The struggle of women for a society free from exploitation

Mazdoor Ekta Committee (MEC) held a meeting on March 7, 2022, to mark International Women’s Day. The theme of the meeting, held online, was ‘The struggle of women for a society free from exploitation’.

The main speaker at the meeting was from Purogami Mahila Sangathan. Activists from many women’s organisations and workers organisations participated in this meeting. They included Rahmatunissa of Jamat e Islami Hind Women’s Wing; Sukhvinder Kaur, Mahila Wing, BKU Ekta Krantikari; Santosh Kumar of Mazdoor Ekta Committee; T. Jayanthi, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board Employees Association; Jaya Mehta, Joshi Adhikari Trust; Sumaiya Pravin, a lawyer working with women survivors of acid attacks; Ritu Kaushik of All India Mahila Sanskritik Samiti (AIMSS); Shireen of Lok Morcha Punjab; Navdeep Kaur, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan; Maya John, Centre for Struggling Women (CSW); Promila of Lok Paksh; Dr. Rachna Garg, senior teacher and activist; Raj Kaur Gill, Naujawan Kisan Ekta, Chandigarh; Ranjana, Convenor of Vanita; Maimoona Mollah of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA); Rushda of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW); Harinder Kaur Bindu of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ekta Ugrahan and Kusum Sehgal of Swastik Mahila Samiti.

Sucharita conducted the meeting on behalf of MEC. The political conclusions drawn by PMS from the long struggle of women for their emancipation was explained through a vivid power point presentation. We are reproducing the main text of this presentation at the end of this report.

Following the main presentation, many participants expressed their views on the issue.

The speakers elaborated on their experiences of the kind of oppression women face and the boldness with which women are coming out in the forefront of the struggle. The bold participation of women in the movement to oppose the CAA and the NRC, the participation of lakhs of women in the kisan andolan, the united struggle of anganwadi and ASHA workers, the struggle against privatisation of public assets, the opposition to the labour codes which aim to rob women of whatever meagre rights they have gained so far, the need to highlight and organise against sexual violence, domestic violence, discrimination at work  – these and many other issues were raised and discussed.

All speakers agreed that no matter which government comes to power, the oppression and exploitation of women have continued. This is because in the present capitalist system, headed by the big monopoly corporate houses, the multiple forms of oppression of women, including feudal and caste oppression, are kept alive, in order to enable the capitalists to make maximum profits through the exploitation of all the working people.

The meeting came to the conclusion that women cannot hope to achieve their emancipation as long as the present capitalist system continues. Women and men have to fight together, for a new system in which we will be the decision makers and the economy will be geared to fulfil the needs of the people, not the greed of the corporate houses.

Presentation of Purogami Mahila Sangathan

Purogami Mahila Sangathan hails 8th March, International Women’s Day – a celebration of the struggle of women for their complete emancipation from all kinds of exploitation, and oppression and injustice.

This year we are completing 75 years of independence from the British Raj, and we can’t help but wonder – is this really the independence for which countless of our martyrs gave up their lives? The answer is obvious.

Power was transferred from the hands of the gora sahibs to those of the bhurra sahibs in 1947. Our people – men and women, have no power to make decisions on issues that vitally affect us. That is why, instead of making continuous, all-round progress, today we find that India is among the countries that are the worst off, in very indicator of human progress, be it hunger, health, nutrition, unemployment, women’s safety, etc.

Whether it is provision of food, water, sanitation, health, education or any service at all, the state has been shrugging off its responsibility towards its citizens and leaving it to private players for grabbing astronomical profits.

For crores of people entering the labour force every year, permanent jobs are extremely rare. Conditions have worsened after the pandemic – those employed are grossly overworked and underpaid, they have no job security.

People’s rights are under intense attack. They are targeted for being members of certain communities and castes; people are beaten up for protesting their conditions; they are accused of being terrorists or anti-national when they speak up against injustice.

While these are the conditions faced by a majority of working people, women are many times worse off. Women are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. They are generally paid less than what men are paid for the same work. There are still four-fifths or 80 percent of women who are not counted in the workforce. They are either wage workers who are working in home-based or in contractual work in the most marginalized conditions or they are shouldering the full responsibility of household work which is not valued as work, but essential for the family’s survival.

