On Women’s Movement: Challenges and Tasks
Towards the forthcoming 9th Congress of the party, we will be releasing a series of draft resolutions for discussion. We invite feedback and suggestions on the draft resolution on Women’s Movement: Challenges and Tasks.
- In India today, women’s growing assertion and enhanced aspirations for equality, challenging entrenched patriarchy, can be seen and felt in virtually every sphere. In glaring contrast to this assertion and growing public participation of women, we in India are simultaneously witnessing unabated and intensified sexual and patriarchal violence on women; open and organized patriarchal offensives (both physical and ideological) on women’s hard-won rights and freedoms; and the worst instances of women’s malnutrition, hunger, and maternal mortality in the world. This contradiction or paradox has emerged as a defining characteristic of modern India.
- It is true that capital, and state-institutions like panchayats, and a network of NGOs closely linked to both global capital and the Indian state, have increased their penetration in rural areas, bringing a sizeable section of women out of their homes, into the workforce, and into the political arena. But forces of class, caste and gender domination are coming together to arrest this assertion, using all, including the most barbaric, means; even as the state and capital, in the course of drawing women into the labour force, actually exploit, strengthen, and perpetuate existing patriarchal structures and ideologies responsible for women’s sexual and domestic servitude and social subordination. Indian women thus face the worst of both worlds – feudal oppression as well as modern capitalist exploitation and dehumanisation, especially because the neoliberal model of growth preserves, profits from and in some cases reproduces in modified forms many vestiges of feudalism in socio-economic structures, customs and value systems.
- Even in the face of feudal-patriarchal opposition, women are trying to utilise the new opportunities – school education, various job openings and the provision of 50% reservation in panchayati raj institutions for example – for playing more active social and political roles. The new opportunities and experiences are equipping women with greater self confidence and a keener political awareness. Women’s increased mobility and public role (in employment as well as political life) are also destabilising traditional patriarchal arrangements and attitudes within households and society, resulting in progressive changes in gender roles and ideology, but also in fresh patriarchal anxieties, tensions, and violence.
- In the face of these changes, the forces of traditional caste patriarchy are asserting themselves with renewed aggression, seeking to retain control over women’s sexuality, mobility, and reproductive power, and to defend patriarchal and feudal arrangements of land and property that are threatened by women’s new-found rights and assertion. These forces are not just a throwback to a feudal past: they are refashioning themselves in modern times, often with political patronage across the spectrum of ruling class parties. It is notable that these forces of patriarchal reaction have found their most organized and aggressive expression in some of the regions where the Green Revolution and capitalist development in agriculture have been most pronounced: Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP.
- It must also be noted that patriarchal tendencies, often accompanied by caste and communal revivalism, are strong even in the urban context, including among the professional middle class. An outright patriarchal backlash to women’s assertion can also be seen in the ‘Save Family’ type of organizations that target the laws against violence on women. Such widespread and virulent patriarchal assertion in urban centres, among the professional middle class, cannot be hidden by the superficial gloss of modernity.
- Women’s assertion and resistance to patriarchy as it manifests itself within the family, household, community, public institutions and the State is a key arena for the battle for democracy and revolutionary social transformation in India today, and must be grasped as a key revolutionary task for the communist movement as a whole.
Violence Against Women
- Violence against women has emerged as a central issue across the country, most notably in states such as UP, Bihar, Haryana, West Bengal, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Assam. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that incidents of rape in the country have increased by 791% since 1971, while conviction rates for rape dipped from 41% in 1971 to 27% in 2010.
