AIDWA

11TH STATE CONFERENCE Of Tamil Nadu AIDWA

 
4 September 2005 U Vasuki
Torches in memory of veteran leaders and martyrs were brought out from various places to the conference venue. One torch in the name of veteran leader and founder president of Tamilnadu AIDWA unit, K P Janakiamma was brought from Thuvariman where she ploughed the paddy field defying the local landlord’s orders. This was followed by that of Lakshmiammal, who played a singular role in the formation of Ponmalai Mahila Samithi which pioneered the growth of Tamilnadu AIDWA unit. This torch was brought from Ponmalai, Trichy where she died in prison on the 23rd day of her hunger strike against the repression of the Congress government in 1950. Then came the torch of Kasturi, a very dedicated and popular leader, which was brought from Theni district.
Resolute oath dedicated to the cause of women against imperialism, communalism, casteism and patriarchy, was marked by the flight of 11 doves also signifying the 11th conference of AIDWA Tamilnadu held on 6,7, 8 of August at the Rockfort city - Trichirapalli. Hundreds of raised fists saluted the symbol of martyrs.
INSPIRING INAUGURAL SESSION
The inaugural session was a mixture of inspiration, tears and determination. AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundararaman’s inaugural speech touched upon various national, political and social developments, including the status of the women’s reservation bill. She referred to the strange phenomenon of poor getting lesser in number in government records while poverty is steeply rising due to the World Bank policies.
Six noteworthy women were felicitated for their extraordinary fighting spirit in the inaugural session..
90 year old Ponnammal, who played an inspiring role in a month-long struggle against the entry of a harvesting machine in the village of Pulichagadi, Tiruvarur, was honoured by the AIDWA president Subhashini Ali. In Pulichagadi, the landlord was armed with high court’s order and the protection of police. But the AIDWA and the Agricultural Workers Union were armed with the fighting women and men of the village. Ponnammal challenged the authorities to drive the machine over her first and then enter the village. Finally, the machine was quietly withdrawn and the people got the harvesting job. Needless to mention, she was thunderously applauded.
Here was someone who invoked the right to worship for dalits. Defying the hierarchy, Ramalakshmi led the dalit women with the help of AIDWA to enter the Kaliamman temple in Sennelkulam, Virudhunagar.
Thangam of Manakudi panchayat, Kanyakumari district was felicitated for challenging the order of the local parish priest to withdraw from the panchayat bye-election in favour of his nominee. She has been ex-communicated due to this defiance.
Malar, a domestic worker was in tears when she thought about her little daughter. The kinder-garten student was raped by a 45-year old neighbour. Initially the police advised her not to pursue the case since the “girl child has to get married later on”. But with the support of AIDWA, Coimbatore unit, she courageously fought the case and now the accused has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The delegates were literally in tears at her agony, but reassured her with slogans of solidarity.
Along with these four women who struggled for justice in their own way, Dr Vasanthi Devi and Professor Naazneen Barkath were also honoured. Vasanthi was the chairperson of the state women’s commission which did not have adequate powers and funds. Despite this lacuna, she was able to make it visible and new initiatives were taken. This whole session truly reflected the tradition of struggle out of which AIDWA was born and brought up.
The general secretary of AIDWA Kerala unit, P K Srimathy, greeted the conference. An important resolution on food, water and land was placed by AIDWA assistant secretary Balabharathi and seconded by R Chandra in the inaugural session.
REPORTS AND DELIBERATIONS
Placing the report on “Struggles and Interventions”, AIDWA state general secretary, U Vasuki, contextualised it within the international, national and the state scenario. She briefly sketched the US imperialist onslaught carried on in the name of fighting global terrorism and made it clear that fundamentalists and terrorists cannot genuinely fight imperialism, that too by bombing innocent civilians. It is only the Left, secular and democratic organisations and individuals, including AIDWA that can face the challenges of imperialism by mobilising the people. She cautioned that the people of Tamilnadu cannot afford to be complacent against the communal elements despite their electoral debacle. While placing the organisational report, she underscored the need for fighting the enemies ‘within’ like personal prejudices and angularities. She pointed out that when our minds and work collect dust, self-criticism is needed for sweeping and cleaning.
