From India News Network (INN)
Bodh Gaya, Bihar, November 22: AIDWA's 10th National Conference being held in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, from 22nd to 25th November, 2013 got off to a rousing start with flag hoisting by AIDWA's national president Shyamali Gupta and homage to martyrs who sacrificed their lives for women's emancipation and social justice. Com. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, chairperson of the reception committee and veteran left leader, welcomed around the 850 delegates from all over the country gathered here to attend the conference. Com Manik Sarkar chief minister of Tripura, who was to deliver the inaugural address, could not make it to the conference due to his illness. He conveyed his message and greetings through his representative, Shri Jitendra Choudhary, Minister of Industries, Government of Tripura, who expressed concern over the anti-people and pro-rich disastrous economic policies of the present Congress regime. The industry minister in his address on behalf of chief minister of Tripura, while focusing upon the developmental indices in the state which are way above the national average, highlighted the achievements of the Left Front government in Tripura in the field of total literacy, health policies, ICDS enrolment, position of women, self help groups, decentralisation of administration, and strengthening of the democratic rights of the all sections of society. Tripura stands first in the country with 94.64% literates, 98% enrolment of children in Anganwadi centres and highest electoral participation of 94% in the last assembly elections with women electorate surpassing the male voters by 2%.
The inaugural session featured a special session titled "Women against Violence: Fighting for Justice, Resisting Violence, Claiming Rights" wherein women from across the country who have been bravely fighting the battle against violence, discrimination and social injustice in various forms which includes domestic and political violence, sexual assault, fight for land rights, fight against caste and communal discrimination and against terrorism.
The women who spoke included representative of the Vachathi tribal mass rape survivor from Tamil Nadu, Prandhayi, who stood up against her sexual assault by forest and police officials for 19 long years and finally succeeded in getting justice. Sarita (name changed), a dalit student from Hissar district in Haryana, who was gangraped by upper class people of village Dabra and whose father unable to bear the shame and humiliation committed suicide, braved all odds in her struggle to get the accused convicted. Manwara bibi from Bardhaman disrict of West Bengal foiled the attempt of the Trinamool goons to seize the Panchayat elections by successfully contesting the elections in spite of the brutal killing of her husband and winning 83% of the votes. Bihar's Sushila Devi has been fighting a fierce struggle since 1992 for getting 8 acres of common village land out of the clutches of the landlord and former a IAS officer. Under her leadership, women have fought against police atrocities in which Sushila herself sustained physical injuries and more than 8 cases are still pending against her. Shamima Kausar, mother, and Musarrat, sister of Ishrat jahan who was killed in a fake encounter by Gujarat police in 2004, have fought a prolonged legal battle to clear her daughter's name from the stigma of being branded a 'terrorist' and to ensure justice for Ishrat through punishment for her killers. The struggle and determination of Arunima Sinha to assert her identity as a national volleyball player from UP and her fight against the demeaning attitude of the state towards her achievements and dignity inspired the gathering as she shared her story of scaling the highest peak with an amputated leg, becoming the first woman in the world to achieve this historic feat.
Ex-MP and AIDWA Patron Brinda Karat in her speech stressed that violence is the most important issue which has to be also seen in its various dimensions. She put forth demands, including a code of conduct for elected MPs and MLAs who should be named and shamed whenever they use objectionable language against women. She also reaffirmed the resolve to fight political violence, caste and class inequalities and the need to fight capitalist structures which force women into situations that make them more and more vulnerable. She ended by recalling the historic speech made by revolutionary communist leader Dolores Ibarruri at the Battle of Madrid where she challenged the forces of fascism by the raising the slogan of "No Pasaran" which means "they shall not pass".
Representatives of various national women's organisations, including Leila Passah of the YWCA and Vimal Thorat of AIDMAM, extended their greetings to AIDWA. The session concluded with Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary, placing the resolution on communalism.
The 10th National Conference of AIDWA deeply mourns the loss of its beloved leaders and activists, as well as the stalwarts and martyrs of the Left and democratic movement who sacrificed their entire lives in the struggle for a more equal and just society.
