THE ‘Save India Convention against Assault on Women’s Citizenship Rights’, organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association was held in Mavlankar Hall, New Delhi on December 8. More than a thousand women delegates attended from Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to pledge their solidarity and support to the struggle against the anti-women policies and socially reactionary politics of the BJP-RSS regime. Three themes were covered by the convention – Right to life; Right to livelihood and dignity; and Right to security and free expression.
The convention began with the rendering of revolutionary songs by Purushottam from JANAM. AIDWA Delhi state secretary, Asha Sharma welcomed the guests and delegates. AIDWA president Malini Bhattacharya presided over the convention, and in her opening remarks reminded the delegates that the demands for which we are fighting are a part of our basic constitutional rights. She also said that AIDWA has a long history of struggle against the superstitious, regressive ideology of communal elements and will relentlessly continue this struggle for a better society.
The convention began by taking serious note of the gruesome incident where Afrazul, a migrant worker from West Bengal, was hacked to death and then burnt by a mob in Rajsamand, Rajasthan. The incident, which was videographed by the nephew of the murderer, who was a BJP leader, shows that the accused was shouting slogans against inter-religious marriages and ‘love jihad’ and appealing to the people of Mewar to eliminate ‘Islamic vichardhara’. Placing the condolence resolution, Mariam Dhawale said that the context of the convention is epitomised by this incident. Paying homage to Afrazul, the delegates pledged to carry on the struggle against such dastardly killings.
Placing the main resolution of the convention, AIDWA general secretary Mariam Dhawale reminded the delegates that women had to wage a prolonged struggle to win their economic, social, political and cultural rights. These rights are being attacked today as never before. Our democratic and secular values are endangered. The Modi regime is destroying these values and overtly and covertly encouraging the Sangh Parivar outfits to attack minorities, dalits, adivasis and women. Women have to bear the brunt of this increasingly violent atmosphere. Goons indulging in moral policing, honour crimes and sexual assaults have increased women’s insecurity tremendously.
She further explained how the toiling masses are being deprived of their right to cheap food grains and employment in MGNREGA due to linkage with the Aadhaar Card (biometric system), resulting in a spate of starvation deaths. She said that the brave women who will address this convention show how poor and ordinary women are resisting the crimes perpetrated on them and their families and are continuing their fight for justice against all odds.
The chief guest and AIDWA patron Brinda Karat began her speech by saluting the participants who have suffered the attacks of the Hindutva forces. She appealed to the delegates to rise and fight against the present BJP-RSS government which is guided by an ideology which does not accept democracy and secularism. She reminded that the RSS rejected the constitution of India and always advocated that Manusmriti must be the basis of the Indian constitution. The present leaders of the RSS and BJP are trying to impose their Hindutva brand of politics on India. They attack the secular forces, mix religion and politics and spread venomous hatred.
She reminded the delegates that last year 3,40,000 cases of atrocities on women are registered, of which 38,900 are rape cases and 10,000 are of women who have been burnt alive. She questioned why the BJP who has been raising the issue of triple talaq is silent on this and on sexual exploitation by so-called godmen such as Asaram or Ram Rahim. Manusmriti is based on the unjust caste system and is rabidly anti-women. Hence the present government does not speak or take action against the murderers of dalits, minorities and women. She saluted Junaid’s mother and others for raising their voice against injustice. The Hindutva slogan and so called Ram Rajya is in favour of the rich whose wealth has increased tremendously in the last three and a half years. She asked women to build a united struggle against the current regime.
KILLING WITH IMPUNITY
Subhashini Ali, AIDWA vice president conducted the first session on the ‘Right to Life’. The first heart-rending testimony was given by Shaista, daughter of Mohd Akhlaq, who was brutally murdered by gau rakshaks on September 28, 2015 in front of his family members, spreading false rumours of having beef in his house. She termed it a black night for her and her family, and ever since then they are living in fear and have been forced to leave their house. But all the accused were out on bail and were roaming around free. The main accused got a reward and was given a job in NTPC. In her own words she said, “Ab aisa ho gaya hai, hatya karo aur naukri lo’ (Now, it has become so, that you kill and land up a job). Even when one of the accused died in jail, he was draped in the tricolour for his cremation and declared a martyr, thus implying that the BJP leaders considered his act as ‘patriotic’. Shaista appealed to all the delegates to support her and her family in this struggle. She pledged that her family would continue to fight for justice. All the delegates responded positively to her appeal and conveyed their support with slogans.
The second testimony was by Anita Minz, a Christian adivasi from Jharkhand, whose husband, Ramesh Minz, was falsely accused of eating beef and handed over to the police on August 20, 2017 by a mob of upper caste Hindus who owe allegiance to the BJP. Ramesh Minz died in police custody on August 22, 2017. The police covered up their crime by stating that he had died in hospital due to his injuries. In her testimony, Anita Minz described how her husband was beaten when returning from the field. They rushed him to the hospital with serious injuries. The police abused the family and did not allow them to meet him in hospital. Indignities were heaped on the protesting family who questioned the reason for his death and were forced to give their consent for post-mortem. When they went to the police to protest they were told, ‘yeh khana kyon laye ho, gau ka maas khao, phir hum tumhe marenge’ (Why did you bring this food? You eat beef and we will hit you). The police tried to silence the family members with threats. Thereafter the accused would often come to her village, sit outside her house and shout, “Hame Ramesh ko Marte Hue Bada Maza Aaya’ (we enjoyed beating Ramesh). The main accused are still free and have not been arrested till today. She is being pressurised to change her statement but she vows to fight for justice. She thanked AIDWA for standing with her in her ordeal.
