In India we find women in various professions, including doctors, architects and engineers, no less than in the most advanced capitalist countries of the world. At the same time, India is also known as the country where female infanticide – killing the girl child soon after or before she is born – is rampant.
In India we find women in various professions, including doctors, architects and engineers, no less than in the most advanced capitalist countries of the world. At the same time, India is also known as the country where female infanticide – killing the girl child soon after or before she is born – is rampant. And those girls who survive and grow up into womanhood have to wage an uphill struggle for their dignity in society and within the family.
There are women who are CEOs of companies and chief ministers of states in our country, and we have had a woman Prime Minister in the past. Yet, between one half to two-thirds of women in India do not take part in social production outside their home and family. The enormous potential of women to contribute to society is largely under utilised and wasted.
Crores of women are engaged in agricultural labour on their family farms. They toil hard alongside their men folk, facing growing insecurity of livelihood. Either their crop fails and they sink further into debt, or they produce a good crop but get too low a price in the market, which is dominated by big monopoly players. More and more peasant families are being driven to ruin. Women within such families bear a disproportionately high share of the burden.
The proportion of women employed outside their homes, even though less than 50 percent, has been growing over the years. The largest numbers of working women are nurses and teachers. The extremely critical social service they perform is generally under valued. They are asked to perform their duty without demanding their rights. In recent decades, hundreds of thousands of women have been employed in export oriented units, where they are generally over worked, under paid and denied the rights that belong to all wage workers, as well as the rights that belong to them as women workers.
In the case of families that have some land or other means of production, women are deprived of equal rights over family property. In the case of families that own no property except the labour power of the adult family members, women have to perform double work, outside and inside the home. They are subjugated to male authority within the family, as well as exploited by capitalist employers, landlords, money lenders, bourgeois politicians and their goons, and the official machinery of law and order.
Capitalist growth, geared towards reaping the maximum rate of profit for big monopoly corporations, is a double edged sword as far as the women are concerned. It pulls women into social production in the interest of reaping maximum profit, thereby giving them a degree of economic independence, only to super-exploit them and subject them to new dangers. This was starkly revealed, for instance, by the recent incident of rape of a young woman working nightshift in a call centre in Bangalore.
Indian women face capitalist growth along with the perpetuation of old religious customs and social norms. The weight of the old, the remnants of feudalism and the religious and caste codes, combined with modern capitalist growth driven by the greed of the monopolies, adds up to double and triple exploitation of women. The oppressive conditions of women shows the backwardness of capitalist India, which can only get more and more aggravated by the imperialist pursuit of the ruling class.
The development of the women’s movement in India is a reflection of the fact that more and more women are unwilling to put up with their conditions. Women have been demanding and fighting both for equality with men in matters of property rights, and for equal wages for equal work, for maternity leave, crèche and other rights of women workers. This reflects the fact that the vast majority of women in our country belong either to families with small property, or families with no property except labour power.
Women were not an inferior sex in the earliest stage of human society, when both men and women were together emerging out of a condition of being subjugated to the forces of nature. Her labour was respected on par with the labour of men. As the social productive forces developed to a higher stage, society became divided into economic classes with conflicting interests. It became divided into a minority class that owned and controlled the means of social production, and the majority that worked not only for themselves but also for the benefit of the privileged minority class. The subjugation of human labour to a propertied class was accompanied by the subjugation of the woman to the property owning man within the family.
Today, we are living at a time when class divided society has reached its ultimate form. Not only does capitalism, a system based on private property in the means of social production, dominate the world; but capitalism has developed to its highest and last stage – imperialism. We are living in a capitalist imperialist world, where the greed of an extremely small minority is driving the economy to produce enormous wealth at one pole and unbearable poverty and insecurity at the other pole. Within such conditions, women are exploited outside and inside their homes. The labour they perform within their homes adds to the unpaid labour carried out in the factories and business centres – all of which is pocketed as profits by the capitalist class.
Women have been in the forefront of the struggle, in India and on the world scale, against the capitalist offensive of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation. Women do not accept the notion that every family must fend for itself; or that every man must fend for himself and every woman for herself. Women refuse to accept that the state has no responsibility to anyone except the big business interests.
The bourgeoisie promotes the notion of ‘women’s empowerment’ as a policy objective unconnected with the nature of the economic system and its orientation. Bourgeois political leaders and their propagandists try to separate the struggle of women from the struggle of all those who work and are exploited. They try to turn women against men, and against the working class. However, the women’s movement has survived the ideological onslaught of the bourgeoisie. Women have persisted in asserting their rights and raising their voice against imperialist war, against fascism and state terrorism, communalism and racism. They have remained in the forefront of the struggle against globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation.
The rulers of India keep repeating the lie that it is possible to empower women through ‘gender budgeting’ and various government programs, while keeping intact the capitalist system and pursuing with “free market reforms”. The actual conditions of women go from bad to worse with the growth of capitalism, which treats the women as free or cheap labour, as a commodity for sexual gratification, perpetuates patriarchy and keeps alive old feudal customs and discriminatory practices in the service of super-exploitation.
Women stand to gain from ushering in a system that is based on the recognition of the dignity of labour. They stand to lose from perpetuating the existing system that is based on the exploitation of labour by a minority of property owners. That is why women’s organisations have tended to oppose capitalism and support the movement for socialism on the world scale.
Replacing capitalist private property by social property and collective ownership of the means of production is a necessary condition for women to stop being treated as an inferior sex. However, it is not a sufficient condition, as was shown by the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.
The conditions of women advanced tremendously during the early decades after the Great October Revolution in 1917. Women rose to unprecedented heights in all walks of Soviet society, far ahead of anything achieved in capitalist countries. However, after the victory in the anti-fascist patriotic war against Hitler’s army, and after the period of reconstruction was over, the Khrushchevite leadership did not carry out the changes that were crying out to be made at that time. The Communist Party stopped leading the class struggle and instead focused on competition and rivalry with US imperialism for world hegemony.
Instead of transferring power progressively into the hands of the vast majority of women and men in society, the Communist Party concentrated all power in its own hands. As a result, socialism was allowed to mark time, and gradually degenerate into a hybrid form of capitalism, and into social-imperialism – that is, socialism in words and imperialism in deeds.
The status of women in Soviet society, instead of being raised to progressively higher levels, suffered an about turn in the latter half of the 20 th century. The old feudal-bourgeois notion that the woman’s place is in the home began to be preached by those in power. The final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 was the logical conclusion of the degeneration that began in the 1950s.
Women have a stake in bringing about the transition from capitalism to socialism, and in continuing the class struggle in socialist society against all vestiges of the old exploitative relations, until their rights are fully affirmed. They must continue their struggle until their equal status with men, and human conditions for all, become second nature, no longer needing legal enforcement.
The most politically active and conscious among women must draw the lessons from the Soviet experience. They must come forward and contribute to build a modern Communist Party on Indian soil, which does not seek power in its own hands but is an instrument for the empowerment of the working class and all the toilers and tillers.
It is the duty of communists to render all possible assistance to women, both to participate equally with men in political, economic, social and family affairs, and in their efforts to organise themselves as women, into a political force to fight for the affirmation of women’s rights.