- Long-term campaigns by the women’s movement have forced the Government to draft and enact new laws relating to violence on women. Domestic violence and sexual harassment are receiving legal recognition, and amendments in rape laws are expanding the definition of sexual violence to cover wider forms of sexual assault. However, many of these laws continue to retain patriarchal assumptions. The Draft Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2011 specifically excludes marital rape from its purview, and fails to specifically address rapes occurring during organised communal and caste violence and in custody of the Army, though it does recognise and provide for more stringent punishment for custodial rape by police officers, public servants, management or staff of jails, hospitals, remand homes; and gang sexual assault. The Bill relating to Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace seeks to punish women for ‘false’ complaints – a measure that will deter women from filing complaints; and this Bill is yet to ensure coverage for all women at workplaces – including students, women in the Armed Forces, and agricultural workers. The Government is yet to back up the Domestic Violence law with effective shelters for women facing violence. Moreover, Governments have shown their willingness to capitulate to pressure from organised anti-women forces in many instances. For example, currently the Central Government is responding to the orchestrated campaign against the dowry laws by proposing amendment to Section 498-A (relating to severe domestic violence and dowry-related torture).
- As pervasive as gender violence itself is the widespread tendency, not just by private individuals and groups but by public figures – police, politicians, judiciary – to justify such violence by blaming the victim, invoking patriarchal codes of dress, behaviour, and family values. Challenging such patriarchal ‘common sense’ should be a key concern in resisting violence on women.
- Sexual violence also continues to be a tool of state repression and reactionary assault on people’s movements. The custodial rape and sexual torture of the adivasi schoolteacher Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh, the rape and murder of women by armed forces in the North East and Kashmir, and rape and murder of women like Tapasi Malik who resist corporate land grab, have emerged as rallying points of struggle for the women’s movement today. Especially inspiring have been the militant participation of hundreds of women in struggles against state repression on the streets of Kashmir in 2010, and the anti-AFSPA protest by Manipuri women in 2004.
- Sexual violence remains a central part of communal and caste atrocities. Sexual violence during the massacres in Gujarat in 2002, Kandhamal in 2008, and Khairlanji in 2006 are prominent instances. The social and political assertion of Dalits and backward castes is being met with violent feudal reaction all over the country. Women from these oppressed communities, in particular, bear the brunt of instances of public humiliation and sexual violence by feudal forces. The sexual exploitation and abuse of women inside religious institutions or by so-called god-men is also a common phenomenon.
- The assertion of women, especially young women, for education, jobs, share in property, and greater autonomy in their private lives, including choice of partners, threatens the caste order and patriarchal norms of transfer of property, and is being met with open patriarchal offensives. In several cases, this offensive takes the form of a ‘benign’ display of patriarchal and familial authority, which appeals to filial ‘loyalty’ on the part of women, and to ‘the sacred duties and virtues’ of Indian mothers and wives. In other cases it takes the form of ‘honour’ crimes within the family. And increasingly, ‘honour’ crimes and moral policing are taking on an organized socio-political form, with Sangh Parivar outfits, khap panchayats, and other reactionary outfits of all religions unleashing organized attacks to enforce casteist, communal, and patriarchal diktats.
- Governments show little will to fight such organized forces indulging in moral policing and ‘honour’ crimes, rather there is a high degree of collusion on part of political forces and state machinery. In many instances of ‘honour’ crimes, it is the dominant castes that unleash violence on women from their own caste, as well as oppressed castes, for breaching caste boundaries in marriage. But ‘honour’ crimes are not the exclusive preserve of dominant castes. The oppressed castes and adivasi communities, branded as undeserving of ‘honour’ by the dominant castes, have also begun to lay a claim to patriarchal ‘honour’ by controlling the sexuality and freedom of women within their own communities.
- Domestic violence against women is rampant across castes and classes. It is a brutal indicator of the fundamental lack of democracy and inequality that underwrites relationships between men and women and the institution of marriage and family in patriarchal society. Insecure jobs and lack of employment for women make women in abusive marriages all the more vulnerable.
- Sex-selective abortion and female infanticide continue to flourish both in rural areas and in urban areas, especially among the well-off that have greater access to technologies of pre-natal sex-determination. The latest census figures show that the number of girls in the 0-6 age-group has fallen to the lowest level since Independence – a mere 914 girls for every 1000 boys. Governments at the State and Centre have been deliberately lax in implementation of the PC & PNDT Act (Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994), allowing the unethical medical industry of pre-natal sex-determination and sex-selective abortions to flourish unchecked. Along with the implementation of the PC&PNDT Act, it is clear that son-preference and sex-selective abortions can be resisted only in tandem with a whole host of other measures that confront patriarchy and enhance the worth and dignity of women in society.
