Discussion on challenges facing the women’s movement

Report from Purogami Mahila Sangathan’s correspondent

The National Federation of Indian Women (Bharatiya Mahila Federation) recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. On this occasion, a discussion on the subject – “From the release of rapists to the struggle of the wrestlers – challenges facing the women’s movement” was organized that drew participants from across the country.

Hundreds of women from several corners of the country participated enthusiastically in this event. Representatives from various organisations like AIDWA, Purogami Mahila Sangathan, All-India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan, Joint Women’s Programme and others participated in the discussion and presented their views on this important issue.

The speech delivered by the representative of Purogami Mahila Sangathan is presented here:

My dear sisters and comrades

Felicitations to NFIW for organizing women since so many years in the struggle against capitalist exploitation, feudal rituals, patriarchal oppression and every kind of exploitation and oppression.

Today, the struggle of the wrestlers is giving voice to the sentiments of the women of our country — it is very telling.

Firstly, that it is a fact that violence against women – sexual violence – is so deep rooted in this society and affects every aspect of life.

Secondly, that it has become quite common in our society for the rich, big capitalists, people in officials positions of authority to take advantage of their status to carry out acts of sexual harassment against women.

Thirdly, the very institutions that are meant to protect us do not protect us; on the contrary, they protect the rich and those sitting in positions of power.

Fourthly, that we do not get justice from the courts. Bilkis Bano’s painful story, her most difficult struggle for justice, the judicial release of the criminals who raped her – all these -are shouting out this truth to us.

Fifth, those who we elect as our representatives to the state assemblies and parliament work against our interests and we have no power to take any action against them. We cannot demand accountability from them. We cannot recall them. We cannot select our candidates; we cannot pass any law nor can we change any law in our interest. The anti-kisan laws, the four labour codes, the forest rights act and the land acquisition act blatantly violate our rights and we have to struggle so much to repeal them. Further, the note-ban and GST were not discussed in any state assembly or parliament before taking a decision on them. To sum up, we have no say at all in deciding any of the policy issues. Only the cabinet in the government has the sole power to decide.

All of this is the norm in this system. These conditions remain the same which ever party is in power in the states or at the centre.

Women who were victims of rape and sexual harassment in state organized communal genocide have not been delivered justice till date. The rapists have not been arrested till date be it in the case of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs, the violence organized following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the 2002 Gujarat genocide or the violence in 2020 in East Delhi. And in all these cases, ruling parties continued to remain in power in the states and at the centre.

In spite of all our attempts to include various provisions in the laws, we women and girls are not safe even today from sexual harassment. For example, no government of the time then or governments which came later have taken any steps to secure women from sexual harassment by ensuring the constitution of an internal complaints committee in every workplace.

So, it is very clear that our problems will not be solved by electing this or that party to power. It is also clear that the exploitation of women is part and parcel of the capitalist exploitation faced by all toilers. Sexual exploitation of women, not being paid equal wages for equal work, etc., are used to force all workers to work at lower wages and in unsafe conditions.

Women in our country have come forward with aspirations of emancipation from such oppression. They are giving expression to their unhappiness and dissatisfaction through their support to the protesting wrestlers.

We cannot rely on any other trusted party of the capitalist class for liberating ourselves as these parties are committed to maintain this system of capitalist exploitation and oppression. We cannot remain stuck in the same vicious cycle in which we have been stuck all this time.

As long as the biggest monopoly capitalists control the main means of production and governments will be formed by parties that get crores of rupees from these capitalists, such governments will serve these capitalists. Such governments will keep the system going that serves the capitalist class. Toiling men and women will have no say in setting the orientation of the economy nor any power in making decisions in the interests of the toilers.

The time has come to think of organizing for establishing a new society, a new system. Workers, peasants, women, youth, adivasis, dalits and every section of the oppressed have to be organized for the new society. It has to be a fundamentally new system in which those men and women who toil to produce the wealth of this country will be its masters. Then we will be able to maintain control of our elected representatives and ensure that all institutions of the state will guarantee the interests of the working people. Then, we will be able to orient the economy towards fulfilling the interests of the people and not to serve the greed of a handful of profiteering capitalists. Then we will be able to take decisions and implement the decisions to secure the interests of the workers and toilers and not the interests of the capitalist looters. Those who violate our rights will be severely punished, notwithstanding their status or position in society.

So, come my sisters and brothers, let us organize and fight to achieve such a future! I conclude my speech with this call.

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