On the occasion of International Women’s Day this year, protests were held all over the country demanding implementation of the Verma Committee recommendations and especially the enactment of an effective law against rape and sexual violence.
In Delhi, women’s groups held a joint rally from Mandi House to Parliament Street, reflecting the spirit of the ongoing movement against rape following the December 16 gangrape. Participant organisations included AIDWA, AIPWA, CWDS, Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, FORCES, Jagori, JWP, NFIW, Nirantar, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangthan, Purogami Mahila Sangthan, Saheli, Swastik Mahila Samiti, and YWCA of Delhi, as well as student groups including AISA and students from various DU colleges, JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia. At Parliament Street, a protest meeting was held, which was addressed by women’s movement activists including Sudha Sundararaman of AIDWA and Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA. The programme was conducted by Sehba Farooqui of AIDWA. On the presidium, AIPWA was represented by Sucheta De, one of the leading figures of the Delhi anti-rape protests. Addressing the protestors, Kavita saluted the century of women workers’ struggles which were being commemorated on International Women’s Day. She hailed the spirit of the women resisting POSCO at Odisha, who on the eve of Women’s Day had been severely lathicharged and booked for criminal offences when some of them stripped their clothes off in protest against land grab. She hailed the women of Koodankulam protesting against the nuclear project. She demanded justice for the women of Kashmir and North East and for Soni Sori, subjected to rape by security forces and the police. She commented on the fact that both the Government and the main Opposition party, BJP, were united in the agenda of diluting and subverting the Verma Committee recommendations and introducing anti-women provisions in the rape law. She pointed out that the Government’s ordinance as well as the Bill prepared by the Standing Committee headed by BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu had identical provisions, recommending that men be allowed to accuse women of rape; that the age of consent be raised from 16 to 18; retaining the protective shields for public servants and army officers accused of rape; refusal to amend AFSPA or recognise marital rape. Only the relentless pressure from the protests on the street and efforts of the women’s movement, had forced the Government to reconsider the move to make the accused in the rape law ‘gender neutral’ and the move to raise the age of consent. Women are not going around raping or assaulting men, so why should they be accused of sexual assault? She pointed out that raising the age of consent would make young teenage boys branded as rapists even for consensual sexual activity with girls of the same age. She demanded strict provisions for errant police officers to ensure accountability for the police. Reminding of the rapes in Kunan Poshpora, and of Thangjam Manorama and countless others in conflict areas, she demanded repeal of AFSPA. She demanded that the offensive provisions of exemption of marital rape be removed from the rape law, since wives were not sexual property of men. She pointed out that death penalty for rape would in no way make women more secure, since it would only provide rapists with an incentive to kill their victims. She saluted the spirit of the Delhi December 16 braveheart who had lit the torch of struggle that had revitalised the movement against rape and sexual violence in India and across the world, and demanded that the Government and Parliament should respect her memory, not with lip service but with a gender-just law based on the Verma panel recommendations.
In Bihar, protests were held by AIPWA at district HQs all over the state, demanding a law based on JVC recommendations; reversal of the Nitish Govt’s alcohol promotion policy, and demanding withdrawal of suicide charges against Irom Sharmila and scrapping of AFSPA. In Patna, a large procession of women from rural and urban Patna marched to the Bihar Assembly and held a protest meeting there. AISA and RYA also held a march from the Magadh Mahila College in which many women and men students participated, demanding ‘Freedom without fear’. On the same day, powerful protests were held in Siwan, Buxar, Bhojpur and other districts of Bihar.
In Kolkata, women workers along with women, student and youth activists in large numbers participated in the women’s day rally organised by AIPWA state committee, West Bengal. Decorated with posters, placards, flags, and banners and resonating with slogans against gender violence and demands of women workers, the spirited rally started off from College Square and ended near the Sealdah railway station. Women workers from unorganised sectors like beedi-rolling, domestic work, zari work, ASHA and mid-day meal, construction sector participated from five districts. Following the rally a street cultural protest was held at Sealdah.
In Andhra Pradesh, AIPWA held a dharna at Kakinada in front of the collector’s office; a protest march in Sathupalli – mandal headquarters of Khammam district; a dharna at Ananthapuram before collector’s office; a protest meeting at Vijaywada; and a dharna by mid-day meal workers at Nuziveedu at the Revenue divisional office.