- A powerful, multi-layered resistance to violence must be built, encompassing campaigns for pro-women legislation; protests against governments and political forces that fail to defend women’s rights and safety; and social initiatives such as women’s neighbourhood watches, creative campaigns against victim-blaming, son-preference, domestic violence, ‘honour’ crimes and in support of women’s right to make independent decisions in all spheres of life including education, love, marriage, clothes and life-style.
Women, Work, and Patriarchy
- Economic liberalization has resulted in women being drawn into work in larger numbers – but in the more vulnerable and insecure sectors. The exploitation in these sectors is seldom purely ‘economic’ – gender is a crucial tool in this exploitation. For instance, young women textile workers in TN are made to work in highly undemocratic and exploitative conditions – but it is made possible under the Sumangali scheme, which is promoted in the name of young women earning their dowry, and which taps into the widespread anxiety in society about dowry and marriage of young women. The central Government’s ASHA, mid-day meals (at schools) and anganwadi schemes, too, exploit the patriarchal notion of women’s selfless and unpaid ‘service’ to family and society, in order to justify paying the workers a mere ‘honorarium’ instead of the full pay and benefits due to government servants.
- As women enter the workforce, they are confronted by gender discrimination at the workplace. Women continue to be paid less than men for the same work. They are also subjected to discriminatory regulations (such as imposition of dress codes, sexist norms regarding appearance, and so on). Even in prestigious and upscale jobs, gender discrimination is rampant. Women cabin crew in Air India have recently won a long legal battle for the right to be appointed In-Flight Supervisors; and in the Army, women are denied the right to be appointed officers, on the grounds that jawans cannot be expected to take orders from women. Oppressive norms about female appearance not only discriminate against women in general, but also specifically against Dalit and adivasi women. Not long ago, adivasi women trained as cabin crew in Maharashtra were rejected jobs in the aviation industry because they were deemed physically unattractive.
- Women’s labour inside the home and family continues to be kept ‘invisible’. Its character as labour is cloaked in ideological disguises, as the ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ role of women. Even the Census survey deems women involved with “cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood” to be unproductive “non-workers”. At the same time, terming women’s labour inside the home to be their ‘primary’ function in society is often an excuse to pay women less at the workplace, on the pretext that their work is merely ‘supplementary’ to the income earned by men. Neoliberal policies and the resulting withdrawal of the State from social responsibilities, such as the provision of education, healthcare and sanitation has increased women’s burden of unpaid work in households and communities.
- In the wake of Supreme Court’s criticism over classification of housework as non-work, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has proposed an honorarium to be paid by husbands to housewives, based on government’s calculations of the economic value of housework. This proposal is highly misplaced and flawed. The fact is that women’s unpaid work in the home subsidises capitalism by helping to depress the wages of workers. There is no point in payment by husbands for housework, because such payment does not add to the overall income of the household. Moreover, there is the danger that such ‘payment’ by the husband would in fact legitimise the sexual division of labour and absolve the husband of the obligation to share household work. It could also legitimise unequal control over finances within the household, by negating the right of women to have an equal control over household finances as a whole and instead implying that women will only have a right over the ‘honorarium.’ The recognition of the social and economic contribution of women’s domestic labour within the household can be meaningful only if it facilitates women’s freedom from the stultifying drudgery of housework. And this can happen only if the State provides free care for children and the elderly; free health care; and other forms of social support along with jobs for women.
- There has been much hype about the ‘feminisation of labour’ thanks to globalization. But it is significant that a recent international study ranks India at 131st place among 134 countries, on the question of women’s ‘economic participation and opportunity.’ Only 35% of women in the country above the age of 15 participate in economic activity (i.e either work or seek work), compared to 85% of men. Unemployment rates are very high for women – in some cases, even higher than that for men. For instance, according to the NSSO 61st round, the unemployment rate (of those seeking but not getting work) in 2004-05 in the 20-24 age-group was 12% for rural men and 15% for rural women; while it was 16% for urban men and 27% for urban women.
