinism and communal forces were out to rupture the basic unity of the working people.


275 delegates from 19 districts, including five fraternal delegates gathered at the venue named after the beloved founder president of the organisation, veteran Communist leader and doyen of the women’s movement in India, Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar. The hall commemorated another beloved leader, Kalindi Deshpande. In a moving welcome address, the chairperson of the reception committee, Dr (Prof) Rohini Gawankar, former Head of the PG Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University recollected the unparalleled role of women in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. She noted how the leadership of Ahilya Rangnekar and other stalwarts galvanised ordinary women into a highly political force that took on bullets and tear gas of the Congress government without fear. Three women were martyred in the struggle. Women participated in the struggle on their own initiative, raising funds, organising conventions, addressing meetings, courting arrest, and were an integral part of a movement that forged a firm unity of the working class and the peasantry all across Maharashtra. It was the same kind of political mobilisation that was required to meet the current challenges facing women, she said.


Inaugurating the conference, the president of AIDWA Subhashini Ali recalled the important role played by the women of Mumbai, particularly when the women’s movement in the country took a new turn at the beginning of the 70’s. Pointing out that the election of Obama had in no way loosened the grip of US imperialism, she said that we must note its close connection with the rise of terrorist forces across the world. Here in our country, the UPA government, that appeared strong a year ago, is now on the back foot primarily because of its relentless pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies that have led to high inflation. Women have to unite to strengthen democratic structures in the country, which are increasingly under attack, as seen in the preposterous demand by the Jat Mahapanchayat to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, or a persistent campaign against the so-called “misuse” of Sec 498A of the IPC. The struggle for the women’s reservation bill was part of this effort, and she exhorted the delegates to strengthen the organisation in Maharashtra towards this end.


Among the guests who graced the occasion were representatives of other women’s organisations and women’s studies centres from Mumbai, particularly Chaya Datar, former Director of the Women’s Studies Unit of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Jyoti Mhapsekar from Stri Mukti Sanghatana, Chandra Srinivasan from the Samajwadi Mahila Sabha and C S Lakshmi and Dr Divya Pande from SPARROW; they all greeted the delegates and called for more concerted efforts to jointly address major issues facing women in Maharashtra. In addition, P R Menon, president of the National Railway Mazdur Union, Dr Tapati Mukhopadhyaya, general secretary of the Bombay University & College Teachers Union, Vivek Monteiro, secretary, CITU Maharashtra, Prakash Chowdhury, general secretary of the Maharashtra unit of the All India  Agricultural Workers’ Union, Ghanshyam Patil, treasurer, Maharashtra state Kisan Sabha, Shailendra Kamble, state president of the DYFI and Dada Shinde, state president of the SFI also addressed the conference. A common thread in their speeches was the need for better coordination between their organisations and JMS on common issues.


59 delegates spoke on the report placed by the state secretary, Mariam Dhawale. They strengthened the report with their own analysis based on their particular experiences and the interventions made by JMS on the various issues outlined in the report – the severe agrarian crisis, the struggle for food security, the increasing violence and immiserisation caused by liberally flowing liquor, the growing malnutrition and declining health of women, especially those involved in hard manual labour, the indifference of the police and the judiciary to rising crimes against women, problems of living in cities, etc. They also explained how they were making efforts to build the organisation and the difficulties encountered in the process. Many of them clearly stated the need for a Left political alternative as a means to address these issues. A most heartening aspect was the fact that a significant number of Muslim women came forward to speak on the report.


On the second day, the delegates broke up into four groups. They participated in lively discussions on four commission papers titled ‘the agrarian crisis and women, ‘we and the struggle to end caste oppression’, ‘the maharashtra government’s liquor policy’ and ‘report of the jms survey of young women in Maharashtra.’ The discussions were reported in the concluding session on the last day. Several resolutions were also placed and passed during the conference. These were on ‘pledge to unite women to keep Maharashtra united’, ‘on climate change and women’, ‘on the demands of beedi workers’, ‘media, money power and elections’, ‘against rising prices’, ‘on housing for poor and single women’, ‘against rising crimes against women in Maharashtra’ and for ‘passage of the women’s reservation bill’. The conference also resolved to approach the government of Maharashtra and the Bombay Municipal Corporation to erect a befitting memorial in the memory of Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar, who was at the forefront of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, and also fought for the civic rights of thousands of Mumbaikars while she was a member of the Corporation for more than 20 years.


Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of AIDWA summed up the proceedings of the conference. She congratulated the Maharashtra unit for its steady growth, and called for greater mobilisation. She pointed out the need to take up the special issues of dalit women, after identifying the types of discrimination faced by them. The SHG experience also needed to be critically examined. Many JMS members were being elected to local self government bodies, but the organisation had to take the initiative to organise ideological and practical training for them. Some more organisational effort was required in order to avoid stagnation. More had to be done to build links with fraternal organisations, especially those of working women, she said.


The conference elected a 58 member state committee, which in turn elected 18 office bearers. Kiran Moghe is  the state president, Sonya Gill the state secretary and Hemlata Patil will continue as treasurer. 25 delegates were also elected for the ninth AIDWA conference to be held at Kanpur in November 2010.