January 12, 2014
AIDWA Observes Savitribai Phule Birth Anniversary

Mariam Dhawale

MORE than 5,500 adivasi women from around 100 villages of the Talasari, Dahanu, Palghar, Vikramgad, Jawhar, Wada and Shahapur tehsils of Thane district gathered at the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Bhavan at Talasari on January 3, 2014, to observe the birth anniversary of legendary social reformer Savitribai Phule who was born that day in 1831. The huge hall which accommodates around 3,000 people was jampacked, and an almost equal number of women sat in the grounds outside the hall. This public meeting was organised by the Thane district committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). Apart from the thousands of adivasi women who attended, hundreds of college girls of the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar College were also present. For ten days after the successful conclusion of the first state convention and rally of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) at Talasari on December 21-22, AIDWA activists of Thane district led a concerted campaign to mobilise for this public meeting. They went from village to village and from hamlet to hamlet, taking small meetings and distributing 5,000 leaflets. Savitribai (January 3, 1831 – March 10, 1897), along with Mahatma Jotirao Phule, had fought for the rights of women, peasants, dalits and backward castes. Bravely facing the abuses hurled at them by reactionary forces, they pioneered the campaign for women’s education, starting the first school for girls at Pune in 1848. They courageously carried on their struggle for gender equality and against the caste system in spite of tremendous persecution by the Manuwadi obscurantist forces. The main speaker at this meeting was AIDWA vice president Subhashini Ali. Congratulating the AIDWA’s Thane district committee for mobilising women in such large numbers, she said that Savitribai lived in an era when girls were married off at a very early age. Many of them were widowed when still young and they were treated very badly. Their heads were shaved and they were deprived of all the good things in life. They were victims of atrocities and sexual exploitation. Unable to face the insults of society, they committed suicide when they became pregnant. Savitribai reached out to these women, appealed to them not to commit suicide and started the first orphanage where they could leave their newborns. The obscurantists threw cowdung on Savitribai when she started going to the school to teach the girls. As a part of the struggle against untouchability, the Phules opened up the well of their house to give water to dalits. The Brahmin community was always up in arms against them. But they valiantly carried on the fight for equality and justice. Rulers are always afraid of educating the masses. Education encourages people to ask questions. Elaborating on the incident in The Mahabharata where Eklavya was asked for his thumb as ‘guru dakshina’ so that he could be eliminated as a competitor to Arjun, she explained how ‘tradition’ is used to keep the deprived sections backward. The corporate media publicises such practices that encourage superstitions. We have seen how blind faith in so-called miracles of babas and sadhus led to the exploitation of young girls and women by the likes of Asaram. Today a 15 years old child is fighting for justice against him. Superstitions are popularised and glorified by exploiters as they help in keeping the masses enslaved so that they do not raise their voice against injustice. Subhashini Ali said that during the 1940s, when the seeds of the famous Warli Adivasi Revolt were being sown, Godavari Parulekar had to first conduct an intense campaign to liberate the tribals from the superstition that “the gods would be angry if they revolted against the landlords.” It was only after they were convinced about the falsity of this superstition that they rose in revolt, leading to their liberation from centuries of bonded labour. She reminded the women that it was due to this historic struggle that they have been able to educate their children and live on the lands in their occupation. But the struggle against injustice is not over. Exploitation has increased. Communal forces and supporters of the Manusmruti are raising their ugly heads to divide us. We must beware of them and unitedly continue our fight for a new and just world. Eight of the fifteen tehsils of Thane district have a predominantly tribal population. There are many serious issues of women and of development of the tribal areas that the AIDWA has been raising regularly for the last several years. AIDWA Maharashtra state president Mariam Dhawale elaborated on the campaign being taken up by the AIDWA on these issues. On the issue of food security, meetings are being held in all the villages where AIDWA membership has been enrolled so that most of the tribal families get included as beneficiaries under this Act. Lists of families who do not have ration cards are being prepared. The question of widow and old age pensions and housing under the Indira Awaas Yojana is being taken up. The AIDWA has intervened in many cases of atrocities against tribal women in the district. AIDWA has decided to take up problems being faced by women elected to local bodies, especially sarpanchas. It is due to the tremendous hard work put in by a cohesive team of hundreds of AIDWA tribal activists that the organisation has today reached 116 villages in seven tehsils of Thane district, with a membership of over 22,000. The AIDWA has resolved to carry forward the legacy of Savitribai Phule and Godavari Parulekar, fighting for the rights of women with renewed determination. Mariam Dhawale concluded her speech by referring to the challenge of the ensuing Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections and called upon the women to make all-out efforts to defeat the BJP and the Congress and to ensure the victory of the Left. The public meeting was presided over by AIDWA state vice president Hemlata Kom and was addressed by CEC member Rasila Dhodi, district secretary Sangeeta Ozare, district president Lahani Dauda, state committee member Tai Bender, district joint secretary Urmila Shingade, district committee member Sunita Ozare and Prof Ranjita Nam. All of them dwelt upon various burning issues of women and called for intensifying the struggle on them. After the public meeting, thousands of women enthusiastically danced to the beat of the tribal musical instruments toor and tarpa, which were played by Comrade Raja Gahala and his team.