- In certain sectors, however, women’s labour is, indeed, preferred – because they are viewed as ‘supplementary’ workers who can be paid less than men, and because of patriarchal ideas which view women as more ‘suited’ to certain kinds of work. Women are therefore, disproportionately represented in the informal sector, in what are called the ‘3D’ (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs. Women are also sometimes preferred because they are perceived as less likely to unionise or engage in struggles, (despite the many examples to the contrary) and more vulnerable to coercion as a result of unequal gender relations.
- SHGs are peddled as the main vehicles for ‘women’s empowerment’ by the Government. But microfinance institutions too exploit and reinforce patriarchal structures: women are seen as ‘better borrowers’ because they are less mobile and more vulnerable to social coercion. MFIs have, far from empowering women, drawn them into a debt trap. Exploitative interest rates of MFIs and humiliation at non-payment pushed women to prostitution to repay debts, and forced more than 50 women to suicide, in Andhra Pradesh recently. Women have less access to bank loans and institutional credit than men. Instead of increasing this access, governments focus only on microcredit for women. But microcredit does not free women from exploitative money-lenders etc; in many cases, women are forced to take loans from moneylenders in order to repay the loans provided through MFIs. Increasingly too, banks and corporates are using MFI networks to draw rural poor women into global circuits of exploitation and profit.
- The global economic crisis has had an especially negative impact on women’s employment and lives in developing Asian countries like India. This is because women have a large share of jobs in the sectors that are worst hit by the crisis: textiles, garments, footwear and leather, electronics, hotels and restaurants, and construction. When the global crisis happened in 2008, 700,000 clothing and textile workers in India lost their jobs, most of them women.
- The entry of corporate retail has also hit women’s employment. Women who fail to find jobs in other sectors have usually found ‘refuge’ in petty retail trade (i.e small shops or street vending). But women’s share of employment in this sector has fallen sharply with the entry of big corporate players, and urban development policies of evicting informal vendors. With FDI in multi-brand retail, no doubt women in this sector will be hit even harder.
- With globalization, women in India have become even more vulnerable to sex trafficking. Luring and trafficking of women both within the country and abroad, under the ruse of love or offer of jobs has become rampant. A large number of sex workers in India are brought into sex work by force, kidnapping and violence. Women of some oppressed castes are also forced into sex work as a form of bondage; in the case of the devadasi system, this kind of sexual bondage is promoted by religious institutions. Also, many women are compelled to opt for sex work as a means of survival in the absence of secure and properly paid work. As long as poor women remain deprived of secure, properly paid employment, many of them will be forced to seek refuge in exploitative and dangerous sex work. We must struggle for an end to trafficking and sexual bondage in the name of caste and religious traditions; measures to protect sex workers from coercion, exploitation, violence, and harassment; social services and fullest citizenship rights for sex workers and their dependants; as well as secure, dignified employment for women to safeguard women from being compelled by circumstance to enter sex work.
Discrimination in the Political Sphere
- Women continue to be abysmally under-represented in the Parliament and Assemblies. Fanning up a phobia against women’s freedom and assertion is increasingly coming into its own as a means of reaping political capital. The case of 33% reservation for women is telling. The opposition to the bill claimed to rest on the demand for reservation for OBC women. But increasingly, that demand has taken a back seat – and opponents of the bill are openly indulging in gender-biased rhetoric against women’s entry into Parliament! And the ruling coalitions of UPA (and earlier NDA), have shown their true colours by allowing such openly gender biased forces to carry the day and prevent the passage of the bill. The demand for a quota for OBCs and minorities must not become a pretext to stall or dilute the Bill, and can be incorporated within the ambit of 33% seats for women, as long as the Bill is passed without further delay.
- In panchayats, 50% of the seats are reserved for women, and elected women representatives are challenging patriarchal forces. However, discrimination against elected women representatives, continues – for instance, in the ‘panch pati’ syndrome where the husband acts on behalf of the elected woman, and in various forms of caste and gender discrimination. Women in politics and public life at all levels – from panchayats to Parliament to people’s movements – face sexist and gendered abuse by opponents.
