(Women’s Day 2009 is being celebrated all over the world as the centenary year of International Women’s Day. It marks about a hundred years since the working women of several cities in the US sparked off a remarkable struggle for their wages, the 8-hour working day and other working conditions – and also for the right to vote.
In India, Women’s Day will be an occasion to reflect on the remarkable strides that the women’s movement has made – in the world and in India too. But recent events – like the assaults on women in Karnataka; women being drawn into the workforce in large numbers, but in ruthlessly casualised, contractualised, insecure and exploitative work conditions; the denial of equal rights and minimum and equal wages in the workplace (even in ‘flagship’ schemes like NREGA); and the betrayal by the ruling UPA Government of the Bill for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies –  will also remind us that those achievements of the women’s movement are under a concerted attack – by the communal fascists as well as by neoliberal economic policies  being pursued by the Government. Ed/-) 
Gendered Violence by Communal Fascists 

(Rati Rao, Vice President of AIPWA, has for several decades been a leading figure in the women’s movement in Karnataka and the country, associated with the Mysore-based Samata Vedike. Rati Rao comments on the pub attacks in Mangalore and its implications for the women’s movement.)           

Mangalore is a port city known for its cosmopolitanism, where speakers of many languages (Tulu, Kannada, Konkani, Beary etc), as well as many communities including Hindu Billavas, Mogaveeras, Bunts & Saraswats, the Muslim Bearys, Catholics, Jains and others have coexisted. Today, however, Mangalore is at the center of a communal fascist tsunami that threatens this heritage – and gendered assaults on women are a key element in this fascist offensive.

Defying the Morality Police 
To challenge the Sangh Parivar's Valentine's Day threats, AISA and AIPWA mobilised hundreds of students of Delhi University, together with Rajendra Yadav (editor, Hans), Arundhati Roy (writer) and Rameshwar Rai (Reader, Hindu College) at the DU Arts Faculty to celebrate 'Love in our Times.' The event was preceded by an intensive two-week-long campaign amongst DU students.

On Valentine’s Day itself, AISA and AIPWA, along with cultural teams Sangwari and Awaam, held a march with songs and street plays in the DU North Campus and nearby Kamla Nagar market, celebrating the "right to live and love in freedom." At Madurai too, AIPWA distributed leaflets outside colleges against the ‘moral terror’ brigade.

A spate of incidents:
On 24 January 2009, Sangh Parivar goons styling themselves as the Sri Rama Sene (SRS) entered a pub in Mangalore, brutally assaulted women guests, dragging them by hair, tearing their clothes, slapping and molesting them. The few onlookers (like one Pavan Shetty) who came forward to help were also not spared. On the same day in the Balmatta area of Mangalore, SRS goons attacked a house where women from non-Hindu communities were invited for a party. On 06 February 2009, Shruti a 2nd year Pre-University student of St Aloysius College, Mangalore (and daughter of C.K. Kunhambu, CPI(M) MLA from Kerala), along with a Muslim friend Shabeeb, were dragged out of a private bus at Pumpwell and forced into an auto rickshaw by Hindutva goons, who warned Shruti not to talk to non-Hindus as they are ‘inhuman’.
On 11 February 2009, 16-year-old Ashwini, daughter of Mr Jayamoolya Elinge of Mulky (near Mangalore) committed suicide following public humiliation by the Hindutva forces for walking on a street with a Muslim boy. Ashwini and her classmate Madhavi, students of a PU college at Aikala village, boarded a bus on 10 February. Rafique, the helper of the bus, said they got off at Moodibidri with Abdul Salim, the bus conductor, whose father was the owner of the bus. The three walked towards Venoor where Hindutva vigilantes accosted them. The girls were beaten up and humiliated for being friendly with someone from another religion. Later in the police station at Moodibidri, Ashwini’s father was asked to lodge a complaint against Abdul Salim by the police, but he refused. Then Ashwini’s family too was publicly humiliated by the mob at the police station – and she committed suicide the next morning. 
There is a long record of such incidents in the past several months in the same region (see The Hindu, 2 September 2009). In December 2008, a college bus on an official trip was stoned at Mangalore by Bajrang Dal activists. Classmates, both boys and girls, were beaten up – the pretext was that Hindu girls should not interact with Muslim or Christian classmates.  On 24 August 2008, a bus was intercepted at a prominent junction in Mangalore; a Hindu girl and her Muslim fiancée were dragged off the bus and assaulted. In another incident on 8 August 2008, Bajrang Dal activists stopped a bus in the city, and assaulted Syed, Zulfikar and Ameen, because these young boys helped a few girls with their bags, as the latter did not get seats in the bus. Bajrang dal leader Sudarshan Moodbidri had claimed responsibility for both the August incidents (Hindu 9.02.09), declaring that “girls reform themselves once they are thrashed and humiliated in public, but boys are tougher to control.” Clearly, months before pub attack, a Sangh Parivar leader in Karnataka was openly recommending ‘thrashing and humiliating’ women, including school girls and college going women) in public as a measure of moral policing. He and his ilk were allowed a free rein; and at least one schoolgirl – Ashwini – lost her life as a result of such ‘thrashing and humiliation.’

