National Convention of Bank Women

S V Venugopalan

THE third national convention of women employed in the banking sector was organised by the Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) in Chennai on December 17. The convention gave a call to defend the public sector, protect national unity and fight for gender equality.

Inaugurating the convention, AIDWA general secretary Mariam Dhawale said even after 70 years of Independence, people are struggling for their basic needs and a demand prioritised in this women’s conference report is for a separate toilet for women employees in bank branches. This reflects the utter indifference of the managements towards this very essential need of women. Also, there is growing harassment of women at workplace. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that our women should be with the family, the women employees thought that their transfer requests to join their families would be considered favourably. Nothing of that sort happened. What the prime minister meant was that women should remain within the confines of the family and shall not venture out. That is what the ‘Manusmriti’ speaks of women. Deriving from the ‘Manusmriti’, the RSS subjugates the status of women, supports ‘honour’ killings, pounces on religious minorities, etc. All the heinous crimes that the religious fundamentalists commit against women stand sanctified by the ‘Manusmiriti’. “Let us rise against the ‘Manusmiriti’ and fight against all injustices against humanity,” she said.

Dhawale exhorted the bank women to forge united struggles for gender equality. Recording a high sense of appreciation for bank employees, especially the women who had had to work overtime in the aftermath of demonetisation suddenly declared by the prime minister on November 8, 2016, she expressed anger that even the payment of overtime wages for the dedicated work remained unpaid in many banks, despite the bitter fact that the bank employees were the target of the public rage during those days.

The plight of working women levies on her the domestic work, office work and the social role, all in one. While wages are paid for office work, the work rendered at home goes unrecognised by the society. Religion, caste and social hierarchy degrade the status of women and it is a great struggle to understand the clash of ideology and move towards progressive ideals, she added.

Over 320 women delegates from various public sector banks, RBI, regional rural banks and cooperative banks from across the country attended the convention. The venue was named after Naresh Pal, the founder president of BEFI, and Sukomal Sen, a veteran trade union leader. 

Three-month-long preparatory work bore the fruits in the successful holding of the convention with the open session being attended by about 700 comrades.  Presided over by BEFI vice-president J Guriya, the convention started with a very spectacular rally after garlanding a statue of B R Ambedkar and taking a joint pledge to defend the public sector and fight for gender equality.

At the venue of the convention, the welcome speech was delivered by P Suganthi, AIDWA’s Tamil Nadu general secretary and the chairperson of the Reception Committee. Tracing the history of hunter-gatherer society, Prof. Kalpana Karunakaran illuminated the leadership role of women that came to be subordinated at the advent of industrial revolution which confined the women to their homes while the men folk made their entry into the factories.

Ms Rohini, actor and social activist, spoke on her documentary film on child actors made in 2007 and narrated the treatment meted out to women and children in the film industry.

BEFI president C J Nandhakumar delivered a special address highlighting the importance of holding such meets and grooming of women cadres to evolve them into leadership for the future.

Earlier, a book, titled ‘Challenges of Working Women’, was released by Dhawale. It is a compilation of articles on women in trade union movement-a perspective, towards equality at workplace, women and health, working women and law, women in trade union leadership and the speech delivered by V I Lenin in Moscow in 1919.

About 41 delegates deliberated in the delegate session that continued till the next day based on the work report submitted by Kalyani Chakraborty, convenor of the All India Women Sub-Committee of the BEFI. Sounding a high note of confidence and the fighting spirit, the speakers touched upon various issues faced by women employees at the bank branches that ranged from their concern for a healthy working atmosphere to defending the dignity of women. A mix of senior and very young employees, the participants exhibited an enthusiastic mood and a sense of pride on the whole conduct of the convention. The report was adopted after the summing-up of the deliberations was done by the convenor.

The convention adopted resolutions that included i) the demand for separate toilets in all bank branches, creche facilities, child care leave, etc., ii) On 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies, iii) Demanding severe exemplary action against atrocities committed on women, and iv) Against the banking sector reforms.

BEFI general secretary Pradip Biswas summed up the efforts and the need of the organisation for involving women employees in trade union movement in larger numbers. He applauded the work of the Reception Committee in making wonderful arrangement for the successful holding of the convention. Earlier, BEFI joint secretary C P Krishnan made an extensive power-point presentation on the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, explaining its evil consequences and the need to defeat the same with the woman power and the wide public support.

The convention ended on a very happy and celebratory mood after electing Nupur Roy (West Bengal) as the convenor of the All India Women Sub-Committee of the BEFI. The committee has 27 members from different states. 

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