In addition to all this, women face the danger of physical violence, abuse and rape. They are still chained to the backward patriarchal customs preserved by capitalism so that in innumerable cases, they have no voice even within their families.

The capitalist system prevails in our country and capital tries to convert everything into commodities for profit. Women are debased and stripped of their dignity. Those who are holding powerful political positions blatantly support the most backward views on women. In 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that on an average there are 88 cases of rape every day!! Indian girls and women are simply not safe in our country. More than 1.5 crore women and girls are victims of sex trafficking; women between 25-45 years constitute a majority of those trafficked.

However, women have fought back and continue to fight militantly against every form of oppression and injustice. Just two years back, Indian women demonstrated their capacity for organization and their resilience in their fight for justice when they took the lead in organizing protests against the NRC-CAA that were targeting poor people in general and Muslims in particular. They came out in lakhs against the unjust Farm Laws. Every other day you can see ASHA and Aanganwadi workers on the roads fighting to be recognized as workers. Women working as nurses, doctors and teachers are fighting shoulder to shoulder with their male coworkers for pay and other demands. Women and men who work in the electricity sector, in banks, LIC and other public sector enterprises are fighting hard against the government’s attempts to privatize every profitable sector and enterprise to further enrich the monopoly billionaires.

While conditions of women and even men in India are much worse than those in the so-called advanced countries, it is a fact that people there too die of hunger, easily preventable diseases and even cold. The gap between the rich and poor is widening at an ever-accelerating pace even in those countries. Unemployment and worsening conditions of employment plague the working people there as well. Lives of innocent people are snuffed out and lakhs of people are forced to be refugees in unjust wars fought waged by the rulers of imperialist countries, to increase their control over the world’s resources. Women are subjected to indignity, commodification and violence in these countries too.

Why is it that people in general, and women in particular, have to fight for everything that should be theirs as a matter of right? The question was answered over a hundred years ago by the working women who proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day. They declared that the root cause of oppression of women lies in capitalism and the rule of the capitalist class. They proclaimed that communism, which is the condition for the emancipation of the working class, is also the condition for the complete emancipation of women. They set their goal as the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism, the first phase of the transition to communism.

Our organization, Purogami Mahila Sangathan (PMS), was formed in 1980 by young women and girls, some of whom were students at that time. They recognized that the trend of feminism, which was promoted at that time, was based on the wrong premise that men are the enemies of women. They recognized that there was truth in what the women of the first International Women’s Day had understood, that it was capitalism that was the root cause of the problems faced by women as well as men. They understood that to advance on the road to emancipation, they must organize as women and participate in all struggles against exploitation, injustice and oppression.

Any social change is brought about by an organized force. So, while participating in struggles, we strengthened our organization both in terms of increasing members as well as increasing consciousness about the goal. The young women who formed PMS were to be seen in the struggles of the textile workers of Mumbai, in the fight for water and sanitation in chawls and bastis, in the fight against demolition of slums, in the struggles waged by nurses, doctors, telephone operators in other cities like Delhi as well. PMS was in action in struggles for the rights of farmers and plantation workers in Tamil Nadu. We participated in numerous places in the country in the struggle against AFSPA imposed in the North East and Kashmir. Along with other organizations we have continued to raise a powerful voice against communal violence and to demand punishment for those in command who were responsible for organizing these massacres, whether it be in 1984, 1993, 2003 or in Delhi two years ago. We were in the forefront of the struggle against the program of globalization through liberalization and privatization which was launched in 1991. We came out in united opposition to the anti-social program and demanded a fundamental re-orientation of the economy, to serve the interests of the millions of working women and men and not that of a minority of the richest Indian and foreign capitalists. We refused to accept that society has no obligation towards its members and each one must fend for oneself.

The women’s movement in India has consistently opposed imperialism and the war mongering of US imperialism. We were among the lakhs of people who came out on the streets of Delhi, Mumbai and Pune to oppose the visits of the imperialist chieftains Clinton and Bush, when they came as special guests of the Indian state. PMS was one of the organizations that collected thousands of signatures of people in Mumbai opposing the sending of Indian troops to Iraq at the behest of US imperialists.