In Uttarakhand, protests were held by AISA and AIPWA at many places demanding freedom without fear and implementation of the Justice Verma recommendations as well as punishment for the police officers responsible for the mass rape of Uttarakhand statehood movement protestors at Muzaffarnagar in 1994. At Pithoragarh, AISA held a seminar at the Municipality Hall, followed by burning a copy of the Government’s ordinance in protest against its provisions of gender-neutrality of the accused. The seminar, chaired by women’s activist Namrata Bora, was addressed by AIPWA activist Sheela Punetha, AISA’s Hemant Khati, CPI(ML) District Secretary Jagat Martoliya, and many others. In Bhikyasain, the ASHA workers’ union affiliated to AICCTU and AIPWA held a protest march in the marketplace and held a protest meeting which was addressed among others by CPI(ML) leader Purushottam Sharma. AISA held a seminar at Rudrapur, where students read an article on the subject of sexual violence and capitalism, and AISA activist Ruby Bharadwaj led a discussion on the issue. CPI(ML) leader KK Bora also addressed the gathering and the seminar was conducted by Lalit Matiyali. Journalism students at the Garhwal University at Srinagar held a seminar in which CPI(ML) and AISA activists participated. CPI(ML)’s Indresh Maikhuri and Kuldeep Sailani of AISA addressed the seminar.
In Bohisar (in Dahisar of Mumbai, Maharashtra), 8th March was observed by women of many villages in the Tarapur gram panchayat. Women gathered at the community hall of Dalits and held a meeting there. The meeting was presided by Comrade Leela Dubla of CPI(ML)’s Jambhalpada unit, and was addressed by many CPI(ML) activists. Following the meeting, a women who had shared her experience of domestic violence, was inspired to go to the police station with the comrades and file a complaint against her abusive husband.
In Ranchi, AIPWA held a rally to Albert Ekka Chowk where a protest meeting was held demanding ‘Freedom without fear’, implementation of Justice Verma recommendations including an effective law against all forms of rape and sexual violence, dignity and proper remuneration of women workers and domestic workers; a policy for women in Jharkhand. The protest meeting began with a rousing women’s movement song which said, “A new star shines on the world’s map, half the earth and half the sky is ours!” AIPWA State Secretary Sunita, President Gunni Oraon, Ranchi district Vice President Shanti Sen, and JSM’s Anil Anshuman addressed the gathering. AIPWA secretary Sarojini Bisht conducted the meeting. JSM’s Prerna team convenor and AIPWA leader Soni Tiriya rendered inspiring songs.
In Ruabandha Sector of Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, AIPWA held a meeting on the theme of women’s freedom, safety and rights, demanding implementation of the JVC report and demanding release of Soni Sori and punishment of the police officers and Salwa Judum leaders accused of rape.
AIPWA and Mahila Mukti Morcha held a dharna at Ghadi Chowk, Supela in Bhilai, in which contract worker women participated.
A platform of 17 peasants’ and workers’ organizations of Punjab had given a call for ‘Rail Roko’ protests on 6 March demanding a bonus of Rs 100 on MSP for wheat, providing the homestead plots to rural labourers as promised, waiver of pending electricity bills and provision of free motors on fields of small farmers.
On the night of the 5th itself, the police conducted raids and arrested peasants’ leaders and activists wholesale. Mass arrests also took place on the 6th where peasants managed to hold protests (such mass arrests took place at Gurdaspur, Jalandhar and other places). Around 2500 peasants are now in jails. A large number of CPI(ML) members and leaders are now in jail, as are those of other Left parties. Arrested CPI(ML) leaders include SCMs Gurmeet Bakhpura, Gulzar Singh, Sukhdev Singh, Ruldu Singh, Gurjant Singh, Gurnam Bhikhi, and Gurpreet Rudeke, as well as party activists Ola Samaon, Gurpreet Kotdunna and AISA activist Harman Himmatpura. 200 CPI(ML) members are in Gurdaspur jail and 150 in Mansa jail. CPM Punjab leaders Comrades Raghvir Singh, Lal Chand, Atmaram, and others are also in jail. An ASI of Punjab Police died in Tarn Taran while raiding houses of leaders and police arrested many farmers on charges of killing the ASI. The police earlier registered the case under IPC section 304 but later amended it to 302, accusing farmers of murder. It was later cleared by the medical report that there was no injury mark on the body and the ASI died of heart attack rather than beating as claimed by police in the FIR.
