People's Democracy

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


No. 46

November 14, 2010

Ninth National Conference of AIDWA Calls

For Militant Struggles against Exploitation


Sudha Sundararaman


“NEVER give up the struggle for equal rights; this is a fight till your last breath.” With this inspiring call given by Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, in her inaugural address, the ninth national conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Federation (AIDWA) was off to an inspiring start, and the 753 elected delegates representing a membership of 1,20,02, 223 women across the country participated in the various programmes and sessions organised as part of the conference most enthusiastically.


More than 60 delegates from various states participated in the discussion, spread over two days. They highlighted the adverse impact of neo-liberal policies on women, strengthening the observations made in the general secretary’s report that was placed by Sudha Sundararaman.


The international and national section of the report took note of the major developments in this period, and their impact on women. To highlight a few of them:

·        The global economic crisis has exacerbated poverty, inflation, unemployment, and inequality, all of which have severely affected women in many ways. Women’s work has suffered considerably, as cut backs and cancellations reduce orders in textiles and clothing, leather products, pharmaceuticals, food processing, toy production, electronics, etc- all employing women in large numbers. The woes of migrant women have increased, as recession sees care workers and domestic workers getting laid off, and the hostility from anti immigrant groups has also escalated due to domestic unemployment.

·        The report noted that the agenda of imperialist domination was still a source of daily violence against women and children, especially in war torn regions. On emerging issues like climate change, the developed world was opposing moves to curb their own carbon emission, while restrictions for developing countries would have adverse impact on women.

·        Fundamentalist forces are whittling away at women’s hard won rights, and women are increasingly becoming victims of identity politics.

·        The alternatives emerging from some Latin American countries, and socialist countries are a source of inspiration and hope.


·        The policies of the UPA-II government have led to the worst forms of corruption. The absence of the Left had aggravated the implementation of neo liberal policies which were impoverishing the common people. The astronomical rise in prices, accompanied by a dismantling of the PDS, was leading to further malnutrition and anaemia amongst women. A major thrust towards privatisation of health and education programmes was leading to women’s exclusion, and the financing for the social sector had also gone down, the report pointed out.

·        The refusal to pass the 33 per cent women’s reservation bill exemplified the government’s opportunism, lack of political will and the extent to which patriarchal attitudes were stalling this important legislation.

·        The report highlighted the separatist and divisive agendas in many regions of the country, which were leading to violence and creation of conflict zones, where women and children could not live in peace. The dangerous communal agenda of the BJP was also evident in the attacks on minorities, and the assault on women’s democratic rights.

·        The challenge from fundamentalist forces that are trying to push back the gains that women have made as part of the democratic struggle was another important issue placed for discussion. The report showed the multiple ways in which women’s choices were being curtailed in an authoritarian manner.

·        The commodification of rituals, and practices like dowry has led to a greater acceptability of these customs, but they signify a growing violation of women’s rights. Conservative opinions are evident even in judicial pronouncements. All these are happening at a time when women are coming forward in every sphere to claim their rights.

·        The range of violence unleashed against women is also on the rise. Declining sex ratios expose the multiple ways in which women are still unwanted, and the modern day technological advances are being used against women in a systematic way, with the collusion of money making doctors.

·        The report pointed out that women from oppressed and marginalised sections are more vulnerable to gender oppression and violence.


The women delegates drew clear links between increasing food insecurity, rising prices, lack of availability of work, even as wages decline and hours of labour increase, all as part of the impact of the global economic crisis. The delegates saw this as the specific context of increasing violence, criminality and corruption through their experiences of the last three years.


Delegates also highlighted the money power and the corrupt and criminal nature of elected representatives of ruling class parties. The liberal liquor policy pursued by many state governments including Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc, without any concern about its impact on women came under severe criticism. The terrible conditions of women working in the home based sector in Delhi, the impact of the agrarian crisis in hilly states like Himachal Pradesh, the political violence in West Bengal, the manner in which Microfinance institutions are squeezing poor women in the self help groups in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, etc,  were described in detail. Delegates noted how this was in total contrast to the Left Front governments that had made special efforts to implement alternative policies keeping in light the special problems of women. Special programs for the support of self help groups, minority women, tribals and dalit women, widows and single women were mentioned.