AIPWA, AISA protest violence against women students

On 16 February, AIPWA held a dharna at the Lucknow Vidhan Sabha in protest against police violence against women students of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Law College. These students, while protesting on 14 February against mismanagement of examinations, were met with mayawati’s police who beat them up and tore their clothes. AISA also held a protest march against this incident on 20 February.

The pub attack was of a piece with these communal fascist attacks. The mischievous attempts to whip up a debate on ‘pub culture’ deliberately deflect attention from the fact that the real target is not pubs, but women’s freedom and communal harmony. 
Subsequently, the SRS declared they would oppose Valentine’s Day all over Karnataka and India; if they found any couple or girl and boy together, they would force them to opt for either “rakhi or mangalasutra”! 
Waves of protests: The pub attack became a national issue because the electronic media showed live footage of the incident. The unprecedented coalition of civic groups all over Karnataka and in the other parts of India to protest the attacks on women by SRS, Bajrang Dal and their other outfits has been heartening. On 30 January 2009, progressive organizations in Mysore held a sit-in dharna at Gandhi Square in the heart of the city. Women’s organizations including Samata Vedike and AIPWA, PUCL, drama groups, peasant groups, dalit organizations, and intellectuals spoke on the occasion. More than 100 people participated. On the same day at Bangalore a huge rally was organized to condemn the incident, and various women’s groups and democratic organizations took part, raising slogans, “Ban SRS,” “Home Minister should resign”, “Who gave the SRS the contract to save Hindu culture”? It was pointed out 42 cases pending against Muthalik, State President, SRS, were withdrawn. Thus the State has helped these self-proclaimed vigilantes to indulge in their criminal activities. Karnataka Komusauharda Vedike has been organizing public protests against Sangh Parivar at Davanagere, Gadag etc .
On 31 January 2009, people from all walks of life (numbering around 300) assembled at Kadri park at Mangalore. They lauded Pavan Shetty for his courage and conscience in accosting the perpetrators, and filing a case against the SRS goons even after being beaten up by them! Many prominent citizens of Mangalore condemned the pub attack.
Protests against the Valentine’s Day threats have been pouring in. Many civic groups all over Karnataka and India protested against these. At Mysore on 14 February, more than 100 people belonging to various progressive groups formed a Human Chain at K R Circle. A huge public protest was organized at Mangalore on the 20 February at the DC's office against “Goondagiri in the name of protecting culture.”

AIPWA Foundation Day Celebrated 
AIPWA units all over the country observed the anniversary of AIPWA’s foundation on 12 February. In Jharkhand, AIPWA held its third district conference at Ranchi on this occasion in the form of a Mahila Rozgar Sammelan on the theme of Women’s Employment. They raised the issue thatthe economic downturn is being used as an excuse to reduce wages and to strangle all opportunities for employment for women. Outmigration of women in Jharkhand in search of work sets new records each year. Between 8 February and 8 March, AIPWA has organised a series of programmes and agitations as part of the Mahila Rozgar (women’s employment) campaign in 15 districts. The Conference elected Shanti Sen as District President and Singi Khalkho as District Secretary, along with a 17-member committee. 
In Hyderabad on this day, AIPWA held a dharna on at Indira Park in Hyderabad. The four hundred women participating in the dharna shouted slogans against the Rajasekhar Reddy Govt. during whose regime the incidents of violence against women has seen a new high. They also condemned his Govt.’s failure in sticking to its own promises of phase-wise prohibition of liquor. AIPWA State President and Secretary Comrades T. Aruna and R. Nagmani respectively addressed the dharna and led the rally.