- Vibrant and powerful women’s participation and assertion in the political arena beyond parliament and panchayats is essential to take reservation beyond tokenism, and to create a political and socio-cultural climate in favour of women’s needs and concerns.
Women’s Movement and Liberalisation: Some Concerns
- Liberalisation has posed new challenges for the women’s movement, and has also led to some disturbing trends in the women’s movement. The widespread NGO-isation of women’s groups, and a spurt in funding for such groups by government and funding agencies has seriously crippled the autonomy of the women’s movement. Governments have, in many cases, succeeded in securing legitimacy by outsourcing their responsibilities to NGOs. NGO involvement in formulation and implementation of policies is peddled as ‘participatory development.’ Project-based funding has led to fragmentation of the women’s organisation in the name of single-issue organisations, and has allowed funders to set the agenda for the groups they fund. Funding and NGO-isation effectively restricts and discourages the ability of women’s groups to confront the State and the neoliberal economic policies.
Women’s Rights as Rights of Free Citizens
- The Indian State tends to frame women, not as citizens in their own right, but in terms of their familial and reproductive roles. It has tended to adopt a paternalistic attitude towards women, rather than recognize its obligation to safeguard women’s inalienable rights. This tendency can be seen when state governments conduct ‘group marriages’ or ‘marriage schemes for girls’. With such schemes, the state sees marriage of women as a parental responsibility, negating women’s right to make their own choices in matters of marriage. Instead of adopting policies that enable women to achieve social and economic autonomy, such schemes instead project marriage, as arranged by the state on behalf of parents or community, as sufficient to ensure security and welfare of women. Other examples are schemes (like the Delhi Government’s Ladli scheme) ostensibly meant to protect the girl child, by promising a certain cash amount when the girl attains maturity. By providing the amount when the girl attains marriageable age, the government is actually subsidizing dowry in a disguised way!
- Women have to struggle for a range of rights as citizens: for PDS rations, for health, and for education. Even though women’s rights to ancestral property have been legally recognized, women are seldom able to claim their rightful share without prolonged legal battles, which few women can afford. Women are especially active in struggles for homestead plots in rural areas, since they are the worst affected by the semi-bondage of living on land belonging to employers. Women are also very active in struggles for urban housing; against eviction and corporate land grab; against price rise; and against nuclear and other environmentally destructive projects. While strengthening women’s participation in all these struggles, we must also lay greater emphasis on mobilizing young women around the whole set of demands that are central for women to secure guaranteed access to education, employment, and healthcare (for example, hostels for women students and working women; crèche facilities for women in organized and unorganized sectors; free education for schoolgirls as well as aids to education like books, laptops and bicycles; and longer maternity leave, functional and properly equipped primary health centres with specialized medical care for women, and district and subdivisional level hospitals with women’s wards with adequate seats).
- Women have also been at the forefront of anti-liquor struggles in many states (most notably Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and quite recently, Bihar). Alcoholism in men has a grievous impact on the lives of poor women: causing scarce income to be squandered on liquor; deaths due to toxic illegal liquor; and contributing to domestic violence against women and children. In such movements, women have targeted the governments’ policy of promoting alcohol out of consideration for revenues, at the cost of the well-being of women and their families.
- One international study shows that when it comes to women’s health and survival, India’s performance is at rock-bottom (at 134th place among 135 countries). India has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. 57.9% pregnant women and 56.2% married women suffer from anaemia: clearly pointing to poverty, chronic malnutrition, and gender biases that affect the vast majority of Indian women.
- In the name of family planning, sterilisation campaigns, often funded by foreign institutions, target women and put their bodies at risk. Recently there have been multiple instances of hasty sterilisation operations performed under insanitary conditions against women’s will in Bihar, funded by the UK’s DFID, resulting in a large number of deaths and mutilation of women.