The draft report on organisation was placed, reviewing AIDWA work, interventions and organisational building in the last three years. The immense difficulties before us in the current socio economic situation, and the great dangers of fragmentation and individualisation, were placed. Delegates pointed to the grave challenge posed by divisive and reactionary forces to women’s mobilisation, and the need to consolidate the organisation in the face of increasing attack on their rights. Reiterating the concerns presented in the report, many expressed their apprehensions with regard to the proliferation of NGOs and groups which worked to undermine the struggle by their depoliticised approach. Some of the sharpest interventions came from the Maoist affected areas where women face increasing violence and threats to the realisation of their rights and democratic aspirations. The delegates from West Bengal especially reiterated their resolve the resist the TMC-Maoist conspiracy to undermine the Left forces in the state. Captain Laxmi Sahgal inaugurated an exhibition of posters depicting the violence inflicted on the people of West Bengal for having displayed commitment to the Left parties against the Maoist offensive.


Summing up the discussion, the general secretary called upon delegates to deepen their understanding and analysis of the contemporary challenges facing women, and consolidate the organisational base by reaching out to the poorest sections of women. She said that women must seize every opportunity to advance their rights and resist all attacks on them, be they from the imperialist forces, the obscurantist, conservative Hindutva elements and other fundamentalists.



The NFIW general secretary Annie Raja greeted the conference on behalf of NFIW, and  underlined the importance of joint interventions on many crucial issues facing women today.


Hannan Mollah, joint secretary of the Agricultural Workers’ Union, pointed out how women made up 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce, but get hardly 57 days of work in a year. He pinpointed the arenas of common struggle, including the decline in work days, and the issue of social discrimination against dalits who are also a major section within them. S Ramachandran Pillai, president of the All India Kisan Sabha highlighted how the growing agrarian crisis reflected in increasing landlessness, indebtedness and pauperisation of the peasantry, making women more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. He said that the AIKS and the AIDWA should identify common issues for building powerful and militant struggles.


Greeting the conference on behalf of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, its president A K Padmanabhan referred to the growing resistance to globalisation, that has been reflected in the unprecedented unity of trade unions in the struggles against price rise, for the universalisation of the PDS, against disinvestment of profit-making PSUs and for unconditional social security benefits for all workers in the unorganised sector. 25 per cent of CITU membership consists of women and their participation in these struggles has been significant, he said.




Bilquees Bhat from Kashmir highlighted the long period of suffering and sorrow of its people. Some political groups that are spreading communal hatred and pursuing partisan agendas were adversely affecting the dialogue and peace process. The continuing crisis was reflected in the huge number of widows and orphans in Kashmir. As a victim of the violence, she felt it was imperative to generate employment in the trouble-torn state, without which women cannot survive. She made a fervent plea for special efforts to  address the problems of the women of Kashmir.




‘What to wear and whether or not to wear a burqa should be the decision taken by an individual woman. Neither the state, nor government nor any organisation has the right to impose their views and use force to influence the decision and choice of a woman,’ stated Sehba Farooqui, state secretary of Delhi while releasing a book titled Muslim Women: AIDWA Interventions and Struggles, along with members of the Muslim women’s sub committee. She emphasised the need to draw more and more Muslim women into the organisation. She also moved a resolution demanding that the exercise of the unilateral right of divorce and the practice of triple talaaq be banned in our country. While this has been consistently reiterated by AIDWA and Muslim women for many years, its recent context is the upholding of a case of triple talaaq that was pronounced during an internet chat between a husband and wife by the Deoband ulema. 




The conference unanimously passed a resolution on price rise and the public distribution system moved by U Vasuki (Tamilnadu) and seconded by Mariam Dhawale (Maharashtra). A resolution calling for a comprehensive sexual assault bill, and demanding effective action against all the males present in school campus in the Divya Bhadoria case, was moved by Uttar Pradesh state secretary Madhu Garg and seconded by Ram Pari from Bihar.


A resolution was passed expressing serious concern about the recent Ayodhya judgment. It questioned the three-way partitioning of the disputed property which appears to be based more on ‘faith and religious belief’ than on accepted principles of jurisprudence, which  appeared to indirectly justify the forcible act of placing the idols under the dome of the 500-year-old Masjid in 1949, and its subsequent destruction on  December 6, 1992. It noted that the women’s movement is extremely wary of the substitution of judicial principles by faith because the latter was often used to justify violence, inequality and regressive practices such as untouchability, “honour” crimes, dowry, sati, domestic violence, etc. It expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would not allow this judgment to set a dangerous precedent. It called upon all its members to be continuously alert to the threat of communal polarisation and work ceaselessly to strengthen the historical bonds between different communities.