The third testimony was by Junaid’s mother Saira Begum who narrated the Ballabgarh incident in her own powerful words. Her son was killed by a gang of people in the train when he was returning home from Delhi. She kept repeating that her son was killed simply because of the fact that he was a ‘Hafiz’. She shared details about the pressures being put by the government and the panchayat to make her and her family compromise with the killers of her son. She stated that they were being offered two crore rupees and land to withdraw the case. But she and her family have rejected this offer and were determined to fight till the end. She bravely said every mother wants her child to study and develop, so she did the same. Her dream is to run a school in the memory of her son.
The most telling feature about the above three testimonies is that they show that not only Muslims but all minorities are being targeted by the Sangh Parivar.
The anti-dalit face of the Sangh Parivar was exposed by the fourth testimony. Sompalli, a dalit woman from Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh narrated her terrorising experience of a mob of Thakurs attacking their village because they were planning to install a statue of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar on November 14, 2016. Sompalli is the wife of Shivkumar who was the sarpanch of Shabbirpur. Shivkumar, a dalit sarpanch is in jail with his son and three villagers under the NSA. They were accused of damaging a statue of Maharana Pratap whereas the truth is that the Shabbirpur villagers only wanted to have Dr Ambedkar’s statue installed, which was not allowed by the BJP state government. Sompalli pointed out how her son’s arms and legs were brutally cut with swords. He was arrested after treatment for his injuries whereas the upper caste attackers are roaming freely with no action taken against them.
The mob damaged the Ravidas temple in her village and said that only a Rana Pratap statue would be installed in the area. When the villagers protested, a false case under the National Security Act was put on her husband, Shivkumar, who is now in jail. Sompalli went on a hunger strike outside the jail but was forced to withdraw by the police. The village was repeatedly attacked by the Thakurs, and though the Yogi Adityanath government pledged to repair the Ravidas temple and install the Ambedkar statue, today the temple and Ambedkar statue lie broken, whereas the Rana Pratap statue stands tall, reflecting the oppressive dominance of the Thakurs.
The last testimony was by Azra Praveen and Sumit Chauhan who withstood all kinds of pressures to legalise their inter-religious marriage. They were victims of the love jihad campaign. They stressed that inter-caste and inter-religious marriages are not a crime. We have a right to decide with whom we want to spend our lives. They pointed out that being from Haryana their inter-religious marriage challenged the communal politics of the Hindutva brigade. They not only narrated their ordeal but also expressed their solidarity with the struggles of all the women present in the convention. They thanked AIDWA and reaffirmed their determination to fight such forces.
Subhashini Ali summed up the session and saluted all the families for their brave fight against the Hindutva forces. She termed these forces as the enemy of minorities, dalits, adivasis and women. She linked their fight with the struggle of workers and farmers. She appealed to all delegates to fight against such reactionary forces all over the country.
FIGHTING FOR DIGNITY AND LIVELIHOOD
The second session which was conducted by Durga Swami focused on the ‘Right to Livelihood and Dignity’. The session started with the testimony of Gudiya, sister of 11 year old Santoshi who died of hunger in Jharkhand. Her family had not received ration for seven months because they did not have an Aadhaar card. On September 28, 2017 Santoshi asked her mother for rice so that she could assuage her hunger. But there was not a grain of rice at home and the stove had not been ignited for many months. Finally Santoshi breathed her last begging for food. The villagers started protesting her death. Thereafter the police and the district administration started putting pressure on Koeli Devi, mother of Santoshi to change her statement denying that it was a starvation death and that her death was due to illness. She came to attend this convention by telling the police that she is visiting her relatives or else they would never have allowed her to come to Delhi. Koeli Devi and her family have vowed to fight for justice.
Taramani Sahu from the Right to Food Campaign also addressed the convention. She has been abused and dubbed as anti-national for assisting Koeli Devi’s family.
The next testimony was a narration of the indignity heaped on women under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. Salma Khatoon from Mirzapur stated that they had been forbidden to defecate in the open. But in her village only 25 per cent people had got toilets under the government schemes. Teachers were given the work to ensure that women did not defecate in the open. Lumpen men move around in the fields, take photos of the women and put them on WhatsApp in order to shame them. Scared of the indignity, women have started to dig holes in their homes to defecate. In the end she angrily asked: “Modi sarkar kehti hai ki woh mahilaon ki izzat karti hai. Phir Swachh Bharat mein aurton ka aisa apmaan kyon? (Modi government says it respects women, then why is this insulting of women in Swachh Bharat?) ”
Heena Vanga, an adivasi girl from Maharashtra, narrated the struggles of women to get employment under the MNREGA in Thane-Palghar district of Maharashtra. Because of sustained efforts, 200-300 women were employed under this Act for the construction of roads, flower cultivation, save water programme etc. But the wages paid were very meagre and many of them did not get their wages for months. The compulsion of the Aadhaar card for MNREGA work is depriving large sections of the poor from their legitimate right to work.
