People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 13

March 28, 2010

AIDWA Demands Women’s Bill Passage in Lok Sabha

 

MEETING in New Delhi on March 13 and 14, the central executive committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) took stock of the momentous developments in the country and their impact on women in diverse ways. The meeting, in which 61 members from 21 states participated, was presided over by Subhashini Ali, the AIDWA president, with some sessions being chaired by vice presidents Rama Das and Rampari. Brinda Karat, MP, also took part and reported about the situation as regards the women’s reservation bill, and the need to push for its passage in the Lok Sabha.

 

WOMEN’S

BILL

With the Rajya Sabha passing on March 9 the long pending bill for 33 per cent reservation for women in legislative bodies, there was indeed a sense of achievement at the CEC meeting. But it was also tempered with concern over the hostility, blatant and latent, that it has evoked. The scenes of unruliness in Rajya Sabha on March 8 and the subsequent virulent campaign by its opponents are indicators that its passage in Lok Sabha is going to face resistance from many quarters. Attempts are being made to pose the bill as a means to exclude minorities, OBCs, and dalit women from the corridors of power. In fact, as the experience of reservation in the panchayat and local bodies experience shows, the scope for women from the above sections to come to power in larger numbers through this legislation increases with its passage. The problem of low representation of Muslims in parliament is valid, but the problem cannot be solved through the women’s bill. However, despite the arguments being untrue, the campaign around it is being systematically built up. The AIDWA resolved to explain the real reasons for the counter campaign, and strengthen the struggle for its passage in Lok Sabha.

The CEC noted the opportunistic role played by TMC leader Mamata Bannerjee in suddenly shifting her stand of supporting the bill, for her own petty reasons. It appreciated the principled and consistent support extended by the Left parties, and called on all the parties to come together to overcome the current impasse, so that the bill finally becomes a reality.

 

WOMEN’S DAY

CENTENARY

It was leaders of the socialist women’s movement like Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai and others who gave the call for an International Women’s Day, to highlight the issues affecting women across the globe. This took place at the International Conference of Socialist Women, held at Copenhagen in 1910. Since then, women’s organisations have come together every year on this day and mobilised women in millions to demand justice and equal rights. This year, the slogans put forth by the national women’s organisations were:

Right to food, against price rise,

Right to work, against job loss growth,

Right to a violence free life within and outside the home,

Right to peace and well being, say no to war.  

Thirteen organisations of women marched under a common banner, raising slogans for these demands. The rally culminated in a meeting where speakers highlighted the urgent need to have better representation in decision making bodies in order to advance their struggle for basic democratic rights. The organisations expressed support to their sisters across the world in the fight against imperialism, for peace, against war and for equality.

Extending support to their Indian sisters were representatives from China, Venezuela, South Africa and the Arab League who narrated the women’s struggles in their own countries. They expressed the hope that 33 per cent reservation would facilitate better participation of women and help advance their struggle for better rights.

 

POLITICAL

DISCUSSION

AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundararaman placed the central report, which was adopted after discussion. Many significant issues were raised and future campaigns planned. A few are as below.

1) The CEC condemned the price rise, and the government’s callous refusal to accept the shattering impact it was having on the aam aadmi and aam aurat. It held the central policies responsible for the continuing and unbearable inflation, and decided to strengthen the struggle against these policies. It supported the Left Parties’ call for a Jail Bharo on April 8 to press for universalisation of the PDS, rollback of the hiked prices and Food Security Act to guarantee 35 kg of grain at Rs 2 a kg to all. For the action, it decided to mobilise women in large numbers.

2) CEC members from West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh gave graphic accounts of Maoist activity. Not only were poor people and Left activists being attacked; all development work was being brought to a standstill in their areas of operation. At the same time, their cadre were involved in extortion and colluding with illegal mining operators and contractors. The CEC decided that an AIDWA delegation would visit Sundergarh, Orissa, where thousands of poor tribals were living in camps because their homes had been destroyed.