We participated in massive protests against rape – in 2012 in the Nirbhaya case and in 2018 in Bhiwandi. Our activists were among those who organized a ten thousand strong rally against the rape of Asifa and others. PMS members have fought for better facilities for students and research scholars.

Today PMS is an active member of the All-India Forum Against Privatization, AIFAP — a platform of 80 federations, unions, associations and people’s organizations, which is playing an important role in the struggle against privatization.

When we women came out on the streets demanding economic empowerment, the rulers promised that every woman could get rich by taking micro-credit and starting a business! Women only got deeply indebted to the micro-credit institutions. Today, we hear the same fraudulent propaganda about becoming entrepreneurs. We can have no illusions about this parasitic system of capitalism.

Our entire experience of struggle clearly shows that the emancipation of women is not possible in this system. In the capitalist system that prevails today, the orientation of the economy is towards increasing private profit. That is why, even when people were affected by the Covid pandemic and struggling to stay alive, the profits of the billionaires multiplied. This happened everywhere in the world. It is important to understand how and why the rich are able to get richer every day.

When the British were forced to leave our country, power was transferred into the hands of a minority ruling class. The institutions of the state did not change their fundamental nature.

The police and officials of the state have been trained to look at every ordinary worker as a potential trouble maker. Do ordinary people like you and me, particularly the women and girls feel safe in a police station? No. The police are used to suppress the workers, the farmers, the working people, whenever they raise their voice for rights. On the other hand, they are used to protect the rich and powerful, as well as high-level officers, even when they are known criminals.

And how many ordinary people can hope to get justice in courts? Can they afford it? Can they find the time to spend day after day in courts – tareekh pe tareekh? Just a few years back, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was accused by a woman employee of sexually abusing her. Did she get justice? Could she get justice, when the Chief Justice appointed himself the Head of the Committee that was set up to probe into the matter?

How are we treated when we have to approach any officer to sort out any official matter? On the other hand, don’t these same officers promptly implement the wishes of the Tatas and Birlas?

Friends, we have experienced and understood that the democracy that is there in our country is not for us. It is for the richest capitalists. What we got in 1950 was the right to vote. We did not get the right to decide the orientation of the economy, the right to make laws, the right to nullify unjust laws.

Lakhs of people across the country can and do demand the punishment of rapists, but those in power invariably get away scot-free.

Lakhs of peasants are demanding MSP for all crops, a demand that is backed by crores of people, but is there any mechanism to implement these demands?

Crores of workers are opposing the new Labour Codes, but is there any mechanism to make the government bow to their wishes?

The people have no power to fulfill their aspirations. All they have is the right to vote periodically in elections at various levels. The electoral arena is fixed so that only the candidates of the so-called recognized parties have a chance of winning. Capitalists get their agenda implemented through these parties which have a proven track record of doing so. On the other hand, people at large recognize them as criminal, anti-people parties.

Who are these parties? They are parties like the Congress and the BJP that are funded by the richest capitalists to carry out their bidding, while fooling the people that they are doing everything for us. A big drama is enacted by holding elections, through Parliamentary debates and the judgments of the judiciary as if all these institutions are working in the interest of the people.

Through our struggle for political empowerment, we came to the conclusion that women cannot realise political empowerment in this system by having seats reserved for them in state legislatures and parliament, which serve the interests of the biggest monopolies.

Women must organize as women and as part of the working people of our country to defend our rights. We must build our own samitis, our fighting organisations in our workplaces, in our mohallas and in our campuses. In the course of this struggle, we must organize to become the rulers.

With power in our hands, we, the working women and men will be able to change the direction of the economy towards satisfying and guaranteeing the ever-increasing material and cultural needs of the people. We will be able to ensure that all human beings, women and men, are able to live a life befitting the citizens of the 22nd century.

The women’s movement needs to set this goal for itself. We need to unite and fight for the elimination of capitalism and for the empowerment of people, which is the necessary condition for the emancipation of women.

Long live International Women’s Day and the struggle of women for their complete emancipation!

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