A total of 569 delegates representing 34 districts attended the state conference. Of them 68 took part in the deliberations which lasted for nearly six-and-half hours. Most of them talked about the growth in the organisation and discussed the ways and means to further consolidate it. Quite a number of delegates raised class issues and the need to address them and strengthen AIDWA’s interventions. One delegate said that AIDWA membership receipt is the best protection in times of crisis. She wanted membership card instead of receipt so that it could be used throughout the year. Major struggles launched by AIDWA during this period and the results achieved – closure of 25 liquor shops located in main centres; distribution of hundreds of ration cards and ensuring of water supply at many places; the struggle for ensuring that the government schemes reach the unreachable; etc – were all reviewed with pride by the delegates. Privatisation and consequent withdrawal of the state from basic services, especially health, came in for sharp criticism, with many instances shared by the delegates. Many delegates stressed the need for maintaining proper contacts with elected representatives in local bodies. One delegate expressed concern about the RSS infiltration in the self-help groups. In rural areas, there is no employment, no wages and there is an overall agrarian crisis and the delegates explained how difficult it is to get even one rupee for membership.
We are aware that the other name for imperialism is globalisation and how did the organisation engage with the impact of imperialist globalisation? The report mentioned in detail on the one hand, women’s participation in anti-war demonstrations and the prominent role played by AIDWA in World Social Forum. On the other, it listed the numerous struggles against the impact of globalisation in various fields, including the major campaign for food security. It was stressed that both these need to be combined and converted into a powerful anti-imperialist struggle.
CONSOLIDATION
The pertinent question is whether the organisation was able to consolidate, at least to a certain extent, the contacts that were acquired through various struggles and interventions of the past three years. The delegates answered with a firm YES. For example, through interventions in cases of violence, 17,747 members have been enrolled and 124 units were formed; through contacts with Self Help Groups, the organisation got 27,720 members and 574 units; by helping the beneficiaries to get government welfare schemes, 5,056 members were recruited and 52 units were formed; Through the contacts gained from Tsunami relief operations, 1,840 members among the fisher community were enrolled and 24 units were formed. Overall, 1,000 new units were formed during the last three years.
There were group discussions on six issues, which significantly affected the lives of women in the state: Environment and women; Scientific temper and cultural practices; urban poor women; issues confronting self-help groups; migration and problems of Muslim women. The inputs that were provided by the delegates in these discussions were extremely insightful.
There were cultural presentations by many district delegations. In the evening, an audio cassette containing Patron Pappa Umanath’s appeal to younger generation to serve society and the cause of women was released by freedom fighter and contemporary of Pappa Umanath – Kamala Ramaswamy – and the youngest member of the AIDWA state committee Ms Poomayil received it. A book, which is a compilation of poems written by assistant secretary Balabharathi, was released by Pappa Umanath and the first copy was received by Sudha Sundararaman. A special souvenir brought out on the occasion of the conference was released by the convenor of souvenir committee D Saraswathi and the first copy was received by Subhashini Ali.
CREDENTIAL REPORT
The credential report presented by the convenor of credential committee Jothilakshmi brought out many interesting factors. The fact that 55 per cent of the delegates were aged less than 40 years exemplifies the reach and growth of the organisation. Significantly 77 per cent came from working class and peasantry background. It indicates the proximity of the organisation to the urban and rural poor. Despite many issues taken up against untouchability, only 17 per cent of the delegates were from dalit community. Sixteen per cent of the delegates were from minorities and it was felt this too could be improved. Among the delegates, 92 women had dowry-based alliances and those who refused to offer dowry numbered 449. As for inter-caste marriages, 466 supported it but a considerable number of 54 delegates opposed the same, which is an ominous signal. The need to inculcate scientific temper is underlined by the fact that 230 delegates stated that they believe in god. Another interesting revelation was that 320 delegates watched television for news while a sizeable 210 delegates are hooked on to mega serials!! To a question on who does the household work, 310 delegates answered that they do it alone. This is a matter of continuing concern. Democracy within the family indeed appears to be a very far cry. Only 61 delegates replied that everyone in the family does the household work and 114 have said that their children do it along with them. Sharing of domestic chores, an essential condition for participation, promotion of women in public life and politics, apart from performance and identity — is indeed quite a daunting task and calls for sustained work.