AIPWA’s first State Conference was held in Rajasthan on the same day at Udaipur in which 350 delegates from ten districts of the State were present. Com. Meena Tiwari, AIPWA’s General Secretary was the main speaker at the Conference, pointing out that while the last BJP Government in Rajasthan had openly promoted an obscurantist policy towards women and had patronised violence against women, the Congress Government too was taking no measures to prevent sati glorification or female foeticide or rapes – and instead the CM was holding forth against friendships between boys and girls, in tacit support of the Mangalore assault. Com. Srilata Swaminathan, President of AIPWA also addressed the Conference. Veteran women’s leader from Udaipur Razia Tehsin was felicitated. Other speakers included CPI(ML) dist. secretary Com. Chandradeo Ola, Prof. Zainab Bano, Prof. R.N. Vyas, Bhanwari Bai, Amri Bai, Tezki and Karuna. Later as the concluding session a rally was taken out which went to the collectorate and the rallyists submitted a memorandum to the State Govt.

Deflecting the Debate:
The National Commission of Women Chairperson Ms Girija Vyas refused to accept the report of its member Nirmala Venkatesh who was sent on fact-finding mission to Mangalore on the pub issue. She rejected the report on the ground that it had not followed the norm that requires a three-member team inclusive of a social activist; and also because none of the attack victims were contacted and because undue emphasis was placed on the nature of license issued to the pub which was not a part of the mandate. However, Girija Vyas was silent on the worst patriarchal sentiments uttered publicly by Ms. Venkatesh: declaring that the ‘poor boys’ (perpetrators of crime) who met her in jail told her they were disturbed by women in ‘naked dress’ (a mystifying concept; after all, we know ‘naked’ and ‘dress’ – but what is ‘naked dress’ we wonder), and that ‘after all ‘women have to be responsible for their own safety.’ Later, the statement of the SRS backing this woman did not surprise us. The SRS has no objection to ‘sadhus’ going naked, nor to nakedness in temple sculpture – the only objection is to women exercising choice and control over their bodies and relationships. In any case, it was obvious in the live footage of the assault, that the women were far from naked: it was only the SRS cadre who were tearing off their clothes!     
The Ministry of Women & Child Welfare also sent a team to investigate. The Mayor of Mangalore has filed a case against Minister Renuka Chaudhry for talking of ‘Talibanisation.’ The Mayor, so proactive when it came to the charge of Talibanisation, did nothing to protect the city’s women from goons.
There have also been some protests by SHG and Stree Shakti groups obviously sponsored by saffron brigade against ‘pub culture’. These got a fillip from the pronouncements of many – including Rajasthan CM from the Congress Ashok Gehlot and Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss against ‘pub culture’. The simple question is: how come there was no debate on men going to pubs? Why were women singled out for attack in the pub? Pravin Valke, founder of the SRS’s statement reveals that it not pubs, but women’s freedom and unconventional roles that are the target. He said, “Pubs should be for men only. Women should be at home by 7 pm. Why should they go to pubs: are they learning to serve their husbands alcohol? They should learn to make chapattis instead.” 

Protests in Karnataka

On 31 January 2009 CPIML and RYA jointly organized a protest rally at Gangavati against the attack on women in a Mangalore pub. The 200-strong rally of youth burnt the effigy of Pramod Muthalik and demanded the resignation of Home Minister VS Acharya and Chief Minister Yeddyurappa. The rally was led by Comrade J Bharadwaj, State President of AIALA and the dharna was presided over by Rafeeq, RYA convener.
Dr Lakshminarayana, State Convener of Indian Institute of Marxist Studies (IIMS) and V Shankar, CCM, addressed the gathering.
AIPWA joined the joint protest rally on 30 January at Mysore. Comrade Rati Rao, National Vice-President of AIPWA, Dr Lakshminarayana, State General Secretary of PUCL and Meera Nayak of Samata Vedike addressed the gathering at Mysore. Comrade Gandhimathi, NCM joined the protest rally at Bangalore on the same day. Comrade Rati Rao participated in the protest rally at Mangalore also on 31 January 2009.