3) A recent ILO report shows that despite signs of progress in gender equality over the past 15 years, there is still a significant gap between women and men in terms of job opportunities and quality of employment. It underlined three basic gender imbalances. (a) Nearly half (48.4 per cent) of the female population above the age of 15 remain economically inactive, compared to 22.3 per cent for men. (b) Women who do want to work have a harder time than men in finding work. (c) When women do find work, they receive less pay and benefits than the male workers in similar positions. Also, the initial impact of the economic crisis felt in the men dominated spheres, such as finance, manufacturing and construction, has since expanded to other sectors, including services, where women tend to predominate. This trend would have repercussions on working women in India as well. This has to be an important area of AIDWA’s intervention.

4) The meeting criticised the budget as anti-poor and anti-omen, with paltry allocations for schemes to address malnutrition, health and educational needs. The CEC resolved to continue to fight for better implementation of laws like NREGA, Forest Rights Act and PWDV Act, which were brought in with support from the Left, but which are now being undermined through poor funding and faulty implementation.

5) Violence against women, including crimes like rape and sexual assault, is on the rise. The AIDWA has been in the forefront of the campaign for a more comprehensive law to deal with rape, molestation and sexual assault, for which harsher and minimum punishments to the perpetrator have been proposed as amendments. It has also asked for differentiation between a major woman and a minor child; molestation and other forms of sexual assault of minors should be treated as more serious types of sexual assaults. It has also asked for extensive changes in the procedural laws relating to all these types of sexual assaults to make the laws more sensitive to women and minors.

6) Members from BJP ruled states pointed out how the BJP misuses the state machinery to push a religious agenda. In Karnataka, on Sivaratri, Tirupati laddoos and ganga jal were distributed through all the temples. The state government has been very liberal to mutts. The MP government is trying to bring passages from Bhagavad Gita into the school syllabus. It has launched a signature campaign for the protection of cows. Such attempts towards communalising the society have to be challenged.

7) Members also expressed concern about the proliferation of fake godmen in many parts of the country. Reports show how these miscreants have sexually exploited women and appropriated how much land and wealth. The government must take steps to monitor these so called godmen’s assets immediately.

 

YOUNG WOMEN’S

CONVENTION

The Young Women’s Convention, held by AIDWA in Bangalore, successfully brought out the myriad ways in which oppression and discrimination is a daily reality for youngsters. Sushma Tiwari, victim of a ghastly honour crime, spoke about how the Supreme Court had commuted her brother’s death sentence but not thought about her right to justice and her condition after the murder of her marital family. (The SC reduced the sentence of Sushma’s brother who had killed her husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law and friend because she, a UP Brahmin, had married a lower caste Malayali. He was given the death sentence by both the sessions court and High Court in Maharashtra but the SC reduced it to life sentence saying that when a higher caste woman’s brother often reacts emotionally and spontaneously when she marries a lower caste man.) AIDWA has moved a review petition in the Supreme Court on this issue. Sunita from Jaipur gave a graphic description of her marriage at the age of 9, removal from school, forced child bearing, and her struggle to get her children educated. Finally, after coming in touch with the democratic movement and with AIDWA, she is now preparing herself to become “an educated activist.” From Kerala, a tribal girl read out from her writings, and expressed her hopes of becoming a renowned writer.

AIDWA had conducted a survey among young girls and Subhashini Ali released the report at the convention. Suhasini Maniratnam, a well-known Tamil film personality and a special invitee to the convention, spoke on the prevailing mindset that circumscribes women’s abilities and roles. She emphasised the importance of young women questioning and overcoming impediments within herself and in society. The CEC decided to hold young women’s conventions in all states so as to expose the denial of their constitutional rights and organise struggles against it.

The CEC welcomed the CPI(M) decision to nominate AIDWA vice president T N Seema and Tripura AIDWA leader Jharna Das to the Rajya Sabha.

It passed a resolution welcoming the tabling of the Justice Ranganath Mishra report in parliament and congratulating the West Bengal government for announcing 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for Muslims whose annual income is less than Rs 4.5 lakh and who fall in the OBC category. The meeting called on the central government and other state governments to follow suit.

The CEC also greeted the UP committee for its proposal to host the ninth national conference of AIDWA in Kanpur from November 9 to 12, 2010. Preparatory to this, state and district conferences are being planned and the CEC members are gearing up to this important organisational task. With a membership of one crore 19 lakh women in 2009, AIDWA is poised to grow further, and it has the responsibility of leading the women of this country into more militant struggles against caste, class and gender based exploitation.