In spite of the severe crackdown, protests have continued defying the repression. CPI(ML) activists have initiated a relay hunger strike in Mansa jail, which is likely to spread to other jails as well. On 18 March, an indefinite dharna has been called by the 17 organizations at DC offices all over Punjab demanding release of all those arrested. Also a call was given to observe the week as protest week. Effigies of Punjab Government were burned daily in various villages and towns in all districts of state. The Government under pressure released the few activists but kept the main leadership lodged illegally in jails. The effigies of Government were burnt in many villages of the four districts of Mansa, Barnala, Sangrur and Batala under leadership of CPIML. It was decided to hold dharnas outside DC offices on 18th march. This time too there was strong police arrangement. All buses were stopped kilometers away from cities to restrict protestors from reaching cities. Every farmers or laborer looking man was being detained for questioning. The farmers and laborers were arrested in large numbers showing the situation of undeclared emergency in Punjab. Still protests happened at many places. Finally, bowing to pressure the Punjab CM has agreed to meeting leaders of agitating union leaders on 1st April and to release the activists and leaders lodged in jails.
Pro-POSCO goons in Odisha launched a bomb attack at anti-POSCO protestors, targeting the main PPSS leader Abhaya Sahoo in particular, claiming the life of 3 protesters on 2nd March.
3 left parties - CPI(ML) Liberation, CPI(ML) and SUCI (C), held a protest against the bomb attack at Bhubaneshwar. The protesters marched to the Odisha Assembly and demanded 50 lakhs compensation for each of the victims, arrest of all culprits, immediate withdrawal of police from the Jagatsinghpur area, and scrapping of the POSCO agreement. The protest was led by Mahendra Parida, Radhakant Sethi, and Yudhistir Mohapatra from CPI(ML) Liberation, Shiv Ram from CPI (ML) and Rajendra Verma from SUCI (C).
In Delhi also several groups held a joint protest, which was joined by AISA.
On 2nd March, the police at Garhwa, Jharkhand, fired on CPI(ML) supporters protesting against the alienation of Dalit land and state repression, killing one young CPI(ML) member.
In the village Korga, of Ramuna block in Garhwa district, 700 acres of land rightfully belonging to people of the Dalit Bhuiyan caste, had been grabbed by the feudal forces on the basis of forged papers. This dispute dates back to 1932, the High Court has ruled in favour of the Bhuiyan caste on this matter, in spite of which the feudal forces backed by police and administration continued to hold on to the land. The police had been framing false cases against the Dalits. One week before the firing, police came to the village to arrest Bhuiyan people in false cases, and the villagers chased the police away and recovered their comrades from the clutches of the police. On 2nd March, the police again went to Korga, beat up people, and arrested one innocent person. In protest, the villagers blockaded the National Highway 75. The police lathicharged the protesters and injured several. They then fired on the demonstration, killing 25-year-old Vikas Bhuiyan (who had been a CPI(ML) member for the past 7 years) on the spot. The villagers continued the protest and the police eventually retreated. The protest continued all night, joined by CPI(ML) leaders including State committee member Kalicharan Mehta, Sushma Mehta, and Ravindra Ram. The blockade was lifted on 3rd March at 11 am when the police agreed to the protesters’ demands. The DC and SP agreed in writing to lodge an FIR against the SHO and Inspector, ensure a job and compensation for the dependents of the victim, and hold a joint meeting within a week to ensure a resolution to the land dispute.
Garhwa district remained closed on 3rd March in protest against the firing. CPI(ML) protested against the firing in every district of Jharkhand. 4000 people protested at the spot of the firing in Garhwa, defying a police force of 700.
Tribute was paid to Vikas Bhuiyan on 3rd March, where protesters observed a minute’s silence and pledged to continue the struggle. CPI(ML) CC members Janardan Prasad and Rajaram Singh rushed to the spot on 3rd March from the Central Committee meeting at Gaya, and were joined by SCM Anant Prasad Gupta in a central investigation team.
The CPI(ML) held a protest march in Ranchi against the firing and the move to cut back on adivasi seats in the municipality elections.