The credential report presented by the convenor of credential committee Jothilakshmi brought out many interesting factors. The fact that 55 per cent of the delegates were aged less than 40 years exemplifies the reach and growth of the organisation. Significantly 77 per cent came from working class and peasantry background. It indicates the proximity of the organisation to the urban and rural poor. Despite many issues taken up against untouchability, only 17 per cent of the delegates were from dalit community. Sixteen per cent of the delegates were from minorities and it was felt this too could be improved. Among the delegates, 92 women had dowry-based alliances and those who refused to offer dowry numbered 449. As for inter-caste marriages, 466 supported it but a considerable number of 54 delegates opposed the same, which is an ominous signal. The need to inculcate scientific temper is underlined by the fact that 230 delegates stated that they believe in god. Another interesting revelation was that 320 delegates watched television for news while a sizeable 210 delegates are hooked on to mega serials!! To a question on who does the household work, 310 delegates answered that they do it alone. This is a matter of continuing concern. Democracy within the family indeed appears to be a very far cry. Only 61 delegates replied that everyone in the family does the household work and 114 have said that their children do it along with them. Sharing of domestic chores, an essential condition for participation, promotion of women in public life and politics, apart from performance and identity — is indeed quite a daunting task and calls for sustained work.
Later, an 85-member new state committee was elected by the conference. The committee then elected a secretariat with 25 members, including N Amirtham as president and U Vasuki as general secretary and Jhansirani as treasurer.
AIDWA president Subhashini Ali, in her address, presented a balance sheet on the one-year performance of the UPA government and emphasised the need for organising more militant struggles for the basic right to food, land and employment. She also presented a critical analysis of the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill and emphasised that our responsibility does not end with the passing of bill but stretches to the process of implementation also. Invoking the local religious tale that God Vishnu in his avatar as Ranganathan at Srirangam (Trichy) has a muslim wife “Thulukka Nachiar” and at times, the deity is made to wear lungi – not dhothi – and even served paratha, Subhashini called for strengthening communal harmony at the local level.
FUTURE PLAN OF ACTION
The conference gave a call to observe October 17 – the International Day against Poverty – by organising statewide agitations demanding ration, water, house pattas and by protesting against the serious irregularities in government hospitals. In the four districts – Nagapattinam, Villupuram, Thiruvannamalai and Cuddalore – which have been selected for the implementation of National Food for Work Programme hunger fasts would be organised demanding provision of 40 per cent share for women. On November 25 – the International Day against Violence – dharnas at district and taluk headquarters would be held protesting against the increasing violence against women and girl child and the retrogressive police policy of the state.
The conference concluded with a grand finale of a rally which was attended by thousands of enthusiastic, disciplined women from across Tamilnadu, virtually bringing Trichy town to a standstill. The rally culminated into a massive public meeting which was addressed by AIDWA president Subhashini Ali, general secretary Sudha Sundararaman and other state office bearers.
conclusion, the resolve of the state conference can be summed up in the words of a rural woman who said that AIDWA should bloom like tamarind flowers. Rose is beautiful and jasmine is fragrant but why tamarind flowers? When tamarinds bloom, the whole tree looks clothed in flowers. She wished and also meant from the bottom of her heart that AIDWA would soon be so resplendent. The 11th state conference is surely a proof of making into reality that possibility.
 

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