Government Patronage:
All along the State Government, and especially the BJP government, has been soft on the Sangh Parivar. In fact the Home Minister even said he was considering appointing a media ‘ombudsman’ to screen media reports that ‘lack objectivity’ and pronounce 'judgment' on issues. No doubt he has no objection to media pronouncing judgement on innocent Muslims branded by the police as terrorists – his concern is to muzzle the media which exposes the Sangh’s own violent, communal, and anti-women face. 
The State Human Rights Commission Chairperson SR Nayak has pulled up the State for its inaction on the issue of moral policing in the wake of the suicide of 16-year-old college girl. 

Spiralling Crimes against Women

The latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2007 gives us the shocking data on the rising graph of crimes against women.
•  A total of 1,85,312 incidents of crime against women reported during 2007 (the volume of those unreported can only be imagined)
•  An increase of 12.5% during 2007 from 2006
• Continuous increase during 2003-2007 with 1,40,601 cases in 2003, 1,54,333 cases in 2004, 1,55,553 in 2005, 1,64,765 cases in 2006
•  Worst states: Andhra Pradesh (13.3% of total incidents); Uttar Pradesh (11.3%) 

• Cases of kidnapping and abduction reported an increase of 17.2% as compared to 2006; UP (3,363) accounted for 16.5% of the total cases; Delhi reported the highest rate at 7.0 as compared to the National average of 1.8.

Understanding the roots: The Dakshina Kannada (DK) district has been known for the highest literacy rate in the state and for a modern cosmopolitan society. The syncretism had a material basis in the coastal communities. Fishing is the occupation of Mogaveera men, wholesale purchase, that of Beari (Muslims), and retail that of Mogaveera women. The famous Mangalore lily, is grown by Christians, wholesale purchase done by Bearis and retail sale by Hindus, who also wear it. The coconut, mangoes, tamarind grown by Hindus, is purchased wholesale by Bearis.
The soil of DK has witnessed powerful social movements since the 1980s – some of the prominent ones being against the MRPL, against the deal with the US power MNC Cogentrix, against coal-fired thermal power plants, against the Nagarjuna steel plant and on environmental issues. There is a powerful local legacy of communal harmony: the Bappa temple built by Bappa Beari near Mulky in Bappanadu; the figures of Chamundi and Babbaria; the cult of Madeena Durga of Ullala and Saida Bee Durga of Mangalore (important Sufi cultural figures). The growth of the Sangh Parivar in this region has been marked by the systematic destruction of this culture, replacing it by one of communal hatred – a project nurtured in the Sangh ‘laboratory’.
Gains of the Women’s Movement Are Under Attack     
The idea that the pub attack reflected some sort of real resentment or moral outrage against a certain elite lifestyle is not looking beyond the surface. The women’s movement fought for decades for democratizing their private sphere and the public space. All along the conservatives tried to push us back to smothering spaces inside the homes and even at the workplace. The women’s movement aspires for freedom, space and decision-making power for women. But, all along we are pulled up on the issue of dress codes, behaviour, mobility and personal life choices (as to whom to choose as life partner etc). Why are women alone made to bear the burden of ‘culture’- thereby forcing them to tolerate the ‘culture’ of female foeticide, female infanticide, denial of education for women, dowry murders, and drunken husbands’ daily beatings?  This is the real question posed by the Mangalore attack – with which the women’s movement is grappling.

Work and Wages for Women: the NREGA Experience

According to a recent survey:
•       The participation of women in the NREGA was way below the stipulated minimum of 33 per cent.
•       In UP, women constituted just 5% of the NREGA workforce; Bihar (13%); Jharkhand (18%), Chhattisgarh (25%). 
•       Women are routinely turned away from worksites, told that NREGA was “not for them”. They also face verbal sexual harassment.
•       According to NREGA, when there are more than five children under the age of six at a worksite, a female worker should be assigned to take care of them. But child-care facilities are totally absent.
•       Contractors discriminate against women in NREGA.
•       In many states, the standard task for a day’s work – digging a certain number of cubic feet of soil – is too heavy for women.
•       Delayed payments of wages turn women away from NREGA – especially if they are the sole wage earners in a family.
•       Women workers’ participation in gram sabhas is subtly or openly discouraged – and they, even more than men, are not encouraged to participate in deciding the nature of works in NREGA. 
•       Where wage payments are made through banks, it is routine for only one bank account to be opened per job card – usually in the name of a male member of the family. Women thus have to depend on men to withdraw their own wages. 

(Source: ‘What works against women,’ Frontline, Vol. 26, No. 01, Jan 03-16, 2009)