Great movements are built on big issues. On March 8 this year women across the country, young and old, have risen to oppose the RSS-BJP attack on the rights enshrined in the Constitution – not only their own but the people of the country at large. They are displaying the perseverance of seasoned campaigners, consciousness of enlightenment and eagerness to imbibe all that is new and relevant. Their quest for justice unravelling popular myths about them is creating a new paradigm of women’s activism. None of the inequalities, discriminations and oppressions has been even lessened and yet they rose to defend what belongs to all. Brushing aside motivated propaganda to portray their struggle through the prism of patriarchal mindset; generating folklores and creativity befitting the cause they have taken up surpassing all till now, women have once again showed that the wretched of the earth are the creators of history and great issues of the society are raised not in closed spaces but on open roads. The scenario of women’s activism in India on this 8th March would have gladdened the hearts of the visionary women leaders who declared 8th March as a commemoration of the struggle of working women.
This struggle is only the front paw of the women’s struggle for their rights, which face increasing odds for their realization. But in one swoop the parameters of this struggle have been broadened to be awe-inspiring, setting a new landscape in which these struggles must be waged. By emerging at the head of the defence of what has been the idea of India, crystallized during freedom movement, they have changed the conditions under which their struggles will traverse though there remain obstacles to be surmounted, hesitations of those sympathizing and resistance of those opposing. Their glorious role in the unfolding struggle will influence and permeate their quest for rights including gender rights.
Women of India face huge burden of both the past and the present. While feudal chains bind them hands and feet, capitalists extract the last drop of blood from the semi-starved and uncared bodies of working women. One cannot fail to see their exploitation at construction sites, in brick-kilns, in numerous unorganized sectors, rag picking and the most unpaying laboursone can name. While landlords and their hoodlums exploit them in every way, the capitalists squeeze every muscle and all energy. They somehow pull themselves through their miserable existence yet seeing their children emaciate and die before their eyes due to want of food, health care leave alone hope of any education or other cares. While this is the lot of overwhelming majority of women, those privileged to enjoy higher status are not free from their share of suffering, humiliation and discrimination at every step. Rulers talk of their reverence of women, read from scriptures to buttress their claims and yet do everything to increase exploitation and oppression of women. Their reverence is to selfless and uncomplaining service women render to the men; after all saying a few good things is not much of a price for lifelong service. They are revered for their dependence while all expressions of independence are snuffed out. The forms of domination have changed over the years that have passed since the advent of patriarchy but not the fact of it; inferior position of their gender only adding to the weight of their inferior socio-economic position.
What to talk of the large issues of equality and guaranteeing basic human rights and dignity, this system has failed to even provide them physical security. Rapes and murders take place unchecked and if the culprits are powerful, mostly go unreported. When any force themselves into public recognition, some superficial measures are announced insincerely and insensitively. Even the most basic measures are not implemented, rulers’ noise subside as the public anger subsides and the latter is often misled. The frequency with which these attacks occur bears ample testimony to the inefficacy of the measures supposedly taken by the rulers. The rulers want to drive home the point that women are not safe outside the homes, avoiding any mention of the conditions of women inside homes. From inside the womb to early childhood, adolescence, youth, married life and old age their life is a reflection of the grossest inequalities in society, suffering at each step and in every conceivable way.
Sometimes the list of RoopKanwars, Shazadis, Acid victims, Hadiyas, girls and boys killed for daring to fall in love against social diktats, seems not only never ending but also elongating at too rapid a pace. One scarcely finishes the fight for at least arrests for one before another is added to the list. We rail at the patriarchal judiciary and state, at the communal police force and state machinery, at the limitations that these impose on the fight for justice in that to get the law to move is a separate issue from getting it enunciated and enacted.
It is like the story of a death foretold to misquote and transpose Gabriel Garcia Marquis. Yet he was writing about a society like ours where the strong feudal traditions play out despite the fact that everyone knows they will and also exactly how they will.
Inequalities and oppressions faced by women are ingrained in this social order. Exploitation of women is an integral to the surplus extracted by capitalists- domestic and foreign- and landlords. Without changing the present society, its socio-economic structure and the whole political, ideological superstructure, without doing away with patriarchy, the task of securing gender justice cannot be fulfilled. It is in the interests of women themselves that they link their present struggles with the struggles for revolutionary transformation of society. Tasks of progressive women’s movements are quite clear in this regard.
There has been no real struggle for any meaningful change in society leave alone revolutionary transformation, which has been successful, nay advanced, without substantial contribution of women, without women playing a large role. And there is a good situation today to carry forward these tasks. Women of India have repeatedly demonstrated their utmost resolve to sweep all the demons before them. They have played a leading role in all the struggles of peasants, workers, students and not only in their own struggles. They have borne the main brunt of social oppression of caste, tribal and minorities and have come forward to participate in the fight back. They have emerged among the vanguard of the struggles of Indian people in almost all parts of the country. It was the women workers of Bengaluru who in one big swoop forced the RSS-BJP Govt. to take back their order on denial of PF withdrawals. It was the leaders of women’s organizations who came forward to lead the exposure of the gruesome suppression of civil liberties and democratic rights in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It was no co-incidence that all the teams that went to J&K in August last year, who made the sufferings of the people of that state known to the people of the country and who raised their voices against fascist offensive, were mostly led by the leaders of the women’s organizations. And the present struggle against CAA-NRC-NPR has surpassed all that was earlier and set new standards for the women’s movement. This is still a developing movement ready and willing to write new chapters in the unfolding saga of women’s march to liberation. They are worthy successors to the legendary women leaders who fought for voting rights to all women irrespective of all distinctions and today Indian women are fighting against denial of citizenship rights including disenfranchisement on the basis of religion.
March 8 this year came at a fortuitous time. Let it inspire a further sharpening of women’s movement and their leadership in people’s movement. They are writing history and they are good writers.
March 8, 2020