People's Democracy

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


No. 31

July 31, 2011


Safeguarding Women’s Democratic Rights in West Bengal

                                                                                                                        Maimoona Mollah


THE All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) observed the second Kalindi Deshpande Memorial Day was on July 14, 2011 at Muktadhara Auditorium, New Delhi. This year the memorial lecture was on the theme of “Political Violence and Its Implications for the Democratic Movement.” A booklet on the post-poll violence in West Bengal was also released on the occasion.


The memorial lecture was delivered by Brinda Karat, AIDWA patron and a Rajya Sabha member.


Savitri Majumdar, president of the West Bengal Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti (an AIDWA affiliate) released the AIDWA booklet titled “Countering Post-Poll Violence in West Bengal and Safeguarding Women’s Democratic Rights,” and spoke about the experience there. She described the current scenario of violence being perpetrated by Trinamul Congress in West Bengal, and the multiple ways in which women were prevented from exercising their minimum democratic rights. She highlighted that the poor, working women, who were perceived as being close to the Left and were active in the AIDWA, had become the targets of attack in particular. Savitri Majumdar talked about the atmosphere of fear created by the TMC to prevent people from coming out in support of the Left. She deplored the role of the media in not reporting the TMC misdeeds before and after the polls. In the end the optimism of the will would prevail, she said. “Not only in West Bengal, but all over India, there are people who support the Left. And together we shall fight and we shall overcome,” she declared.


Prior to the book release, AIDWA vice president Kirti Singh placed a resolution condemning the Mumbai bomb blasts, and extending condolences to the blast victims.


AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundararaman placed the context in which the topic for this lecture was selected. She said that the violence in West Bengal poses a challenge to the democratic forces in the entire country. We need to strengthen the united movement to face this challenge. She announced that the AIDWA had taken up a solidarity campaign with the victims of violence in West Bengal from the Kalindi Memorial Day (July 14) to the Vimal Ranadive Memorial Day (July 24), with meetings, seminars, and a fund collection drive to be conducted across the country.


In her memorial lecture, Brinda Karat started by observing that Kalindi Deshpande could never be forgotten, because she had been able to understand the needs of a democratic organisation of women like the AIDWA, and had responded to this need in many ways. The speaker recalled her ability to use street theatre to bring out facets of women’s exploitation in a dramatic way. Some people may be competent in organisational work, some in cultural, some in political, but Kalindi was a rare combination who was talented in more ways than one, she said.


Brinda Karat highlighted the achievements of the Left Front government over the past three decades. She said political empowerment together with economic empowerment was the biggest achievement of the Left Front government of West Bengal. Agricultural reforms, such as joint pattas for women and bargadari, were implemented in West Bengal and nowhere else in the country. This she said is now sought to be dismantled by the Trinamul Congress government that came to power two months back. The violence that is being perpetrated on people who support the Left in general, and on the more vulnerable sections such as women, tribals and minorities in particular, also has to be seen in this context. In West Bengal too, women facing violence are mainly the rural poor. Poor fisherwomen are being targeted in Harva. The attack on the Left is also an assault on the democratic rights of the people not only in West Bengal but also at the national level. The intensification of neo-liberal policies too is leading to an exacerbation of violence against women. Anybody countering this trend is under attack. If the Left is under not only political but physical attacks, it is because the Left challenged this trend and formulated and implemented alternatives, she said.


In West Bengal, Brinda Karat observed, there is a large proportion of women in panchayats --- this is true representation of deprived and poor women. But these women are now being asked to resign. Who do they want to replace them with? With the ones who do not challenge the status quo, the ones who help the powerful and hegemonic forces? This would be a step backwards for the women of West Bengal who had been accessing their democratic rights through the pro-active panchayats.


Brinda Karat further said that women are exploited on the basis of caste, gender and class. There are many women’s organisations, some of which are based on caste, religious and class mobilisations. These organisations do not question the status quo with respect to their caste, religion and class, and with respect to the exploitative structure. Hence, they do not face challenges in their functioning and their existence. But what do we stand for? Ours is a political movement in that we challenge the status quo --- we challenge the capitalist order --- in order to move towards socialism. Such a movement and such mobilisations are under attack. The intent is to foist neo-liberal policies on the country. The speaker concluded by calling for a powerful campaign against all such attempts to push back the progressive forces and the Left movement in the country.


AIDWA national secretary Asha Lata welcomed the guests and the participants.


Sehba Farooqui, general secretary of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti (JMS) of Delhi, an AIDWA affiliate, presided over the function. Around 250 women from Delhi and Haryana as well as representatives from fraternal organisations like the Jan Natya Manch (JANAM), Delhi Science Forum (DSF), etc, participated to make the meeting a memorable one.