Women’s Movement in India

Women have played an important role in major social movements in Indian history, including the Bhakti movement and the anti-colonial movement. The movement of women emerged as an important political force in its own right, especially in the 1980s. Women raised their voices against state terrorism, against communal violence and the criminalisation of politics.

Women have played an important role in major social movements in Indian history, including the Bhakti movement and the anti-colonial movement. The movement of women emerged as an important political force in its own right, especially in the 1980s. Women raised their voices against state terrorism, against communal violence and the criminalisation of politics. They united on the basis of their common interests as women, cutting across language, caste and party barriers. They expressed their stand on the major issues confronting society.

Indian women asserted that they had inviolable rights, as human beings and as women, on account of the special role they play in the reproduction of human life. They exposed the fact that the so-called ‘socialistic pattern of society’ that had been championed by Nehru and his daughter had failed to guarantee the rights of Indian women.

The ruling bourgeois class manipulated the discontent of the masses of Indian people with the consequences of capitalist growth under socialistic labels and slogans such as "garibi hatao!". Using the mass discontent with this hybrid system and deceitful slogans, the bourgeoisie dumped the ‘socialistic pattern’ in the 1990s and adopted the mantra of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation. Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh claimed that the aim of their New Economic Policy was to lift India out of the crisis. Women were among the first to call this bluff and express their resolute opposition to this so-called reform program, based on the notion that the state has no responsibility to anyone excepting big business interests.

Working women have been active in the growing struggle against privatisation and its consequences – such as the job losses and increasing insecurity of livelihood among industrial workers, bank employees, teachers, health and other public service workers. Women’s organisations and prominent women personalities have resolutely opposed the privatisation of education and health care. They have opposed the cut backs in the Public Distribution System and the withdrawal of state support to agriculture in the name of trade liberalisation.

Following the communal violence that followed the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, women were active in roundly condemning both the BJP and the Congress Party, as being responsible for the criminalisation and communalisation of politics. They have continued to play an active role in the struggle against state terrorism and communal violence to this day.

The events of 1992 and the gruesome tragedy of Gujarat in 2002 have starkly revealed the inhuman and anti-social nature of the political arrangements in India. Parties in power act as powers unto themselves, accountable to nobody in society except to the business interests that finance them. The women’s movement has recognised the necessity for the political empowerment of women. It has recognised that women need power in order to change their intolerable conditions.

Women gained the right to vote when the 1950 Constitution of the Indian Republic was adopted, incorporating universal adult franchise. However, the right to vote has not meant any say in deciding the course of India or the orientation of her economy. Under the party dominated system and process of elections and ‘Cabinet rule’, decision making powers are concentrated exclusively in the hands of the trusted agents of the capitalist class.

The political process ensures that the people get to vote but they do not get to decide what kind of government is formed and what course it will follow. These vital decisions are made by a minority of big business interests. Elections are organised to fool the people, to resolve the contradictions within the ruling class, and decide which party of the bourgeoisie is better suited to fulfill its interests at a particular time.

Rival parties of the bourgeoisie have been promising to accommodate one third quota for women in all the elected bodies, from the Parliament to the panchayats, while quarreling among themselves on the exact modalities and quotas, to include caste categories or not, and so on. This debate and rivalry in Parliament has become the biggest ruse and source of diversion and division in the women’s movement. The debate over reservation of quotas is designed to marginalise women and their struggle against oppression and injustice. It is aimed at reducing women into a ‘special interest group’ that can be accommodated within the existing system and political process.

Women do not constitute a special interest group, nor is the aim of the women’s movement to seek accommodation within the status quo. What women need is political power to break with the status quo. Women need to be able to send their best fighters to the decision making bodies, and enjoy the right to be able to recall the person they elected at any time.

The women’s movement can overcome the divisions within its ranks and regain its potential strength if, and only if, women activists expose, oppose and reject the path of seeking accommodation in the existing political arrangements through reservation of quotas. Women must reject the parliamentary path, and unite around the demand and program for fundamental changes in the system and political process of Indian democracy.

There is an alternative to the existing capitalist democracy and its party dominated political process. The alternative is a socialist democracy – the rule of workers and peasants – with a political process where parties will not control the government but will play their role to organise, educate and enable the people to govern themselves.

There is an alternative to market oriented economy and policies. The alternative is to re-orient the economy and state policy towards ensuring security and prosperity for all members of society.

There is an alternative to the unprincipled imperialist foreign policy of the Indian State. The alternative is a principled anti-imperialist foreign policy, based on peaceful and friendly relations with all neighbours and uncompromising opposition to any outside interference in South Asia.

The reorientation of the economy, the renewal of the political process and redirection of foreign policy together constitute the program for the Navnirman of India. Women have a central and leading role to play in the struggle for the implementation of this program, whose political content is the empowerment of workers, peasants, women and youth.

The interest of women lies in building the revolutionary united political front of workers, peasants, women and youth against capitalism and the anti-social offensive, and around the program for the Navnirman of India. It does not lie in tailing behind any of the parliamentary fronts that are contending to control the existing political power so as to defend the status quo.

Viewed from this perspective, the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 is an occasion to be used in favour of building the revolutionary anti-capitalist front. Women must resolve to vote only for such candidates who will fight steadfastly and uncompromisingly for the rights and interests of women, with the aim of political empowerment of all the toilers and tillers of the land.

Long Live International Women’s Day!

Don’t vote for BJP, Congress or any party that pursues liberalisation and privatisation!

Unite around the Program for the Navnirman of India!

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