8 March was celebrated all over the country with much enthusiasm this year. While most of the progressive women’s groups focused on the impending US war on Iraq, the Gujarat genocide and escalating communalism as well as the anti-women economic policies of the government and violence on women, those in power continued to betray women. The Vajpayee government, having already imposed a totally anti-women budget, put up a farce of “trying hard for a consensus” on the women’s reservation bill, S M Krishna, CM of Karnataka made news by asserting that it was the responsibility of women to ‘free their men from vices’ like addiction to liquor. He said, “use your love, care, trust, anything, the answers are within you, don’t look to the government or the system”. In a deliberate insult to the massive anti-arrack women’s movements, he told women to stop organizing ‘marches and demonstrations to protest against temptations’ and advised them to try some love, a smile and feminine beauty instead. So, while the government was free to keep earning revenue from more bars and pubs and open licensing of liquor shops, it was for women to use their ‘feminine tricks and charms’ to wean away their men! Narendra Modi, the ‘hero’ of the BJP’s Gujarat genocide, tried to score points news by addressing a rally and declaring making the mother’s name mandatory for admission to schools. Students were even given the option of removing their father’s name from their names. This has been one of the demands of the women’s movement for long. But if Modi, who orchestrated communal rape and continues to protect the rapists, thinks he can win the confidence of women with such gestures, he is wrong. Women’s groups in Gujarat showed that such sops could not blind them to the Modi government’s real face, by organizing an impressive human chain against communal violence.
It was left to the women in the movement to express the real concerns and struggles of Indian women.
In Delhi, AIPWA conducted a month long campaign against war and communal fascist attacks on women, for women’s rights and employment. This campaign covered various slum settlements, colonies and women’s colleges, as well as issues ranging from public amenities to sexual violence. On 8 March, AIPWA participated in a joint march of women along with several other women’s groups. The march culminated in a mass meeting at Mandi House. Com. Srilata Swaminathan spoke on behalf of AIPWA. She said that 8 March 2003 should be dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Gujarat genocide and called upon women to thwart the evil designs of the Sangh Pariwar to divide the country, especially women on communal lines so as to reap political benefits. She cautioned women to stand up against the expansionist designs of the US, which was not heeding public opinion all over the world against the war on Iraq. She said that the Budget has clearly shown that the Government is openly favouring the rich and working against the interests of the poor in the country. She demanded that the increase in farm inputs, petroleum products and LPG be rolled back.
In Uttar Pradesh, a state-level rally was conducted in Lucknow, in which more than a thousand women from various districts participated. The rally focussed on the increased oppression of women in the state, especially dalit and poor women, and the Mayawati government’s callousness towards cases of feudal repression of women in the state. The rallyists marched from Charbagh railway station and made their way to the Vidhan Sabha, despite repeated scuffles with the police, where the rally culminated in a mass meeting. The rallyists joined the joint meeting of women’s groups at Patel Park, Hazratganj, where women resolved to resist the Sangh Parivar’s communal game.
A massive resistance march of over 3000 women from districts all over Bihar was conducted in Bihar on 8 March after a month-long campaign. The main slogan for the rally was “ Bahut hua police julm, hatya, balatkaar; gaddi chor Rabri Sarkaar” ( Enough of police atrocity, killing and rape, Rabri government must resign). The rally turned into a militant mass meeting against the Rabri Govt, addressed by AIPWA leaders. The women got restive as the CM dilly-dallied on the question of meeting them. The huge contingent in the front had almost broken the barricades when the CM decided to meet the leaders of the organisation. A delegation of 5 leaders met Rabri Devi and handed over a memorandum, including demands for the arrest of those responsible for fanning communal hatred in different districts of Bihar and stern action against the Sangh organisations that indulged in vandalism on Valentine’s Day.
On 8 March, AIPWA organised a seminar on the ‘Position of women under Marandi rule, strategies for the women’s movement’. Inaugurating the programme, Dayamani Warla, leader of the Ulgulaan Manch said that the forces of mass movement in Jharkhand are being repressed and suppressed by the police and mafia, and rightist forces are also trying to divide Jharkhand on religious and caste lines. Many speakers stressed that rape, oppression of women and incidents of branding of women as witches and putting them to death have increased ever since Marandi took over. Meena Kumari, State Secretary, AIPWA, said that women in Jharkhand were being deprived of gainful work and were constantly being forced towards unskilled, unorganised, backbreaking labour. She said that as more and more women were being forced to starve even in the agricultural sector, many young girls were being forced to work as housemaids outside the state, where they were subjected to sexual abuse and torture.
On 8 March more than 450 women gathered in Tambaram of Kanchipuram and marched shouting anti-war slogans. They held a convention, presided over by AIPWA, in which several groups including AICCTU, Tamizhaga Vyavasaya Tozhilalar Sangam, CPI(ML) and RYA took part.
8 March was observed in Jaipur, Udaipur and Ajmer. In Jaipur, a mass meeting was held where several women’s groups and democratic groups, along with AIPWA, participated. Resolutions were passed against the US war against Iraq, communalism, especially the distribution of tridents through Trishul Diksha Samarohs all over the state, the anti-poor budget, increasing violence on women and for intensification of the struggle to get the Women’s Bill passed. They also demanded that Rajasthan be declared a famine hit state and free distribution of food grains to the poor
In Pondicherry, 9 workers died in a glass factory due to the occupational disease called Silicosis, which mainly affects women workers due to the nature of their work. A movement is going on regarding the issue in which AIPWA is playing a major role besides AICCTU. A delegation has already met the Labour Minister demanding compensation to the victims’ families and proper medical safeguards and regular checkups for the workers.
On 8th March, Sodou Asom Pragatishil Nari Santha has observed International Women’s Day in different districts of Assam, holding large mass meetings in Nagaon, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Pathsala, Dibrugarh and Behali, In Guwahati AIPWA along with women organizations of CPI, CPI(M), SUCI, and other democratic women organizations including Bank Employees’ Women Association took out a procession and held a mass meeting before District Library, Guwahati. At these meetings, women resolved to build up resistance against i ncreasing violence on women in the state and to resist the communal Rath Yatra proposed by VHP and Sangh Parivar.
The Bangalore unit of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) organized a meeting in Peenya Industrial Estate on 8 March, where leaders of AIPWA and CPI(ML) strongly condemned Chief Minister S M Krishna for advising women to use their “feminine beauty” to wean away men from bad habits. They accused S M Krishna of masking feudalism in the garb of hi-tech governance, while trying to conceal the misdeeds of the government which is busy promoting arrack and liquor shops, online lotteries, etc. q