December 22, 2019

AIDWA Holds Ten-day March for Liquor-free Tamil Nadu

U Vasuki


THE state of Tamil Nadu stands first as far as the revenue from sale of liquor is concerned. Even during the festival of Deepavali, the state government fixed a target for sale of liquor through the state owned TASMAC shops and ‘achieved’ it. Alcoholism is prevalent even among school students and the number of young widows is increasing in the state. The fact that in many instances of violence, whether it is domestic violence or sexual violence, the culprits were found to be drunk proves the connection between violence and high consumption of liquor. Violence against women and children are on the increase. Recently, a nine-month old infant was raped by her uncle; a second standard student was gangraped and dumped; a dalit girl was gangraped by her so-called boy friend and his friends, burnt with cigarette butts and killed horribly. Sexual offences against children have become rampant, with 24 per cent increase in one year. The investigation in most of the cases was shoddy.  Protests are often stifled. Modi’s “save daughters” campaign flies in the face of this stark reality.

Under these circumstances, AIDWA Tamil Nadu unit has decided to undertake a campaign against violence and alcoholism through a march to the state secretariat. Inspired by the long march of peasants of Maharashtra under the red flag, two groups consisting of more than 100 women each started  on November 25 – International Day against Violence – from Thiruvannamalai and Vadalur respectively and covered a distance of approximately 200 km each and reached Tambaram, on the outskirts of Chennai on December 3rd late evening. A huge public meeting was held by AIDWA, South Chennai committee in which AIDWA president Malini Bhattacharya and general secretary Mariam Dhawale participated. Freedom fighter and a senior leader of Left movement in Tamil Nadu, R Nallakannu, handed over shields to around 136 women who walked all the nine days without break. Vasanthi Devi, educationist and former chairperson of state women’s commission, K Chandru, former judge, Madras High court, Dr Jayarani Kamaraj, U Vasuki, AIDWA vice president, P Suganthi, general secretary and S Valentina, president of AIDWA state committee addressed the public meeting.  CEC members N Amirtham, K Balabharathi, V Pramila, S K Ponnuthai,  office bearers of the state unit and Chennai leaders Saravana selvi, Dhanalakshmi and Bakkiam were present.

On the tenth day ie, December 4, the police denied permission to enter Chennai city from Tambaram. They were trying to arrest the women at the gates of the hall where they were staying. Why should the government fear 200 women walking along the road to meet the chief minister to hand over a memorandum? Is it a crime to ask for a violence and liquor-free state? With these questions, the women resisted and the police used a thick rope to surround them and contain them. Many suffocated. One section broke the cordon and ran to the main arterial road and staged a road roko. Infuriated, the police manhandled the women, lifted them bodily and threw them inside the police van. Women’s clothes got torn, some suffered from breathlessness and chest pain, some complained of pain because the women police stood on their legs to make them get up from the squatting position. But the women braved all the brutality and stood firm. Slogans of “down with police brutality” were in the air.  It literally became a battle field. The responsibility for this crime is fully on the shoulders of the state government. It almost took more than 45 minutes to arrest all the women and clear the road. This is the situation in the AIADMK ruled state which is hobnobbing with BJP to safeguard their corrupt regime. Late in the evening the women were released. The brave women who faced the police, ended up crying because they had to go back leaving the friends and comrades and kept asking the leaders whether it is possible to continue the march for a few more days!

Thiruvannamalai group led by S Valentina was flagged off by Vanitha, mother of a six-year old daughter who was gangraped and killed recently. With the help of AIDWA, she has become an active fighter and walked all the ten days. Vadalur group, led by P Suganthi,  was flagged off by Sivaranjani,  sister of a minor girl in Ariyalur who was gangraped by her boy friend and his friends for days together, killed and her foetus was taken out and burnt. U Vasuki and Sudha Sundararaman were part of the Vadalur team. Some of the participants were themselves victims of violence due to alcoholism. They were mostly single women either widowed or deserted who were constantly at the receiving ends of sexual harassment. They had made arrangements for the children’s safety and came to the march for a better Tamil Nadu. Many participants were wage earners and they came sacrificing ten days wages. One of the marchers, a pappad making labourer, who normally earns Rs 175 per day took leave for 15 days and in addition to the loss of income, paid Rs 1000 to her neighbour for taking care of her children. All of them said that it was AIDWA which gave them courage to stand up to the society. A young widow with two children was part of the team and  one day during the march, her son rang up and said that he went inside the house but a snake was there. She was devastated but somehow managed to call her mother who came to the rescue of the boy. We had to send her home forcefully, but she came and rejoined the next day along with her ten- year old son. Such was the conviction and courage of the participants.

The women not only raised slogans but sang and danced all the way. Cultural teams accompanied both the groups. It was an arduous journey, but nevertheless inspiring. Sometimes it was scorching sun, sometimes it was pouring rain. Many suffered from blisters and sore foot. But the  warm reception given by fraternal organisations like CITU, AIKS, AIAWU, DYFI, SFI, TARATDAC, AIIEA, TNGEA, Progressive Writers Association, Transgender Association, Irular Welfare Association and the CPI(M) kept the women going. The women on the road came running and shook hands with the marching women to extend solidarity to the movement with demands so dear to them. The teams which distributed pamphlets and collected donations met different kinds of people and patiently answered all their questions. Both men and women welcomed the campaign and in various places, the women gave their phone numbers asking our teams to come again so that all the women in that locality can become members of AIDWA. Each of the women that were approached on the streets, had a story about the violence perpetrated by their drunken husbands. Some school children asked our women to take them also to meet the chief minister so that they can cry out their misery caused by the alcoholic fathers. The awakening among the women and children was palpable. Many street corner meetings were addressed. Women who were spectators in some places offered to share their grievances in the mike.

The mainstream media ignored the march despite the fact that the demands were the most important demands for the women in the state. It was the social media which spread the message across the continents. Demands for a separate legislation to curb honour crimes, action against the erring policemen under IPC 166A, speedy trial of rape cases, protection of victims rights, sensitising the agencies of investigation, prosecution and judiciary were also raised.

It has been decided to carry on the campaign locally with the involvement of a large number of women which would certainly force the government to bow down. This 200 km long march, a first in many ways, which broke the myth that women can’t do it, is a proof of such a possibility.