People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
JMS MAHARASHTRA STATE CONFERENCE
A Call For Struggle And Sisterhood
"WITHOUT a guarantee of economic rights, empowerment is an empty phrase for women. The economic policies of the NDA government are constantly eroding the economic rights of women and the Vajpayee governments announcement that 2001 will be the Year of Economic Empowerment of Women has therefore little meaning for the mass of Indian women."
So said Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Womens Association (AIDWA), while inaugurating the fifth Maharashtra state conference of the Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana (JMS) that was held at Solapur from April 22 to 24. She pointed out that the so-called process of economic reforms needed to be evaluated from the point of view of all those women for whom the new liberalisation policies have meant a further increase in the time they spend in unpaid labour. For the mass of women who work in backbreaking agricultural work or in inhuman conditions in the informal sector, there is no relief, only an increase in their drudgery and misery. "While the womens movement must strive for the greatest unity of all women to fight the twin challenges of globalisation and fundamentalism, we must not lose sight of the fact that Dalit, Adivasi and minority women face a materially and qualitatively different situation. The slogan of sisterhood would be an empty one if it did not account for these differences as an integral part of the Indian womens movement," she said.
269 delegates from 19 districts in Maharashtra attended the three day conference, held at the Chhatrapati Rangbhavan. The venue was named Mangalatai Hotgi Nagar, in memory of the late vice president of JMS Maharashtra, a spirited leader of beedi workers and a former CPI(M) councillor in the Solapur Municipal Corporation.. Festooned with colourful buntings and AIDWA flags, four gates leading up to the venue were named after the late veteran trade unionist and author of many books on women, Meenakshi Sane, the four martyrs of the Solapur commune, the late Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis and the late Lokshaheed Amar Shaikh, who mobilised the working class of Maharashtra during the historic mill workers strikes and the Samyukta Maharashtra movement with his revolutionary songs.
The conference began on April 22 at 10 a m with the AIDWA flag being hoisted by senior JMS leader and former councillor of the Satara Municipal Council, Anjali Mahableshwarkar. Delegates and guests present for the inaugural session paid tribute at the martyrs column, and assembled in the hall named in the memory of the late Comrade Vimal Ranadive, one of the founder-leaders of the AIDWA. The backdrop of the stage depicted a pair of hands curled into fists, with a globe in the background, symbolising the united struggle of women against liberalisation and fundamentalism at the global level.
The open session started with a condolence resolution moved by Vijaya Dhule. A presidium consisting of Mariam Dhavale, Hemlata Kom, Tarabai Gutte, Shalini Raut and Shamim Shaikh conducted the entire proceedings of the conference. The reception committee president, Sarita Mokashi, herself a leader of the National Railway Mazdur Union and director of the Central Railway Employees Coop Credit Bank, delivered the welcome address. She called for a greater unity of women from both the organised and unorganised sectors to fight the policies of privatisation and globalisation that were attacking the few and hard-won rights of women. It must be noted here that the reception committee consisted of a large number of representatives of working women from the public sector, including banks, insurance, state government, state transport employees and the teaching community, who all made enormous efforts to ensure that the conference was a great success.
The open session came to an end after the conference had been inaugurated by Brinda Karat. The delegates session commenced after, a tea break, with the election of the steering, the minutes and the credentials committees. State JMS secretary Kiran Moghe then placed her report for discussion. It consisted of three parts --- a political section that outlined the specific issues facing women in Maharashtra in the present socio-political context, a work report that evaluated the struggles conducted by JMS Maharashtra in the last three years on various issues, and a self-critical organisational report that looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation including aspects like membership, unit and committee functioning and ideological training.
After lunch, the delegates broke up into district-wise groups for a thorough discussion on the report, which continued throughout the afternoon. They reassembled in the evening, and started the discussion on the report, that continued till late afternoon on the next day. 69 delegates spoke, contributing to the report through their own experiences of the specific issues they had been working on in the last three years. Their political analysis reflected the overall intervention of the organisation on a number of issues, and the development of a team of dedicated activists who are actively involved in different types of struggles, whether on the impact of liberalisation policies on the public distribution system, education and health sectors, on the question of illicit liquor, domestic violence, growing fundamentalist forces, challenges facing women working in the public sector or as domestic workers and beedi workers.
