|15 December, 2002||Kalindi Deshpande|
|THE Sangh Parivar's motive to put into practice its ideology of 'Hindu Rashtra' became clear right from the time it became a ruling power with a two thirds majority in Gujarat, through its constant efforts at creating communal tension in the state time and again. But this was precisely the reason for the apprehensions that gripped the All India Democratic Women's association (AIDWA) regarding the danger the Parivar would cause to the dignity and life of women, particularly of those from the minority community.
It was with this sense of concern and apprehension that the AIDWA had organised a big rally of women in the year 2000, in defence of the minority rights and in support of secularism. As the city of Ahmedabad, with its cosmopolitan population and its status as virtual capital of Gujarat, was a special target of communal attacks, it was equally important for the AIDWA to have a strong presence in Ahmedabad to counter such attacks. It was with this objective in mind that the AIDWA had consciously taken a decision to strengthen its unit in Ahmedabad. Regular monitoring of the unit by the AIDWA centre and visits by the central leadership have been the major means to achieve this end after the rally in 2000.
Unfortunately, the effort suffered a degree of setback due to the events that unfolded in March-June this year. Yet, without losing hope, the AIDWA continued to work among women belonging to all communities, on a regular basis, and that is now showing positive results. In Ahmedabad after March, not only has the membership increased from merely a few hundreds in the past to three thousand; the organisation too has spread to many more localities with many new activists willing to work for the AIDWA. What has been written below gives only a brief glimpse of how this transformation became possible.
It was past 6 p m on November 18. The announcement for Roza Iftar was already made from the nearby mosque in Rajpur Gomatipur area of Ahmedabad. We the members of an AIDWA team were debating among ourselves whether it is proper to visit women of Chhotelal ni Chawli at this odd hour, when most of them would be busy in breaking their day-long fast. (The team comprised myself from the AIDWA centre and Yashodaben Koshti, Ushaben Rathod, Ushaben Makwana, Fehmidaben, Altafben from Ahmedabad JMS. Let it be noted that Janvadi Mahila Samiti (JMS) is the name of the AIDWA's Gujarat affiliate.) Suddenly, we heard someone calling us from the cycle repair shop in the corner. It was Niyaz. He was an enthusiastic youth who had helped the AIDWA to organise meetings of Muslim women of the area in the month of July for facilitating the distribution of relief collected by the West Bengal CPI(M) and AIDWA. Then the same chap had again helped us in organising a meeting in August to introduce the AIDWA. Both these meetings were very well attended. He greeted the AIDWA activists present there with same warmth and affection. I could realise that our JMS leaders in Ahmedabad had kept a very live contact not only with him but with all those women who had attended our earlier meetings.
This thing encouraged us to enter Chhotelal ni Chawli without much hesitation. When we reached Mubeena's house, she had just completed her prayers. She welcomed us and called other women who had now become the members of JMS. Then, to our delight, even at that odd hour, at least about 30 women gathered within ten minutes. In any case, that was the maximum capacity Mubeena's room could accommodate. This was the last meeting of the day.
Earlier during the day, similar meetings were held in different pockets in Rajpur Gomtipur area. This area is very crucial for building confidence and mutual trust amongst both Hindu and Muslim communities. There is a sizeable population of Muslims here while Dalit castes are a majority among the Hindus in this area. However, it is the active presence of VHP workers in this mixed population area that has made it very sensitive to communal tensions. Not very long ago, some tension had risen but was soon under control, thanks to the local population that did not get provoked to the extent communal forces on both sides wanted them to.
On that particular day, we held three meetings in different pockets of Rajpur Gomtipur --- one in Divaben's house, the other in Savitaben's house and the third in Fehmidaben's house. in this process, we tried to assess how far our earlier efforts had sustained and yielded results, and how far the potential activists whom we had identified, were willing to stand firmly with our organisation. In the month of August, we had witnessed from both sides some resistance to attending joint meetings. The tempers were still running high and mutual distrust was visible. However, after our persuasion, they were willing to become JMS members of and some of them even offered to do the membership drive.
Encouraged by this, the AIDWA took a decision to try rebuilding confidence by way of taking up common problems facing the women of both communities. While the first round of doing the membership drive through these new contacts was on, simultaneously the local JMS leaders took up the issue of hike in kerosene price and decided to hold a protest demonstration. In this demonstration, 162 women participated from both communities and from at least seven different areas of Ahmedabad. Women, who had earlier resisted even to sitting in a joint meeting, now marched together on the streets of Ahmedabad for their common demands!
Earlier, in the month of August, a JMS team had conducted preliminary contact meetings in all those areas where relief was given to the carnage victims by the AIDWA and CPI(M), and this had created an amount of goodwill between sections of both communities. Nearly 30 such meetings were held in a period of ten days in different parts of Ahmedabad city. While the response was encouraging, the follow-up work had to be concentrated in some selective areas. Local JMS leadership undertook that responsibility. During her visit in those days, AIDWA secretary Kiran Moghe addressed a meeting of nearly 150 women from both communities in Rajpur Gomtipur, and of 75 women in Watwa, prior to conducting a workshop in the month of September.
This two-day workshop the AIDWA had planned aimed especially at educating some of the potential activists, again from both communities, on the AIDWA programme, organisation building, and on various issues including communalism. Kiran Moghe was designated to conduct this workshop. According to her report after the workshop was finally held, she was delighted to see that there were more women from Ahmedabad than we had expected. However, the workshop could not be continued on the second day because the terrorist attack on Akshardham Temple on the first day's evening had created a fresh wave of terror all over Gujarat. Nevertheless, Kiran Moghe's efforts on the first two days of her stay in Ahmedabad were very valuable.
Later, on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary on October 2, JMS activists participated in a big way in the human chain organised by the CPI(M). Here everyone, including local media, was surprised to see a large number of Hindu and Muslim women holding one another's hands and shouting slogans of communal harmony. The event was widely publicised in the local media including the electronic ones.
The AIDWA's approach of mobilising women of all sections on their day to day problems has proved to be a fitting reply to the vicious communal propaganda. Contrary to the common perception as 'poor women victims,' women under the AIDWA's banner are certainly emerging as strong fighters because, more than anyone else, it is they who understand the value of living in peace and harmony.