It pays homage to the memory of Pappa Umanath, Patron and one of the founder leaders of AIDWA and the democratic women’s movement in Tamilnadu, who fought for political, social and economic rights of women, commencing the struggle with the freedom movement. She spearheaded multidimensional struggles and campaigns against patriarchal and feudal oppression of women. She taught women to stand up and counter violence and superstitions with courage. She was keen on organizing rural women and took up the issues of rural employment, equal wages, etc. We deeply mourn her demise and resolve to carry on the tasks undertaken by her.
This Conference condoles the passing away of Uma Devi Andarjanam, the first President of AIDWA-Kerala, Nirupama Chatterjee and Sandhya Chatterjee, founding leaders of the women’s movement in West Bengal, Aparna Roy, a committed activist of AIDWA and JMS Delhi, Ursula Francis, former AIDWA CEC member from Kerala, Tanya, AIDWA leader from Andhra Pradesh, Sumitra Deb Barman, member of the AIDWA Tripura State Committee, V.K.Anandam, a founder member of AIDWA Kerala and Bela Bannerjee and Susmita Banerjee, members of the AIDWA West Bengal State Committee.
This Tenth National Conference of AIDWA grieves the death of several Left activists in West Bengal, including women activists Purnima Ghorui, Mundrakala Ray, Diba Rani Mondal, Minati Gayen and student activist Sudipto Gupta who laid down their lives in the struggle to defend democracy during the last two and a half years of the Trinmul Congress rule in the state.
We deeply mourn the death of Dr. Vina Mazumdar, founder of the CWDS who was a source of inspiration and support for AIDWA till the end; Mrinal Gore, freedom fighter and a veteran leader of women’s movement in India, who was fondly called pani wali bai because of her unrelenting struggles on the issues of water and against price rise, Meena Krishnaswamy, freedom fighter and leader of NFIW and Nirupama Rath, former President of NFIW.
This 10th Conference dips its banner in memory of Com. Samar Mukherjee, one of the tallest leaders of CPI(M) and Left movement of the country and Com. M.K. Pandhe, doyen of the working class movement and PB member of the CPI(M) who led staunch and militant struggles in defense of the rights of the workers and played an assertive role in building up the united trade union movement. We deeply condole the passing away of Com. Baidyanath Majumdar, leader of the Left movement in Tripura, Com. N.Varadarajan, leader of the Left movement in Tamilnadu, Com. Dipankar Mukherjee, leader of CITU, Com. Kitty Menon, Com. Ambal, Com. Jagadamba, Com. K.K.Tiwari, Com. Brajamohan Jamatia, Com. Sukumar Barman and Com. Rajeev Sharma, all of whom played a crucial role in building up the Left and democratic movement in the country.
We mourn the death of intellectuals, writers and artists - Asghar Ali Engineer, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Dr. Sharmila Rege, Dr. Vinod Raina, Badal Sarkar, Sukumar Azhikode, Valmiki, Shri Lal Shukla, Habib Tanveer, Bhupen Hazarika, A.K.Hangal and M.F.Hussain, who have greatly contributed to the cause of secular and progressive values.
His Conference pays homage to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who led a fierce struggle against US imperialism and eminent Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. It also pays homage to all those who were killed in the struggle for democratic rights in Egypt, Libya, Syria and other West Asian countries.
This Conference mourns the innocent victims of bomb blasts engineered by terrorist and extremist groups which occurred in many parts of the country including Jammu and Kashmir, and the victims of communal violence in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and other states.
This 10th Conference mourns the death of all those women and children who have become victims of brutal and horrifying acts of sexual violence across the country; it expresses sorrow at the death of all those women who were killed due to domestic and social violence.
It expresses its deep sympathies for the hundreds of victims of the Uttarakhand disaster, the Sivakasi fire accident victims and all those people who fell prey to the fury of floods, cyclones and other natural calamities in different parts of the country.
The Conference pays tribute to all those who have given up their lives for the cause of the rights of the oppressed; it resolves to carry on their legacy by completing the tasks undertaken by them to build a just and egalitarian society.