- The Government and pharmaceutical companies promote dubious and dangerous injectable contraceptives like Depo-Provera and Net-en, playing with women’s health in the process. India’s poor women are used as guinea pigs for a variety of pharmaceutical experiments, and women, especially those from vulnerable poor and dalit/adivasi backgrounds, are being subjected to vaccine research and clinical trials without informed consent. For instance, recently, in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, 7 adivasi girls between 10-14 years old, died after being injected with the trial vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
- Alarmingly, India has emerged as a destination for commercial surrogate motherhood – whereby poor Indian women rent out their wombs to rich Indian and foreign parents for payment. ‘Commissioning’ parents often demand surrogate mothers of fair skin and ‘high’ caste. The surrogate mothers in question, at present, find their lives and health at great risk, in service of an industry that exploits their poverty and desperation. Rather than putting a stop to this practice until a wider debate on the ethical dimensions of surrogacy can be conducted with the participation of women’s groups, the Indian Government is promoting the practice and has proposed a Bill to legalise and ‘regulate’ it.
- Struggles of homosexuals, hijras, and sexual minorities for rights and dignity and against discrimination, have asserted themselves in recent times. In spite of a landmark verdict by the Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalising homosexuality, the Government has yet to take any steps to do away with Section 377 that discriminates against same-sex relationships. Scrapping of Section 377 will open the avenues for these groups (such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and including hijras) to demand greater protection, rights, and dignity.
- Women’s Commissions in states as well as the National Women’s Commission have come into being thanks to women’s struggles. But, stacked with political appointees and strapped for funds, hands, and powers, they are far from fulfilling their purpose. It is urgent that the NCW and State Women’s Commissions be given statutory powers, and heads and members of women’s commissions be selected based on their experience in the women’s movement, and in consultation with women’s organisations, rather than based on political patronage. Women’s commissions should also be made accountable to the women’s movement: they should be obligated to hold regular consultative meetings with women’s organisations.
Initiatives of the Party and the Women’s Organisation
- Historically, struggle against oppression, discrimination and humiliation, for equality, freedom and dignity has been the main plank of our party and our women’s organisation, with its main base among rural and urban poor. This movement has mobilised thousands of poor peasant and labouring women (overwhelmingly from the oppressed castes) in militant struggles against feudal oppression and exploitation and raised this struggle to the level of a political movement, dealing body blows to structures of feudal-kulak power both as part of revolutionary peasant movement and in its own right as communist women’s movement. This remains its great distinctive feature among women’s organizations in India and we must maintain and further develop this emphasis.
- Today, too, struggles of rural and urban peasant and working class women against all kinds of violence and exploitation remains the mainstay of AIPWA’s work. It has also been active in struggles against state repression and custodial violence, especially against AFSPA and Operation Green Hunt, and has spearheaded struggles for women’s equal wages and rights, mobilizing women MNREGA workers and agricultural labourers.
- In several recent instances, AIPWA’s intervention has proved to be politically crucial. One significant instance was the Rupam Pathak case in Bihar, where the JD(U)-BJP Government, the ruling class Opposition and the media had initially united in virulent patriarchal denunciation of the schoolteacher accused of killing a BJP MLA. AIPWA’s bold and timely intervention exposed the fact that Rupam had filed charges of sexual assault against the MLA and his PA, which the police had failed to act upon. Very soon, AIPWA turned the tide of public opinion in favour of a struggle for justice for Rupam Pathak and against the patriarchal pronouncements of senior Bihar Government leaders, defending the tainted MLA. The jail sentence for Rupam Pathak has exposed the patriarchal biases of the CBI and the judiciary, and the women’s movement for justice for Rupam Pathak continues. More recently, a popular struggle led by the party and AIPWA against the gang-rape of a schoolgirl by feudal lumpens in Gaya (Bihar) was met with police firing and severe repression. This struggle was among the major incidents that sparked off a state-wide bandh in which state repression and sexual violence were major issues.
- Women factory workers, plantation labourers, construction workers, bidi workers, bank and office employees etc constitute an important segment of our general TU base. Wherever possible the women’s organisation should work regularly among them so as to develop an important auxiliary base. Such work can only be carried on in cooperation with the concerned TUs, just as the work among the rural poor is conducted in coordination with local units of AIALA and AIKM.