The conference passed a number of resolutions. It called for the immediate resignation of the NDA government in view of the Tehelka scandal. It also called upon the government to take immediate steps to halt the rise in the prices of essential commodities and to strengthen the PDS, and to take immediate steps to tackle the severe drought situation in the state. It criticised the Maharashtra government for its proposal to amend the labour laws in a manner inimical to workers interests, and called upon it to accept the Godbole committee recommendations on Enron. The conference made an appeal to women from all castes and communities to unite in struggle for maintaining the unity of the country, and to struggle against the terrible kinds of violence that is being perpetrated against women all over the country. A resolution demanding passage of the women quota bill, and another extending to the "Maharashtra Bandh" called by the Left and democratic parties and trade unions was also passed in the conference.
The conference was greeted by AIDWA vice president Pramila Pandhe and its treasurer Kalindi Deshpande. Kalindi congratulated the Maharashtra state committee for the progress it had made in the last three years, and called upon the delegates to strengthen the organisational base, with an added emphasis on membership enrolment and development of new cadre.
The accounts for the last three years were placed by state treasurer Sugandhi Francis who asked the delegates to strengthen the financial base of the organisation through greater membership and fund collection. The credential committee report placed by its convenor Shubha Shamim pointed to the large burden of housework upon the main activists of the organisation, alongwith the fact that many of them had to work to support their families. It also indicated a growing influx of young motivated women into the organisation, motivated by a spirit that seeks to bring about change at the ground level. The credentials report accurately reflected the multi-caste, multi-class character of the organisation; a large proportion of the members belong to the minorities. The secretarys report, accounts and credentials committee report were unanimously accepted by the delegates, after Kiran Moghe summed up the discussion at the end of the second day.
In the last session, the conference elected a 44-member state committee for the next three years, which in turn elected 11 officebearers. Delegates paid special tribute to Ahilya Rangnekar for having nurtured and led the organisation in Maharashtra, ever since the Shramik Mahila Sangh was formed in the 1940s, and passed a special resolution electing her as a Patron. 25 delegates were elected for the national conference scheduled later this year. The conference ended with a rousing speech by the new state president Mariam Dhawale. The vote of thanks was delivered by joint secretary Sonya Gill who specially recorded the tremendous contribution made by fraternal organisations like the CITU, DYFI, medical representatives, auto-rickshaw and other unions, former MLA Narsayya Adam, CPI(M) district secretary Ravindra Mokashi, the cultural organisations, and above all the reception committee, for making the conference a resounding success.
The conference was preceded by a well-attended public meeting on Sunday, April 22, at the Voronoko School Grounds, that was presided over by state president Mariam Dhawale. The main speaker at the meeting was AIDWA secretary Subhashini Ali who ridiculed the governments pronouncements about "empowerment" at a time when it was actually cutting back on all government schemes meant to benefit the mass of poor women in the country. A speech in Telugu by AIDWA vice president Mallu Swarajyam was a special attraction of the meeting, since there is a large Telugu speaking population in Solapur. Former MLA and CITU Maharashtra vice president Narsayya Adam recounted the militant struggle of women beedi workers just days before the conference, when the producers closed factories in order to pressurise the government to withdraw the additional welfare cess imposed on the sale price of beedis. CITU state secretary Suman Sanzgiri, Pramila Pandhe, Kalindi Deshpande and Solapur district secretary Naseema Shaikh also addressed the meeting. Kiran Moghe made the opening remarks.
Two other programmes were held in connection with the conference. One was a series of performances by the Jan Natya Manch (Delhi) from April 2 to 4, which helped to mobilise the working class and middle class support for the conference. The other was a one-day seminar on April 15 on the specific issues facing women working in the public sector in the context of privatisation and liberalisation. Both received an excellent response and helped to publicise the conference as well as the aspects of womens lives touched upon in these programmes.