CONDOLENCE RESOLUTION FOR CAPTAIN LAKSHMI SAHGAL
This 10th National Conference of AIDWA pays its respectful homage to Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, veteran freedom fighter and Commander of the Rani Jhansi regiment of INA who left us on July 23rd 2012. While of the age of 98 years, she was still active as a doctor serving the poorest of the poor, as a social reformer and as a Patron and guide to millions of women and young girls striving for equality and emancipation under the banner of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
Even as a child, she expressed protest against the demeaning institution of caste in Kerala, in her own way. She gave away her dresses and dolls as part of the boycott of foreign goods. She was successful in breaking all kinds of gender barriers in her personal as well as social life and in exercising her opinion and actions in favour of the most oppressed sections of the society. At the time of struggle against the British imperialist rule, she followed a different path from that of her family, and decided to go to Singapore all by herself to help Indian migrant workers as a doctor. With a burning desire to liberate the country from the shackles of British Imperialism, she worked in association with Subhash Chandra Bose, as the first captain of the Rani Jhansi Regiment of Indian National Army. Given the fact that there was no organised women’s movement at that point of time to guide and help in taking such crucial decisions, this was a very bold step that shows Captain Lakshmi’s extreme courage and sense of personal and social responsibility. The huge welcome that she received when she was brought back to the country as a political prisoner after independence reflects the nation’s deep appreciation for her heroic role during the freedom struggle. She continued to serve as a doctor in Kanpur, helping refugees and migrant workers. Her medical services to the nation in the form of a doctor always went hand in hand with her chosen path of serving the poor and the oppressed.
She was a fearless soul and could single-handedly face and intervene in the turbulent times. Be it during communal riots or violence against women, she was always there trying to intervene in a positive way for communal harmony and for the establishment of a peaceful and just society.
Her life and struggle remain an inspiring role model to millions of people of this country and it will light the path of justice and equality even during the darkest of times.
We dip our banner in fond memory of ‘Mashima’ and pledge to carry on her unfinished tasks in the course of serving the poorest of the poor and putting an end to this unjust society.
RESOLUTION FOR WOMEN’S UNITY AGAINST INCREASING COMMUNAL POLARISATION
This 10th National Conference of AIDWA expresses its deep anguish at the growing incidents of communal violence and growing communal tension in different parts of the country. It is extremely important to understand how the politics of caste mobilization being practiced by most ruling class parties can be utilized by communal forces by converting caste identity politics into communal politics. With the approaching Lok Sabha elections and the projection of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, a planned attempt to polarize communities on religious lines and incite violence is becoming apparent. This is seen in many parts of the country, most recently in the horrific events of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, where more than 80 persons died and more than fifty thousand people belonging to the minority community have been displaced.
Minority religious groups are also utilizing the discontent arising from economic and social disparities and injustice and the attacks on them by Hindutva forces to mobilize sections of their own community on sectarian lines.
A disturbing feature of the recent incidents of communal violence has been the manner in which the real problem of different kinds of sexual harassment faced by women and young girls is deliberately and cynically used to create and foment communal tensions and friction. Once the objective of polarization has been successfully achieved, not only is the issue conveniently forgotten, but women are the worst sufferers of the violence unleashed. Women from the minority community become the targets of sexual and other forms of violence and young women of both communities are no longer able to freely go to school and college and participate in social activities, as has happened in Muzaffarnagar. Women are worse affected when their means of livelihood are destroyed, their houses and belongings looted and burnt, and they are forced to live in the worst of conditions in relief camps. Another adverse impact of rising communal tensions is that they create an environment that strengthens patriarchal norms of social behavior within communities and severely restricts the capacity of women to resist them.
Today, we as women are facing the onslaught of neo-liberal economic policies of the ruling class, resulting in increasing poverty, inflation and joblessness. To resist these policies requires the widest of women’s unity of women across all castes and communities. This 10th National Conference of AIDWA calls upon its ranks to strongly resist the attempts to break our unity by communal forces for narrow electoral gains. It calls upon all members of AIDWA across the country to campaign against divisive forces and work towards upholding the principles of secularism and equality enshrined in our Constitution.
The session on women against violence on the first day of the conference brought forth the voices of the women fighting for justice, resisting violence and claiming their rights. These women from across the country -- who have fought against different atrocities in varied ways -- through their speeches brought home the idea that in constant and united struggle against injustices lies the strength of our movement.
