February 14, 2021

Women Fight Back in Bengal

Sanjukta Choudhury

THE spur-of-the-moment lockdown thrust upon the people of this country has pushed the common people in situations unseen and unheard of before. The poor and the marginalised have been fighting a losing battle for survival. Millions have been rendered jobless and millions forced to do menial jobs. The struggle to remain afloat has been never-ending and tedious.

In all this, women have been the worst hit. The lockdown has only fortified the glass ceiling for the country’s female workforce. They were the first to lose jobs when big, medium, small and micro enterprises decided to downsize. Women workers, who managed to retain their jobs, had to take major pay-cuts. One callous out of the blue announcement took away the livelihood of millions of women working as domestic helps, at construction sites, in call centres, and in handicraft and retail units. Those engaged in running small road-side stalls, or working as daily wage earners stared at an uncertain and bleak future. Both the central and the West Bengal government had declared to distribute 5 kilograms of food grains respectively. But with each passing day, the amount provided to the people dwindled resulting in severe lack of nutrition in women and children belonging to the underprivileged and marginalised sections of the society.

During the lockdown, domestic violence has increased to an alarming level, prompting the UN to term it as a “shadow pandemic”. Women are subjected to physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economic abuse which is endangering the physical and mental well-being of a woman.

Due to the lockdown, women, especially the dalit and the tribal women, suffered disproportionately compared to women belonging to the upper castes. Besides falling off the national employment map, these women faced the brunt of the torture unleashed by the hoodlums of the vigilante groups owing allegiance to the BJP/RSS. Molestations and rapes have become the order of the day, especially in the BJP-ruled states. Women are being assaulted behind the façade of caste and religion. Not surprisingly, West Bengal adorns the first position in the country in violence against women.

The BJP-led central government and the TMC-led state government have both turned a deaf ear to these burning issues of women and their demands for redresses. To bring these important issues to prominence and to accentuate the apathy of both the governments, the women’s organisations of the Left Front and the Congress party have decided to stage a civil disobedience on the main thoroughfares of Kolkata on February 9. To make this programme a resounding success, rallies were held in every part of the state on February 4-5, along with demonstrations, and street corner meetings.

Meetings and jathas were held in every district of West Bengal, in protest against the three anti-farmer farm acts, the four anti-worker labour codes, and the Electricity Act. These jathas, convened by the central trade unions, industry-based federations, and 12th July Committee, traversed the length and the breadth of West Bengal from February 1-5.

On February 1, more than 300 workers participated in two jathas brought out from Nandaram Market and Tarasundari Park in Kolkata. These jathas crisscrossed some of the major thoroughfares of the city. West Bengal CITU general secretary Anadi Sahu, Kolkata district secretary Debanjan Chakraborty, and others participated in the jathas. Representatives of CITU, INTUC, TUCC, Carrier Transport Workers’ Union, Kolkata Street Hawkers’ Union and members of other workers’ unions partook in the jathas. The jatha participants expressed their solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ protest. Demands were made to provide all workers outside the ambit of income-tax a monthly support of Rs 7,500, ten kilograms of food grains per head to every poor family, minimum wage, and 200 days employment through MGNREGA. The participants were also vociferous in their protest against the anti-worker, anti-farmer policies of the TMC government.