- But there are areas where the AIPWA itself takes a direct role in organising labouring women: those residing in jhuggi jhopris for example, who provide the bulk of our urban mass base among women. AIPWA comrades have also built up local organisations of domestic workers in some cities and towns.
- Then there are women from poor and middle peasant background who, thanks to steady diversification of the rural economy, are joining other occupations in large numbers. Most important among them are the honorarium- and incentive-based workers, numbering around 30 lakh nationally, and still growing. Victims of a whole range of neoliberal labour policies like casualisation of permanent jobs, extremely exploitative feminisation of low-paid work and denial of even minimum wages, not to speak of government employee status, to those engaged in hundred percent public projects, they have shown a great urge to get organised and fight for economic justice and social dignity. As members of peasant families they retain the organic links with the life and struggle of the peasantry and at the same time actively fight against economic deprivation as workers as well as humiliation and harassment as women.
- Given this real-life interpenetration of class and gender characteristics and aspirations, it is but natural that both the TUs Centre and the women’s organisation have contributed to an appreciable expansion of our work in this sector. Our main achievement so far has been the formation of an all India federation of ASHA unions, which organised an impressive dharna at the national capital in September 2011. Since its main demands are targeted at the union government and to an extent also at the state governments, the federation can cope with competition from its counterparts and achieve something only by moving beyond a localised existence and rapidly expanding itself. State and district level organisations of mid-day meal cooks have also been formed. In UP, AIPWA has organised mid-day meal cooks at the district-level in Deoria and led successful struggles that forced the District Magistrate to put a stop to attempts to sack them. There is a great potential to expand such organisations and struggles on a wider scale.
- When cadres of the women’s organisation organise these working women, mainly on their urgent, i.e. economic demands, they do not deviate from the cause of women’s movement to economic struggles or economism. On the contrary, they are providing AIPWA with its own independent base, and a growing, dynamic base at that, which can, given proper orientation, serve as an organised contingent of the broader women’s movement. In fact compared to TU activists who work among women labourers, AIPWA activists are better situated to feel, act upon and develop struggles centring the problems of women. This practice should therefore be encouraged so as to tap the huge potential inherent in this mobile, socially dynamic, relatively educated (in the cases of ASHAs and Anganwadi workers) and militant contingent of working women in a more planned way. Naturally, this requires close political understanding and organisational coordination between the women’s organisation and the TU centre.
- To develop a broad-based women’s movement it is absolutely necessary to expand our reach among college students and teachers, media women and intellectuals in general. For an organisation like ours, with its main social base among the rural poor, this is a real challenge. The women’s magazines published by us in Hindi, English, Assamese and Bengali should be put to better use for this purpose.
- In addition to these classes and strata, another section merits our special attention: women people’s representatives in panchayats. Socially and politically active at the grassroots, they can be a very good medium for reaching out to the masses and gathering feedback from the masses. The women’s organisation can hold village level mass meetings and invite all women representatives and candidates to discuss problems routinely faced by women – relating to potable water and health services, for example – as well as political topics like, say, expected and actual roles of women representatives following 50% reservation, panchayats. Post elections, it should encourage and assist women representatives to fight against hidebound traditions as well as caste and gender discrimination, act independently of male ‘guardians’ and forcefully raise women’s issues among general issues of common people.
- The party has, for long, been concerned about substantially increasing the number of women party members and promoting their ideological-political development to ensure an increase in the number of women cadres and leaders. We must continue to address this challenge with a variety of organisational and educational measures. We need to accord greater emphasis as a communist party (not our women’s organisation alone) to anti-patriarchal struggles. We must also recognise that patriarchal common sense tends to have a stubborn grip on society – and therefore on our rank and file and even our political leadership. Therefore, our political practice needs to be accompanied by relentless and ruthless introspection and conscious efforts to analyse and challenge patriarchal ideology and practices. Only then can we breathe life into progressive and democratic anti-patriarchal ideas and make them a material force that energises our entire movement as well as society at large.