People's Democracy

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


No. 46

November 14, 2010

Ninth National Conference of AIDWA Begins


AMIDST chanting of slogans pledging to carry forward the struggle for women’s equality and emancipation, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, living symbol of women’s fight against imperialism and emancipation unfurled the AIDWA flag to  begin the ninth national conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. The conference was held in Kanpur from November 9-12, 2010. Floral tributes were paid to martyrs who have laid down their lives in the struggle for equality, democracy and emancipation. Slogans rent the air even as doves were released to mark the historic occasion. AIDWA, the largest women’s organsation in India, is holding its national conference in the northern Hindi belt for the first time.


Recalling the long history of Kanpur in the struggle for independence, AIDWA president Subhashini Ali emphasised the need for the unity of the working poor and women from the vulnerable sections of society at a time when the ruling classes were consolidating themselves on an international scale. Referring to president Obama’s recently concluded visit to India and the back slapping compliment paid by him to the Congress and the Indian ruling classes for their pursuit of neo-liberal policies, she drew attention to the paradox of the largest number of people - amongst them more and more women - going to bed hungry, even as India’s ruling class pats its back for sharing the stage with the US president as an emerging super power. She narrated the daily grind and routine of an ordinary woman who struggles with countless tasks and exploitative work in the unorganised sector to earn a few rupees so that her child may not go to bed hungry. The challenge of the times, she said, was the need to counter the fragmentation of the working people in the name of identity and build their unity based on struggles of the weakest, most marginalised groups and communities. She called upon the media to avoid being carried away by the glitter of globalisation and to focus on the struggle, experiences and lives of the poor.  The challenge before AIDWA is to take forward its legacy of anti-imperialist struggle to mobilize women in these times of globalisation.


AIDWA patron and MP, Brinda Karat recalled the long history of the women’s movement, born in the crucible of the freedom struggle, to highlight the point that for the movement to be effective, it had to keep its history and heritage alive and intact. Releasing the book Badhaen Todte Hue in Hindi, which records the lives of twelve of AIDWA’s founder members, she emphasised the need to preserve that legacy. For this, the women’s movement must continue to align with those movements in contemporary times which are fighting the forces of exploitation. Referring to different strands within the movement, she warned against its depoliticisation and fragmentation. Taking on critics who point to the irrelevance of the women’s movement today she said we need to fight the forces of competition and capitalism which foster illusions of individual success and achievement as opposed to the experience of the movement, which shows that social change comes with collective strength, organisation and struggle. AIDWA has continuously struggled to counter trends within the movement which define women’s rights and emancipation from narrow feminist frames and perspectives, denying the daily experience and struggles of the mass of women. A focus on “sexuality” outside the context of the socio-political processes will only lead to isolation and weakening of women’s struggle for change. We need to focus on the lives and struggles of rural women who earn their livelihood under harsh conditions; women who stand up to the might of the corporate sector which in the name of micro-finance institutions is pushing them to higher rates of interest even as SHGs are being touted from international platforms.  In new times and changed contexts, the aspirations of the people have to be examined afresh, particularly of young women, who are caught between forces trying to keep alive socially conservative attitudes even as they are drawn to new frontiers by the changed context. The ‘honour’ crimes in Haryana highlight the contradictions of the present times and the challenge faced by young women. Pointing to the challenge of the present times she highlighted how keeping alive the Left oriented women’s movement was one of the main challenges today. It is the Left led struggles which have advanced women’s struggles for their rights since colonial times, fighting the earlier avatars of the present day Hindutva forces. Drawing attention to the need to defend the democratic women’s struggle from the onslaught of the TMC-Maoist alliance, she stated that the women of West Bengal are today under grave attack for their commitment to advancing the struggle for democracy and equality. They are being targeted so that the backbone of the women’s movement and their presence as a visible force within the women’s movement is weakened and the ideological orientation of the movement is muted. AIDWA has grown and its political understanding has advanced; this will provide the leadership to the struggles of the poor, the dalits, tribals and the most deprived.


Taking forward its pledge to strengthen the forces of struggle, AIDWA honoured six women from different parts of the country, who had shown immense courage in facing the attacks of those opposed to women’s rights and equality. Phulora Mondal, from West Medinipur, narrated her experience of resisting political violence in West Bengal.  Shanti who had fought to resist attacks on the Land Rights of Tribal Women in Andhra Pradesh spoke about the attacks and threats faced by her and the brave fight put up by the tribals to resist the private interests in mining. Mukesh spoke  about the struggle for justice against crimes of honour in Haryana. Highlighting the movement against untouchability in Tamilnadu, Ponnuthai from Madurai spoke about the commitment of women to fight against caste based discrimination. Parvin Akhtar from Tripura spoke about  advancing Muslim Women’s rights in Tripura through her experience of the elections for the Autonomous Tribal Council . The conference felicitated Lalli  Devi, the dalit woman from Allahabad, who had stood up against caste discrimination in Uttar Pradesh.


In the afternoon session, Sudha Sundarraman placed the report of the organisation’s activities for the last three years.