Towards the Tenth National Conference of AIDWA
ALL over the country, AIDWA units are engaged in a campaign from November 7-15, to disseminate the message of its forthcoming national conference. The tenth all India conference of the AIDWA is occurring at a particularly significant moment of time, when the challenges before the women’s movement in our country are increasing by the day. In the struggle against gender oppression, and the fight for justice, and equality, AIDWA has been playing a leading role over the past three years, and has been uniting multiple voices of protest against the escalating instances of violence against women. The nearly 900 delegates who have been elected at the 20 state conferences held over the past three months are preparing to set out for Bodh Gaya, Bihar, where the tenth conference is scheduled to be held from November 22-25, 2013. They will discuss and debate these developments, and review their work minutely, over four days. Organisational aspects will be highlighted. The Bihar committee has geared itself up to the task of hosting the conference, and a 100 member reception committee, with Comrade Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi as its chairperson, and Rampari as secretary, has been constituted. The members are enthusiastically taking up the responsibility of conducting the conference in a grand manner. CURRENT CONTEXT Over the past three years, women of this country have been coming out onto the streets in constant struggles and campaigns against a wide range of assaults on their basic rights. In the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape in December 2012, which shook the conscience of the whole nation, an upsurge of anger and outrage from all sections of people, especially youth, thronged the corridors of power, and forced some remedial steps to be taken. These limited measures have hardly addressed the tip of the iceberg, AIDWA’s experience in the 32 years since its formation as a national organisation in 1981 shows that the roots of gender violence lie deeply embedded in the economic, social and political systems that continue to exploit and oppress women. Today, as AIDWA approaches its tenth conference, we take up the battle again, to oppose the corporate interests that are making inroads everywhere and threatening women’s lives and livelihood. Women coming out into public life in larger numbers are faced with complex forms of control, and manipulation. The tie-up between the corporate sector, and the conservative forces is aggravating the marginalisation and oppression of women, in old and new ways. AIDWA has been fighting these trends, and through its multidimensional struggles, continues to expand its influence, and presence, especially amongst the weakest, most underprivileged sections. As the agenda of the communal and casteist forces to incite riots and polarise communities to garner votes becomes clear, the most urgent task before AIDWA is to bring together all the women’s organisations, and democratic forces opposed to communalism onto a broad platform, and strengthen the campaign for an alternative to the BJP, and the Congress in the forthcoming elections. This is a priority before the women’s movement, which has seen how women and children were the worst sufferers of the communal carnage during the Gujarat riots of 2002. It is at such a crucial juncture that the conference is taking place, in a historical spot where, centuries ago, the oppressive nature of Vedic Hinduism was challenged in theory and in practice! It is the greatest injustice perpetrated by the capitalist system that, at a time when the advances in science, technology, communication, medicine, etc place all the resources at our command to ensure a decent standard of life, capitalist development is creating an environmental and ecological crisis that threatens our very existence today. And within this paradigm, unfortunately, women suffer the worst forms of deprivation, discrimination, and violence. Today, after arms, and drugs, human trafficking is the next major industry in the world. All over the world, the economic crisis has distorted growth, exacerbated inequalities, and has had a particularly adverse impact on the lives of women, both within the developed and the developing countries. For this reason, AIDWA has to strive to keep alive its anti- imperialist traditions, and the tenth conference must raise a strong voice of solidarity with all those forces standing up against the imperialist forces that are unleashing war and causing devastation and misery in many corners of the world today. As founding leaders like Comrade Lakshmi Sehgal, and Comrade Pappa Umanath, who passed away in this period, had proved in the course of their own heroic lives, the battle for women’s emancipation and equal rights was, and is, inextricably linked with the anti-imperialist struggle. AIDWA will never forget this truth, and will continue to seek ways to stand up against imperialism, in defence of the rights of women across the world. CONFRONTING NEO-LIBERALISM According to the Global Gender Index, India’s ranking fell from 98 to 113 of 135 countries, during the five years from 2006 to 2011. Neo-liberalism has adversely impacted women’s status and livelihood in our country. 3 out of 5 women are anemic, every third child is stunted and every fifth child is wasted. Women from tribal, dalit, and muslim communities are especially affected, pointing to the skewed development policies that are leading to social imbalance, and marginalisation of the poorer, more backward sections. Statistics show that large scale displacement in the name of development has occurred without proper rehabilitation of affected families. The women who depended on land, forests, and common property resources, to ensure survival of their families, are now at the mercy of the market. The agrarian crisis has compounded their woes. Women migrate in huge numbers, seeking work. They are the most vulnerable to all kinds of violence, and are deprived of all citizenship rights. AIDWA, along with other organisations, has been and will be part of the huge struggles for land rights, and against displacement without proper rehabilitation. The vast majority of working women has been pushed into the ‘unorganised sector’ underpaid, and overworked, with no security