Vachathi Case, Tamil Nadu
Vachathi, a remote village in the foothills of Sitheri mountain in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, made headlines in 1992. Scheduled tribals called "malayalee" are a major population of this village. On 20 June 1992, a team of 155 forest personnel, 108 policemen and six revenue officials entered the Dalit-dominated Vachathi village on the pretext of searching for Veerappan and smuggled sandalwood. The team comprising forest, police, and revenue officials of the Tamil Nadu government ransacked the villagers' property, destroyed their houses, killed their cattle, assaulted around 100 villagers, and raped 18 women.
This assault on Vachathi tribals carried out by the government officials has been brought to light by the relentless efforts of members of the Tamil Nadu Tribals' Association, CPI (M), and mass organisations such as AIDWA. As a result of the tireless struggles of the valiant fighters, the survivors of the attacks, along with mass organisations, the tribal people of Vachathi won the case after 19 years when judgement came from the district and sessions court, Dharmapuri, on September 29, 2011. All 269 accused officials were convicted for atrocities on Dalits and 17 were convicted for rape. Fifty-four of the accused had died by the time; the remaining 215 were sentenced to jail. The verdict is a milestone in that all the accused who were public officials were held guilty without exception. Four IFS officers, including the police commissioner, were given the judgement of 1 to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. In the intervening period, CPI (M) and other mass organisations filed a writ petition for compensation and succeeded by getting Rs.1 crore 24 lakh and 600 rupees verdict issued by the Chennai high court bench. Though the amount did not meet the expectation, it is to be noted with great pride that the Vachathi case judgement has surpassed all the negatives that arose against human rights violation, atrocities against tribals and breaking all the barriers of secular forces.
Dabra case, Haryana
On September 19, 2012, a girl student of Class 12th was returning from school in Dabra (Hissar, Haryana) when 12 boys from the same village abducted and raped her and made an MMS of the assault. She informed her parents about the incident after a few days. The girl's family did not pursue the matter as they belonged to the Dalit community and believed that there was not have much hope of action being taken against the boys. However, the accused released the MMS on the internet as a result of which the girl's father committed suicide. The mother and daughter have since lived under constant threat in police protection.
On May 4, 2013, the Hissar sessions court convicted four of the accused while all others were bailed out. This decision was disappointing not just for the victim's family but also the organization. The district administration of Hissar appealed against it to the AG of Haryana to take it up in the high court. But even after 90 days the AG Haryana did not move the high court. Following this, the family along with AIDWA, launched a protest with the AG, National Commission for Women and State Women's Commission. Recently, on November 19 a delegation from AIDWA, along with the victim and her family, met with the AG. It was only after such strong intervention that the AG finally said they had written to the high court on this case.
Manvara Bibi, West Bengal
Manwara bibi belongs to Madhudanga village in Bardhaman district of West Bengal. She contested the Panchayat elections held in July 2013 in West Bengal. Manwara Bibi is an individual, who with the help of her village people, foiled the attempt of the Trinamool goons to seize the Panchayat elections by violent and illegal means in her village. The Trinamool goons killed her husband, Hasmeet Saga, a highly reputed trade union leader of his region, when he was standing in queue to cast his vote in his wife's ward, along with the other voters. Despite this great loss and pain, Manwara Bibi retained her command over the election process and the village people responded with a solid increase in votes with a resounding 83% of the votes as compared to 65% votes in the previous election. This is an example of the sacrifices made by the women of West Bengal in their struggle to defend the democratic processes. Today Manwara Bibi is fighting to get justice in her husband's case against the criminals who have the full backing of the Trinamool government. She is not only supporting her family and children, but also fulfilling her commitments as the elected representative of her village and providing leadership as the Panchayat committee member.
Sushila Devi, Darbhanga, Bihar
Sushila Devi, 48, has been fighting a fierce struggle for getting 8 acres of common village land out of the clutches of a village landlord and former IAS R.B. Jha. Women from the village survived on this land. However, in 1992 police tried to evict these women from this land. There was a lathicharge, but these brave women refused to give up their rights on the land. They fought against the police with red chilli powder and boiling water.
