THE well-attended first meeting of the AIDWA central secretariat after the Bhopal all India conference held at Chennai last month gave a call for an intensive campaign against the disastrous impact of demonetisation on women. It also called for a massive observance of International Women’s Day on March 8 around these three slogans: Work for all and equal wages for equal work is our right; Rise against the Manuwadi and regressive ideology; Immediately pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. It decided to convene the first meeting of the new Central Executive Committee (CEC) from March 21-23, 2017 at New Delhi. The AIDWA membership for the year 2016 will be finalised and the statewise membership targets for 2017 will be decided in this CEC meeting.
CAMPAIGN AGAINST DEMONETISATION
A serious discussion was held on the issue of demonetisation and its impact on the lives of the people, especially on women. There is a lot of misunderstanding about demonetisation and false hopes of getting some money in their Jan Dhan accounts amongst women. The media publicity by the Modi government on this issue has led to a lot of confusion. The secretariat decided to organise a broad and intensive campaign on this issue in all AIDWA units. The aim of this campaign is to explain the issue of demonetisation and expose the false propaganda of the Modi government so that women can be mobilised and drawn into struggles against the BJP regime.
Pamphlets will be distributed and a survey will be conducted amongst women. Numerous meetings in both urban and rural areas will be held to explain the different aspects of demonetisation and create awareness regarding the falsehood of the BJP propaganda. A note towards this end has been sent from the AIDWA centre to all state units.
Large sections of women have lost their livelihoods as a direct result of demonetisation. Some states have reported that there is unrest among women who have taken loans from micro-finance institutions (MFI) as they are unable to pay the weekly installments of their loans due to loss in their incomes. Some women have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as they have been humiliated by the MFIs for non-payment of installments. AIDWA has decided to demand a moratorium on the payment of the installments to the MFIs.
A form addressed to the block development officer (BDO) will be filled by women who have taken loans from the MFI. After getting these forms filled up, rallies and demonstrations will be organised demanding immediate stoppage of harassment by the MFIs and a moratorium on the payment of the installments.
Demonetisation has had a disastrous impact on women in many ways. Some instances were reported in the central secretariat meeting and some came to light when this writer visited some states for AIDWA programmes.
Vijayawada has started the online payment system in ration (PDS) shops. Women have to first deposit a minimum of Rs 1000 in their accounts. Only then can they pay for their grains amounting to Rs 50 which will be deducted directly from their accounts. Some poor women especially daily wage earners who did not have Rs 1000, had to forgo their grains. Some women could not buy their grains as their thumb impressions did not match with their Aadhaar cards!
The banks in Prakasam district evolved a new idea to get out of the mess created by the cash crunch. Old age pension is Rs 1000. So they started giving one note of Rs 2000 to two pensioners (Rs 1000 each) who were left with the task to divide the amount. A person was waiting outside the bank who gave change of Rs 100 notes at a commission of Rs 50 for Rs 1000!
Women from the tribal community and nomadic tribes collect minor forest produce like beads, etc. Traders come to buy these beads at the weekly markets. They give Rs 2000 note for a purchase of Rs 200. Where do we get the change from? This was the exasperated outburst of the seller women. None of their wares could be sold. They said that they were told that there is something like a mobile in the Rs 2000 note and that they would try to talk to Modi directly as he is responsible for making their lives miserable!
In remote tribal areas in Maharashtra, agents who go to the weekly markets for buying minor forest produce were paying the tribals the old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000. AIDWA intervened and prevented the agents from cheating the tribals. A tribal farmer sold 90 bags of paddy at a price of Rs 1050. He has not yet been paid his dues. Some paddy agents are taking a commission for giving change.
Women sanitation contract workers in Nellore were paid wages in the new Rs 2000 notes. Since they could not get change, they had to go without food. Medical shops too refused to give change while buying medicines. DWACRA groups make sweets during festival season. A family that usually buys 3-4 kg sweets bought only ½-1 kg, making the festival season a bitter experience this time.
Workers, both men and women, who had migrated to Punjab to work as agricultural workers in the fields have returned to their homes in Bihar facing starvation and destitution. Withdrawal of the wages by MNREGA workers everywhere was very difficult due to unavailability of cash in the banks.
Construction workers normally earned up to Rs 800 per day. This drastically came down to Rs 200 as work was unavailable. An old woman pensioner had to go to the bank for 15 days to withdraw Rs 4000. Women have had to pay commission to get their old notes exchanged, losing their hard earned money. Fisher women and vegetable and flower vendors incurred heavy losses as food items and flowers are perishable and they could not sell them. Women working in garment factories were paid in old notes.
Liquor shops made hay while the Modi-initiated demonetisation sun shone. Liquor shop owners gave change only if one bought liquor! A drunkard husband asked his wife for commission of Rs 200 to get change of Rs 2000!
The AIDWA in several states has been fighting against these effects of demonetisation. AIDWA in Tamil Nadu did the symbolic last rites of ATMs without money. Women laid wreaths and wailed, accompanied by chest beating. Agitations by cashew workers in Kanyakumari and beedi workers in Tirunelveli were conducted to demand wages in cash.
In Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, the AIDWA led a joint rally of women who had taken loans from MFIs. The MFI agents had started taking away things from the houses of these women since they were not able to pay their weekly loan installments.
The largest protests were, of course, held in Kerala. Apart from the historic LDF human chain in which thousands of women participated, AIDWA protests were organised in front of the banks in local areas in Kerala. AIDWA served drinking water, snacks and oranges to people standing in the long queues outside banks.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
The AIDWA central secretariat decided that the issues that will be raised during this year’s International Women’s Day will focus on the right of women to a life of dignity. Towards that end, the three slogans given above were coined.
Increasing unemployment and poverty has led to growth in destitution, starvation and malnutrition. Women are forced to do back-breaking work from morning till night in the unorganised sectors to keep their stoves burning. Female employment is falling. Wage discrimination between men and women workers in several sectors is increasing. Gender discrimination has been aggravated by worsening conditions of work, and in access to credit and social security.
Women face exploitation by the capitalist system and social oppression on the basis of caste and religion. The obscurantist and regressive forces are working in a planned manner to revive Brahminical anti-women practices in the name of tradition and culture. With the RSS-led BJP government in power, women are increasingly being made targets of violent attacks. The Hindutva brigade has always waged a concerted campaign against dalits and minorities. The followers of Manusmriti aim to strengthen patriarchy and control by spreading the fear of religious and social sanction.
The AIDWA called upon all its units throughout the country to mobilise women in large numbers to observe International Women’s Day around the above three slogans jointly with other women’s organisations and groups.