Intensify Struggle for Gender Equality Enshrined in Constitution!
Despite over 72 years since 1947, what is the situation of gender equality in India? The question begins with sex selection operating before birth, misusing scientific advances. It continues into unequal opportunities to survive, as economic factors coupled with social bias lead to unequal distribution of family resources between children of different sexes. The issue of inequality continues into the entire structural violence by society against women, wherein conditions operate in which the vast majority of women are denied equal access to nutrition, to education and to health care. Women continue to be denied right to equal wage for equal work in practice in all types of work, while for agricultural labour there is an accepted difference in the official minimum wage announced by most states without specifying any difference in type of work. Land pattas are in the name of men alone in the maximum cases. Despite changes in laws of inheritance, women hardly ever assert the right to a share in the father’s property due to patriarchy dominant in society. Domestic work falls to the share of women unremarkably, even if she is an equal breadwinner in the family. Widows have just no position in society whereas widowers are unremarkable from others. Divorced women continue to be stigmatized whereas there is no such marker on divorced men. The equal right to work is unenforceable for women without state support, some of which labour laws assure in theory in the form of creches at place of work, ESI facilities with paid maternity leave. These laws remained unimplemented in practice except in sections of organized and white-collar workers among whom women were certainly not half of the workforce. Women have also consistently had to fight for the right to safe workplaces and it took years and years of struggle to enact the Law Against Sexual harassment at Workplace. Even after enactment, each enforcement requires a new struggle. While women have breached all prejudices and barriers to enter every field of activity, it is unsurprising to see their poor representation in higher posts in any profession. In order to exercise the theoretical right of equality of opportunity, women have to be helped by society in the caring of children, and the question of providing good creches at state expense has hardly ever been addressed.
The situation steadily deteriorated post 1990, with the policy framework shifting to liberalization and privatization and open service of corporate. The falling away of regular jobs and shift to contractualization has affected women the worst. They are also the worst victims of the dumping of all labour laws by the current RSS-BJP Govt at the Centre. Women are the majority in the masses of unorganized ‘voluntary’ workers who do regular work without being entitled to a wage. The end of regular jobs is leading to end to enforcement of Provident Fund which economically empowered women workers and denying women access to ESI and to maternity benefits which accompanied the same. The end of regular jobs, the coming of fixed term employments and the casualization of labour leaves women that much more vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence at workplace. Job loss will be inevitable if they complain or protest. The Manuwadi Central Govt. has also disposed off the entire Equal Remuneration Act to just one sentence in the Wage Code. The issue of land reforms has fallen off the agenda and with it the right of women to have the pattas written in the name of both husband and wife.
The six years of the Modi Govt at the Centre have also seen the peaking of joblessness. This has led to general depression of actual wages and in turn has affected women’s wage more. The push of this Govt. for even more privatization and commercialization of all services like Health and Education impacts the right of girls to access education more than that of boys in any given household. In any given economic strata, the women will hesitate to seek medical aid until only when no option is left, if health services are privatized and commercialized. All this is being done to facilitate the loot of the people and country by the looters of the people.
The deteriorating economic conditions of the people have deepened all social inequalities. In this situation, the RSS Govt. of Modi has also embarked on the agenda of establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The RSS upholds a Manuwadi understanding of society, where all women have a secondary status and Dalit women are at the absolutely lowest step of the social strata. Additionally, the place of all minorities is visualized as of second class citizens and thus of the women concerned as even lower. In this situation, the recent policy package of CAA—NRC-NPR announced by this Govt. will worsen the position of women in any given section since they are the institutionalized migrants in the country, moving from parental homes to integrating into another family.
The situation of ensuring security to women in society has emerged from under wraps as a big question as women are daring to speak up against sexual violence. As governments fail to ensure women’s security with lack of safe transportation to and from workplace, lack of adequate safe public transport, adequate street lighting, responsive policing, and also continue to stand by patriarchal values in practice, sexual violence against women has emerged as a major question to restrict equal right to participation in all walks of life. Despite so many big movements, the experience with sexual harassment at workplace repeats itself. There is total lack of attention to ensuring safe environments, unresponsive policing, absolute inattention to fast tracking justice delivery and speedy fair trials though huge amounts of Nirbhaya funds lie unused in most states.
This year, 8th march has come in a milieu in which thousands upon thousands of women and girls are on the streets, asserting the Constitution of India against the communal conspiracies of the RSS-BJP Govt. which seeks to establish a pro Corporate ‘Hindu’ Rashtra based on its anti minorities, casteist and patriarchal convictions. People of India are fighting to uphold the diversity of the country, right to practice religion of their choice. Women are in the forefront of these protests; they are strengthening them with their colourful courage, songs, slogans and creativity; they are braving police repression, storming barricades or climbing them; they are asserting the Idea of a multihued India.
The struggle of women in India for the right to equality with men in all spheres has been on over the years, both as a general issue and in specific manifestations. Today, women and girls are leading people of the country who are out on the streets in struggle to assert the rights to equality, justice, fraternity and liberty promised to all the people by the Constitution of India.This same Constitution promises no discrimination on the basis of gender and equal rights to men and women. Let us make 8th March 2020 an occasion when we strengthen the struggle against the attack on India’s Diversity, on the Constitution which enshrines this Right, against the imposition of a ‘Hindu’ Rashtra. Let us assert our right to equality under the Constitution.
POW PMS Istri Jagriti Manch