Then in 1995 SP Shobha Ahatekar attacked these women with several women constables. These women stayed up full nights and protected the land. In 2012, the local police in collusion with the landlord tried to destroy 135 newly constructed houses in the village. With the leadership of Sushila Devi, the women fought with the police once again. In this struggle Sushila Devi sustained physical injuries as well. At present, she is fighting eight cases in the court around this fight for land rights.
Shamima Kausar, Maharashtra
Ishrat Jahan, a 19 year old college student and resident of Mumbra in Thane District of Maharashtra, was killed in cold blood by the Gujarat police in June 2004. Ishrat had been abducted, illegally confined and killed. Her murder, along with three other men, was projected as an ‘encounter’ between the police and terrorists who had come to attack the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Her widowed mother, Shamima Kausar, four sisters and brother came to know through the newspaper that she had been shot dead on June 14th.
Shamima Kausar had complete faith in her daughter’s innocence. Ishrat was supporting her family by giving tuitions to children and doing embroidery even as she earned to pay for her college studies. In the summer vacation of 2004, she had taken a two month job with Javed, who was known to her deceased father and her neighbour. It was while travelling on work that Ishrat and Javed were abducted. Life for Shamima and her young children was completely disrupted. They were shattered by the brutal killing of the selfless Ishrat, and had to face several hardships both financial and social. The children had to stop their education due to lack of resources and the family was shunned by neighbours due to the stigma of being part of a ‘terrorist’s’ family. With the help of activists, progressive lawyers in Ahmedabad and New Delhi and the support of some community leaders in Mumbra, Shamima Kausar decided to clear her daughter’s name and to ensure that Ishrat got justice through punishment of her killers.
Shamima Kausar approached the Gujarat High Court in August 2004 seeking a CBI enquiry. Five years later, in 2009, the judicial enquiry by Magistrate Shri S.P. Tamang concluded that the encounter was fake and Ishrat and the three men had been murdered. He also named the police officers and personnel responsible including DGP Vanzara, already in prison on the charge of killing Sohrabuddin, his wife and an associate. Finally in 2011 the High Court directed the CBI to conduct an investigation. Nine years later in July 2013, the CBI filed its first charge sheet against seven erstwhile IPS officers who were holding senior positions in the Gujarat police in 2004 for abducting, confining and murdering Ishrat and the three men. It states that the encounter was fake. Six of these police officers are in jail, while one is absconding.
Shamima Begum had lived a secluded life. Originally from Patna in Bihar, Shamima had moved with her husband to Mumbra. After the death of her husband, the family was reduced to poverty. But her determination to know the complete truth and prove her daughter’s innocence has given her the resolve and strength to face all odds and go forward. Her persistent and courageous efforts are beginning to show results but she is aware that her powerful adversaries can still disrupt and confuse the process of getting justice.
Shamima Begum, accompanied by her daughter, Masarrat, are guests at the AIDWA’s 10th National Conference at Bodhgaya, Bihar.
Arunima Sinha, Uttar Pradesh
Arunima, who is a resident of Ambedkar Nagar in UP, is a national level Volleyball player. On April 11, 2011, she boarded a train from Padmawat, Lucknow to go to Delhi for an exam. On the train some men tried to snatch her gold chain and money. When she resisted, during the scuffle these men pushed her out of the running train. She fell on the train tracks and another train coming from the other side went over her legs. April 18, 2011 she was admitted to AIIMS for her treatment.
Even though she lost one of her legs and an iron rod was put in the other one, what disturbed her more was the fact that UP government declared the attack on her as her attempt to commit suicide. The state even refused to acknowledge her as a national level player.
This series of events stirred Arunima and she decided to prove herself by climbing the highest mountain in the world even with her broken legs. She did a mountaineering course in Uttarkashi with help from her brother. She also got in touch with Bachendri Pal, first woman to have ever climbed the Mt Everest. With the guidance of Bachandari Pal, Arunima started her climb on April 1, 2013. After struggling with the harsh environment during the torturous climb of 52 days, she finally planted the Indian flag at the Mt Everest on May 21, 2013. She also made a world record for being the first woman to have ever climbed Everest with only one leg.
Now Arunima wants to do something for the poor and downtrodden. She also wants to start a sports academy for poor and physically challenged people.