The conference also took note of the recent spate of suicides as a result of the harassment and strong arm tactics employed by commercial and profit-oriented corporate micro finance institutions (MFIs) for loan recovery. It called upon the government to intervene to regulate and curb activities of MFIs and extend cheap credit facilities to poor households through formal banking institutions in the country. Although it poses as a programme for poverty alleviation and economic empowerment, it is actually a World Bank promoted strategy that utilises the NGO sector to transfer the savings of poor to the corporate sector. Whatever little collectivism generated has been destroyed and women are increasingly caught in debt traps. The conference called upon the central government to immediately enact a law to cap the interest rates charged by MFIs to SHGs at not more than two per cent above the rates charged by banks to MFIs and to take stringent legal action against MFIs indulging in extortionist practices. 


The conference strongly condemned the continuing betrayal by the UPA-II government on the passage of the women’s reservation bill in the Lok Sabha, after its passage in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010.  The UPA was using it a bargaining point to ensure that those opposition parties who are against the bill support the government on other contentious issues. Recent local self government body elections in Kerala, and earlier in Bihar and other states wherein 50 per cent of the seats have been reserved for women point to the increasing number of dalit, adivasi, OBC and Muslim women who are able to enter the political arena owing to reservation. It is therefore imperative that the bill be passed in the Lok Sabha without further delay. The AIDWA called for the widest possible mobilisation of different sections of women to put pressure on the UPA government to pilot the bill through the Lok Sabha and pass it without any further prevarication.


The conference adopted a resolution on the proposed bill for protection of sexual harrassment at the workplace and welcomed the initiation of the bill as a first step, but expressed concern at certain provisions in the draft such as the reported clause that false and malicious complaints are to be made punishable.


Delegates divided themselves into different groups to discuss seven commission papers. These were on the Maoist challenge in the context of problems of women and tribals, on the girl child, the impact of the global economic crisis on women, media as a political actor, identity politics and the women’s movement, the situation of women in the North-East and laws and the rights of women. The discussions enriched the draft papers which will be finalised and published by AIDWA after the conference.




It was encouraging to find that the number of young delegates had increased, and more than half of the delegates were aged between 36-50. The educational levels were also considerably improved- with majority having completed their secondary levels. Only ten delegates were illiterate.


More than 200 out of the 740 delegates had gone in for own choice marriages, and 115 of these were intercaste marriages. SC/ST women numbered 140, OBC were 202, and minorities were 72. These reveal a good representation from across the communities. Most delegates spent more than four hours doing housework per day. There were 201 women headed households. 64 delegates had been victims of attack by the police. 372 of them had been arrested. The credentials report pointed to the militancy, and courage with which women were facing the challenges in the states. 




The Conference paid rich tribute to its outgoing president Subhashini Ali, whose three terms were complete, and who had led the organiSation through a most challenging phase, expanding  its outreach to newer sections, focusing on the demands of specific social groups and communities, even as AIDWA built upon common struggles. The central and state leadership and activists besieged her with tokens of their appreciation, in a spontaneous and moving acknowledgement of her rich contribution. They thanked her for her tireless efforts that had made it possible to hold the conference in a northern state for the first time.            


The hugely successful conference came to an end with all delegates unanimously resolving to intensify the resistance to the neo liberal growth model, to strengthen struggles for universal food security, uphold rights of organised and unorganised sector, resist privatisation of education, health, and social security and prevent exploitation of women through SHGs. It called upon the organisation to strengthen the campaign against all forms of conservatism and defend the rights of young people to choose their partners and combat the communal offensive. Given that it is the Left forces who are at the forefront of defending women’s rights, it called upon AIDWA units to effectively counter the vicious anti-Left offensive being unleashed by the ruling classes, and particularly in West Bengal by the Maoist-TMC combine. In the coming three years, the organisation will take up the specific forms of oppression being faced by dalit, minority and adivasi women on a priority basis and focus on the problems of youth, and single women. It will build an effective campaign against multiple forms of violence against women, and girl children, intensify actions against sex selective abortions and dowry, as part of a larger mass movement to counter the combined impact of patriarchy and growing consumerism, work for recognition of matrimonial property rights and other legal rights. It resolved to intervene against commercialised media and the marketisation of rituals and religiosity, create cultural alternatives to strengthen the secular and democratic fabric of our country. 


The conference elected a new central executive committee of 102 members. Shyamali Gupta from West Bengal was elected the new president. Sudha Sundararaman will continue as the general secretary and Bonani Biswas as treasurer. A 29 member secretariat was elected unanimously.


The conference concluded with a mass rally addressed by Brinda Karat(MP), Subhashini Ali, Shyamali Gupta, Sudha Sundararaman, Madhu Garg, and other leaders, whose calls for militant, unrelenting struggles against exploitation and oppression were met with supportive cheers from the women of Uttar Pradesh who had congregated there in large numbers.