The last testimony was by Kaushalya Devi, aged 66 from Samastipur, Bihar who said that she had been fighting for widow pension for the last one decade. She has also been denied old-age pension. Finally she received only Rs 200 per month after fighting for five years. But after the pension was linked to the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Aadhaar card she has stopped receiving it since 2015. This has had a serious impact on her and she is now finding it very difficult to meet her daily requirements.
These testimonies show that the basic rights required for a decent life have been severely impacted by the neo-liberal policies of the Modi government.
FIGHT FOR FREEDOM AND SECURITY
The last session on ‘Right to Security and Free Expression’ was conducted by Neena Sharma. Two testimonies were placed in this session by young women from institutions of higher learning. Shravani Chakraborty from JNU narrated her experience with the struggle to protect the autonomy of the GSCASH which has now been weakened by the university administration. The present government changed the name of JNU’s GSCASH to ICC and in this committee the members are nominated instead of elected. These members do not have the required experience in the field and yet they are imposed by the institution. She ended by saying that JNU students will continue to fight for GSCASH.
Gurmehar Kaur from Delhi University, daughter of the Kargil martyr, strongly expressed that her father died not because of Pakistan but because of war. She shared her experience about being trolled for starting an anti-ABVP campaign. She shared her brave journey with the audience and thanked AIDWA for giving her the opportunity to share her experience.
The most heart rending testimony in this session was by Sonia from Rohtak, Haryana who shared her story of child marriages. Sonia was married three times when she was 9, 14 and 17 years to men who were double her age. In each of these marriages she was subjected to brutal sexual assaults and multiple rapes by the men in the family and also by the friends of her different husbands. She now has a two and a half year old son who has been snatched away from her by her third husband’s family. She is determined to fight for her rights and thanked AIDWA for support in her struggle. She is trying to put her life back on track with the help of AIDWA.
The testimonies presented in this convention were so heart-rending that they brought tears to the eyes of several women delegates. They highlight the urgent need to put up a united struggle against the regressive politics of the Modi government. They also point towards the larger agenda of the Hindutva forces and press for the unity of women amongst all sections of society. This is particularly important because the laws providing even minimum protection to women are being systematically weakened by this government. This was highlighted by the presentation made by Adv Kirti Singh, the legal convenor of AIDWA.
Adv Kirti Singh exposed how the law is being violated by those who have the power, and how the present Modi government raised the question of triple talaq and the UP CM advocates having a survey on divorced Muslim women but does nothing to improve the condition of Hindu women. She informed that she has written a letter to the UP CM to amend the 2005 Act which denies the right to share family land with women members of the family. She pointed out that it was the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha which opposed rights to women at the time of framing the constitution of India. She also brought to notice the weaknesses of the Special Marriage Act. She placed the demand before the law minister for punishment to those who harass married couples in inter-caste and inter-religion marriages. The law minister assured to take action but till now no progress has been made. She also exposed how the Act against sexual harassment was not implemented properly and girl students of BHU were forced to come on the road to protect their rights. She also brought to light the Domestic Violence Act, which compels the system to file charge sheets in most of the cases. But the Supreme Court of India wants to dilute this Act. Thus government, police and judiciary are having a biased approach and want to deny the rights of women. She referred to the Hadiya case and other cases and explained how the courts themselves sometimes deny women their legitimate rights. She pointed out how dowry and rape cases have increased in recent times and convictions are very low. But the government is more interested in triple talaq with three year imprisonment, which may deny subsistence to Muslim women.
While concluding, Mariam Dhawale placed the call of this convention stressing on the AIDWA fight in the coming days.
1. A signature campaign will be launched from December 10, 2017, Human Rights Day to January 10, 2018 against the dilution of Section 498 A. The signatures will be handed over to the Chief Justice of India before the hearing on the issue in the Supreme Court.
2. To celebrate the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule on January 3, 2018 to commemorate her legacy of struggle against regressive and retrograde ideology.
3. To observe January 30, 2018, the martyrdom anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as Communal Harmony Day.
4. To fight for the right to ration food grains and employment.
The AIDWA diary and calendar for 2018 was released in this convention. A printed eight page concept note and two page resolution in Hindi and English was distributed to the delegates. AIDWA centre, AIDWA Delhi state committee and fraternal organisations worked tirelessly for the success of this convention. Malini Bhattacharya placed the vote of thanks.
The resolution of the convention was passed unanimously and an all India call was given for intensifying united struggles against the communal, casteist, regressive, neo-liberal and anti-women policies of the Modi government. With this pledge the delegates brought the convention to a resounding culmination with songs and slogans.