as domestic help, home-based worker, contract labour etc. As ASHAs, anganwadi workers, para-teachers, they are denied minimum wages and work for a pittance. Only 25% of women are participating in any kind of work and, of them, only 15% earn wages of any kind. The lack of employment has hit women from the poorest households the hardest. Along with the trade unions, AIDWA has to plan for powerful joint interventions to protect the interests of working women. The State’s withdrawal from many areas crucial to women’s lives like education, health, social sector, threaten women’s survival strategies further. It is estimated that 59% of households live in huts and shanties; 58% do not have access to piped drinking water, 55% to toilets and 32% to electricity. The privatisation of health and education has resulted in huge increase in costs for schooling and health care. The business model in education and health must become a terrain of intense struggle which AIDWA pledges to strengthen in the coming days. In the face of the neo-liberal onslaught, AIDWA resolves to continue the fight for alternatives, including for Food Security and universal PDS. The conference will give a call for alternative policies, against the neo-liberal regime marked by corruption, for Left policies in the interests of the working people, and the working women of this country. CLAIMING WOMEN’S RIGHT TO A VIOLENCE FREE SOCIETY Women’s insecurity has grown beyond all measure. There is no place that is secure for them – their homes, their workplaces, educational institutions, public spaces, means of transportation are all sites of violence. Every single minute, a sexual crime is being committed against a woman in this country. Less than one in four rapists are penalised for their crime. Long pending amendments to the CrPC were won through struggle, but are hardly enforced. The prevalent mindset is still to blame the victim, though around 40% of rape victims are minors. Survivors are also denied justice because of the absence of proper relief and rehabilitation measures. For this reason, the conference will discuss how to strengthen our intervention on this issue. We will intensify the fight for the implementation of gender just laws, like the sexual harassment at workplace law, the new rape law, POCSO, the PWDV Act to name a few. Today, as women’s assertion and aspirations are on the rise, the casteist, communal and reactionary forces are trying to impose restrictions, and shore up the patriarchal order. Moral policing has become widespread. Dress codes are being imposed on girls with impunity. Constitutional rights are under threat from conservative forces, especially the Hindutva forces, but it is a matter of concern that the State is not able to defend the fundamental rights of women in these matters. In many states, khap panchayats, are resorting to killings and crimes in the name of honour. In Tamilnadu, two tragic deaths at the altar of casteist and identity politics reveal the extent to which politics and caste are converging against the basic democratic rights of youth to choose their partners. The attempt to conserve vote banks through caste mobilisation has led to killings and crimes in the name of honour, and yet, there is no separate law to deal with the multiple aspects of this violence. This is a challenge that will be taken up. Contemporary modernism reflects capitalist value systems, and ironically, the most regressive anti-women ideologies, rituals and superstitions are being propagated by the corporate media machine. Dowry has gained a new lease of life. Women fall prey to forms of bondage that are disguised in glamour and glitter, but which are nevertheless as restrictive, and as oppressive as before. How can this be addressed? Self-styled Godmen like the recently arrested Asaram Bapu, are using the religious belief prevalent among large sections of people to exploit women. Asaram was arrested because of our protests. There are many more Asarams around. They prey on superstition, on unscientific beliefs, to exploit women. In rural interiors, and in tribal areas, we find that, even now, women are being branded as witches, and killed. The conference will form strategies to address all forms of violence against women, and will continue to unite youth, students, and other women’s organisations in this important struggle. AIDWA will also address the alarming child sex ratio – 914 girls to 1000 boys – which, in the 2011 census, has come down to the lowest level since Independence. It reflects growth without equity, and is a measure of son preference in our society. Ironically, it is states with a high growth rate – Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra, where the child sex ratio is the lowest. AIDWA conference will issue a clarion call for policy alternatives that only the Left can offer, and take up the task of uniting other women’s organisations before the impending elections. It will take up as a challenge the violence being perpetrated in West Bengal by the TMC, in which many comrades have been murdered, and many people have been prevented from participating in the panchayat polls, fearing for their lives. CONFERENCE SCHEDULE On November 21, a massive rally will be held at Azad maidan, Gaya in which around 50,000 women are expected to participate. It will be addressed by Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali, and other AIDWA leaders. On November 22, Tripura chief minister, Manik Sarkar will inaugurate the conference. Women from different states who have fought for justice will speak about their experience. A book on AIDWA, written by Elizabeth Armstrong will be released. Other book releases include: On the violence in West Bengal, On neo-liberal globalisation and women (by Brinda Karat) and a publication on torchbearers of AIDWA, - carrying the profiles of some of our early leaders. The report on national and international developments, as well as the work and organisational reports will be discussed in detail. Commission papers on important issues of current relevance will be discussed. On November 25, the new leadership of AIDWA will be elected. The team will once again pledge itself to the task of upholding women’s rights, and intensifying the struggle for women’s equality and emancipation. Through unity and struggle, we shall overcome!