Adivasi Women Carry

Adivasi Women Carry Warli Tradition Forward
27 April 2003 Mariam Dhawale
THAT Adivasi women of Maharashtra, that hosts a large tribal population and has been witness to the historic Worli tribal revolt, are again on the war path, is clear from the massive mobilisation that they have started all over the tribal belt of the state. One of the manifestations of this mobilisation was witnessed on the International Women's Day, March 8.
On that day, around 4000 Adivasi women marched on the Mumbai - Ahmedabad National Highway at Talasari under the banner of the AIDWA Thane district committee, facing blistering heat, in the Thane district of Maharashtra. They were led by AIDWA general secretary and CPI(M) Central Committee member Brinda Karat. Carrying forward the tradition of struggle, the large mass of tribal women raised slogans, demanding the right to land, safe drinking water, reduction in prices of foodgrains and kerosene in ration shops, and work for all who demand it. They castigated the anti-people and anti-women policies of both the BJP-led government at the centre and the INC-NCP-led government in the state.
The hour-long massive march through Talasari, which effectively halted all traffic on the national highway, culminated in a public meeting on the grounds of Comrade B T Ranadive Bhavan. Women poured into the ground, which quickly turned into a sea of colour. Hundreds of women broke into a tribal dance before the meeting began. A group of Adivasi women sang revolutionary songs, exhorting women to join the struggle to change society.
Delivering the main speech at the rally, Brinda Karat said we are the toiling masses on whose strength and work society moves, but the wealth we create is wrested by a handful of exploiters --- the capitalists and landlords. March 8 is the day of toiling women all over the world. On that day this year, women across the world came on to the streets in their millions against the American war drive on Iraq. In our own country, they rallied against the disastrous economic policies and the dangerous communal conspiracies of the BJP-led central government.
Attacking the central government for its circular ordering the eviction of millions of tribals all over the country from the lands that they had been cultivating for decades, Brinda said that, on the other hand, the same government was bent on giving away large chunks of land to multinationals. While lakhs of people in Thane district went without adequate drinking water, leave alone water for irrigation, the government permitted the Coca Cola company to dig 18 borewells which will further dry up water resources in neighbouring areas at a time of drought. While half the population of the country goes hungry, the central government is allowing millions of tonnes of foodgrains to rot in godowns and has practically dismantled the public distribution system. She finally called for a sustained struggle of women and all other toiling sections to give a rebuff to these policies and to build a Left and secular alternative.
One of the highlights of this rally was the speeches made by eight Adivasi women leaders of AIDWA, each of whom spoke effectively on several burning issues that affected the lives of the mass of tribals.
Santi Malavkar stressed the need to wage a massive struggle to get the land they have been tilling for generations registered as joint pattas, in the names of both husband and wife.
Sangeeta Ozare pointed out that tribal lands and tribal welfare funds have been used to build dams, but the water from the same is denied to the tribals themselves. Rain water harvesting schemes are also not seriously implemented, increasing the severity of the drought.
Gulab Dhangda demanded that every hand must get work under the employment guarantee scheme in every village. Action must be taken against corrupt contractors who fleece the labourers.
Vatsala Bhoye stressed that forests have been protected wherever Adivasis have been genuinely involved in forest management. Under the garb of forest protection, however, women are being prevented from collecting even dried sticks for fuel.
Shantabai Hadal related the struggle of women against the corruption and atrocities of forest rangers and warned that this struggle would continue undeterred till justice is done.
Malati Thakare gave a heart-rending account of the severe difficulties faced by women due to lack of medical facilities. Many pregnant women with difficult deliveries die due to lack of timely medical aid. The lack of safe drinking water leads to many diseases and the lack of roads in many villages makes transportation of the sick to even the nearest primary health centres a nightmare, especially in the monsoons.
Rasila Dhodi dwelt on the importance of girls' education in the tribal belt. The government's policy of privitisation of education will further increase the incidence of illiteracy. She also attacked the BJP for trying to Hinduise the tribals and condemned the genocide in neighbouring Gujarat.
AIDWA state secretary Kiran Moghe underlined the need to intensify struggles on all the above burning issues. But it is precisely to divide and dampen the emerging struggles of women and the working people that the BJP and Sangh Parivar constantly rake up the issue of mandir and masjid. Hence it is imperative that the communal forces are confronted at all levels and unity of the people maintained. Each one of us should become leaders of the women's movement in our villages and raise people's issues in a bold manner.
In her introductory speech, AIDWA state president and Thane district secretary Mariam Dhawale recalled the glorious traditions of the historic Warli Adivasi revolt in Thane district during 1945-47, that was led by Comrades Shamrao Parulekar and Godavari Parulekar. It is this tradition of struggle that is now being carried forward by the fourth generation of the Adivasi peasantry. Adivasi women, who have always been an integral part of this struggle, will further intensify their fight not only on their burning day-to-day issues but also on the larger questions of the battle against imperialism and communalism. She also moved a resolution condemning the American war drive against Iraq, which was unanimously adopted by the rally.
The rally was presided over by AIDWA state vice president and Thane district president Hemlata Kom. In her concluding speech, she stressed the need for building a powerful movement of women and a vibrant organisation so as to counter the adverse impact of LPG policies on tribals and other marginalised sections. She congratulated the women for turning out in such large numbers to make the International Women's Day rally a great success.