Kanpur is preparing itself to host the 812 delegates, special invitees, and representatives from different organisations who will soon be arriving there. The delegates have been elected at the twenty state level conferences, and three special conventions that have preceded the national conference. The venue has been named after Ahilya Ranganekar, in memory of our inspiring founding leader and valiant freedom fighter from Maharashtra, whom we lost in this period. The conference stage has been named after Kalindi Deshpande, in honor of a vibrant and much loved leader who has contributed to our movement in so many ways.
The reception committee under the guidance of our dynamic patron and leader of the women’s movement, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, is gearing up for the event. Under the leadership of AIDWA’s national president and convenor of the committee, Subhashini Ali, tireless efforts are being made so that the needs of the delegates are adequately satisfied. The colourful banners and posters with slogans against hunger, price rise, violence, unemployment, and inequality, bring to attention the political, economic and social context in which this conference is being held.
It is appropriate for the conference to be held in Kanpur, at a time when the impoverished and the marginalised are sliding off the policy makers’ agenda. It will highlight the innumerable ways in which neoliberal globalisation is endangering the lives of the working people. In the frenzy over the visit from the US president, the UPA-2 has been ceding its rights on the civil nuclear liability bill, it is allowing the corporate criminals behind the Bhopal gas tragedy to escape punishment, and it is preparing to establish closer ties with a country which is fuelling war and gross abuse of human rights on the Indo Pak borders. The worst sufferers of the economic crisis caused by capitalist greed and inequitable models of development are the workers in developing countries, and women are the most vulnerable. The women’s movement will have to resist this pro imperialist tilt, and the move towards privatisation, and liberalisation, which has the most retrogressive impact on women’s rights.
PRICE RISE AND FOOD INSECURITY
Price rise has enriched the wealthy, since the government refuses to regulate the market, and speculative trading in essential commodities. The government policies have doubled the number of crorepatis in one year, while the incomes of the poor, the working class, and the middle class are being steadily depleted by inflation. There are huge stocks of food grains rotting in the godowns, but the government refuses to universalise, or even strengthen the PDS. The APL/ BPL categorisation is faulty, fraudulent, and a blatant way of dividing up the poor, in a country where 55 per cent of women are anaemic, and nearly 80 per cent children are victims of malnutrition. The so called food security bill will increase food insecurity.
The intensifying crisis in agriculture has led to huge outmigration of families, since the implementation of MNREGA has been tardy, with big exposures of corruption in many states. In a context of jobloss growth, survival needs have forced women into the most menial jobs. Women in the unorganised sector are the most overworked, and underpaid sections, and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation as well.
The role of the State in withdrawing from provisioning of essential services, the privatisation of education leading to higher costs of schooling, especially higher education, the lack of health infrastructure and proper public health facilities have deprived women of their democratic entitlements even further. The MFIs have entered into the self help groups of women as a new breed of moneylenders in the absence of an inclusive banking system supported by the State, and the public sector. These are worrying trends which exacerbate existing problems to much greater degrees.
The conference would discuss these developments, and also work out the future campaigns and struggles to combat these trends.
Women have been victims of growing violence even as they have asserted themselves in so many spheres. New forms of modernity have not meant greater democratisation, but rather, increased backlash against women from fundamentalist forces. The NCRB data (2008) reveal a 49 per cent increase in cognizable crimes against women between 1998 and 2008. Dowry deaths, domestic violence, molestation, and sexual assault have all increased. Legal reform has been weak, and limited. The law to address sexual harassment at the workplace is still pending. The government refuses to see the need for a separate law to address crimes and killings in the name of honour.
A matter of great concern is the resurgence of patriarchy and regressive ideas. Protective legislations for women that have been achieved after long struggle are under threat from these forces. This is also because of the conflict and gap between the economically privileged and the poor caused by neo-liberalism. We find the well-off sections supporting murders committed in the name of honour, we find sex selective abortions continuing amongst the affluent. The strengthening of conservative and fundamentalist forces that deny women democratic rights to speak, dress, go to work according to their preference, choose their partners, etc would contribute to the strengthening of the communal BJP. These are issues of concern before the women’s movement.
The traditional rituals, and regressive ideologies are getting a new lease of life from the tie up with the markets, and the media. The commercial media today abounds with examples of ostentatious marriages, display of wealth, propagation of rituals linked to consumption of goods, all being fed to the audience through aggressive TV channels. As these values get internalised, the practice of dowry and other retrograde, anti women practices get reinforced. The conference will formulate strategies to counter these trends.
There has also been an upsurge of identity-politics of all kinds. The consensus for common social justice is getting lost as different sections - castes, ethnic, regional, linguistic and religious groups - all fight for their separate spaces with growing intolerance against each other. While the intolerance may well be the result of neglect and exploitation, it makes it easier for global capital to make its incursions. The separatism it breeds establishes itself by going back to retrograde ideologies in the name of cultural identity.
The Left has been the only political force standing up against the aggressive spread of neo-liberalism and exposing its shocking effect on the lives and livelihoods of the people. It has represented the most advanced ideological positions, and upheld democratic rights of all sections of people. Today, there is a concerted attack on the Left and an attempt to whittle down its social and ideological influence, which has to be fought back effectively. The destabilisation being attempted by the Maoists, hand in hand with the other anti left forces, which has led to so much loss of life in West Bengal, has to be recognised, and combated by the widest possible unity of progressive forces.
One dimension of the women’s movement that has made considerable progress and which the conference will seek to strengthen is the interventions in the rights of minority women particularly Muslim women and efforts to increase our organisational presence amongst these sections. Similarly the conference needs to plan the strategy to increase its presence and its work amongst dalit and tribal women, who are among the most marginalised sections and are maximally affected by current policies, as also amongst young women today. The call of “Kanpur Chalo” therefore comes at a very significant moment for the women’s movement.
The conference will be inaugurated by the indomitable leader of the anti-imperialist struggle, our own Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. AIDWA president, Subhashini Ali, will preside over the inaugural session, in which Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat will deliver a special address on AIDWA’s legacy, and release the book Breaking Barriers in Hindi.
The inaugural session will highlight the struggles waged by AIDWA activists in several states on some important issues- against untouchability in Tamilnadu, for adivasi women’s land rights in Kerala, against political violence in West Bengal, for Muslim women’s rights in Tripura, and against honour crimes and killings in Haryana. The protest against caste atrocity undertaken by a dalit woman of Uttar Pradesh, supported by AIDWA, will also be highlighted.
In the delegate session, the political report, the organisational report and work report would be placed and discussed. Resolutions on important issues would be passed. Greetings from fraternal organisations will enthuse the delegates. A new CEC and office bearers would be elected on the last day.
Seven Commission papers on various issues would be placed. The group discussions on these themes will be collated, and presented in the plenary. The conference will conclude with a public rally on November 12 which will be addressed by Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali, Shyamali Gupta (working president), Sudha Sundararaman (general secretary), Madhu Garg ( general secretary, UP) and other leaders of the organisation.
The conference will demand from the UPA government a serious commitment to passing the women’s reservation bill. It will resolutely oppose neo liberal policies. It will build resistance to fundamentalist and communal forces. The national conference of AIDWA is both a celebration of our work and our struggles and an inspiration to unitedly build an organisation large enough and militant enough to comprehensively address the diverse challenges facing the women’s movement in India today.
Vol. XXXIV, No. 45, November 07, 2010