Strengthen Womens' Unity Against Liberalisation And Communalism

  Mariam Dhawale
"THE decisive defeat of the communal and anti-people BJP-led NDA central government in the Lok Sabha elections is the historic victory of a prolonged struggle. The masses of the country have rejected the elitist policies and the communal ideology of this regime. This victory is a culmination of the various nationwide struggles of the workers, peasants, agricultural labourers, women, youth and students in the last six years. The masses in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and to some extent in Maharashtra too have voted against their respective state governments who have been recklessly implementing liberalisation policies against the interests of their people. The Left parties who have uncompromisingly fought against globalisation and communalism, focusing on the interests of the working sections, have achieved significant success, winning more than 61 seats in the new Parliament. The Maharashtra state conference of the AIDWA is being held in the background of this encouraging political atmosphere."
With these words AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat began her inaugural speech at the 6th Maharashtra state conference of AIDWA held on May 21-23, 2004 at Uran in Raigad district. A total of 262 delegates from 17 districts representing a membership of 54,520 attended this conference.
In her speech Brinda Karat further said that the new UPA government through the common minimum programme will now have to address the problems faced by women regarding the public distribution system, water scarcity and rural employment. It will also have to include the issue of 33 per cent reservation of seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies. But the mere inclusion of these issues in the CMP will not solve them automatically. Big struggles will have to be launched by women for their implementation.
Women will also have to organise a strong movement on various socio-economic issues, like increasing violence and atrocities against women, the serious issue of dowry and dowry deaths, decreasing sex ratio and its adverse implications, growing problem of liquor and addiction, etc. We will have to intensify struggles and build an effective political campaign against liberalisation and communalism along with all working sections. She concluded by congratulating the AIDWA Maharashtra state committee for its consistent efforts in building the organisation and expressed confidence in its growth in the coming days.
The conference began on May 21 with the AIDWA flag being hoisted by veteran leader of the women's movement and ex-MP Ahilya Rangnekar. The conference hall was named after the first all India general secretary of AIDWA Susheela Gopalan, whereas the conference venue was named after the first Maharashtra general secretary of AIDWA Prabha Sawant. After paying floral tributes at the martyr's column, the guests and delegates assembled in the artistically decorated conference hall for the inaugural session. The beautiful backdrop on the stage showed six women carrying AIDWA flags against a huge rainbow in the sky. The condolence resolution was placed on behalf of the presidium consisting of Prabha Ghangare, Anjali Mahabaleshwarkar, Suman Patil, Mangala Gosavi and Mariam Dhawale. Reception committee chairperson Meenakshi Patil, a PWP leader and local MLA, while welcoming the delegates, outlined the progressive historical traditions of Raigad district.
After the inauguration, the conference was addressed by Indu Ingle who joined the AIDWA during the anti-liquor struggle in Wardha district. A brave and determined activist, she gave a heart-rending account of her experience in the struggle. Indu comes from an extremely poor family, barely making two ends meet. Her husband was unemployed. With four small children to fend for and no means of income, she used to brew and sell liquor. But she was so influenced by the anti-liquor struggle being led by the AIDWA that she stopped brewing liquor and joined the movement. She became a wage labourer. She was regularly beaten and harrassed by her drunkard husband to restart brewing liquor. He was supplied liquor by the liquor barons who threatened Indu with dire consequences. She was once even stabbed by goons sent by them. But she stood her ground. She bravely faced her adversaries and continued organising and holding womens' meetings. Last month in a totally drunken state, her husband consumed poison and died. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she tightly held her four year old son and shared her pain and struggle with the delegates. Finally she said, "In all the ordeals I have gone through in my life, it is the AIDWA that has given me the strength to overcome. I have come here to tell you that I will continue to work in the organisation come what may and shall carry forward the AIDWA flag till the end of my life." She was felicitated by AIDWA president Subhashini Ali. The AIDWA is organising help for her and for the education of her children.
The conference was greeted by leaders of fraternal organisations, viz. CITU state secretary Dr Vivek Monteiro, AIKS state general secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, AIAWU state general secretary Prakash Choudhary, DYFI state general secretary Shailendra Kamble and leader of the MES employees union Madhusudan Mhatre.
After the inaugural session, the delegates along with hundreds of women from different villages, marched through the streets of Uran city. The rally culminated in a public meeting addressed by AIDWA president Subhashini Ali. Attacking the RSS-controlled BJP, she said that its central government was defeated because of its elitist policies. Mobile phones, foreign liquor, cosmetics and air travel became cheaper whereas foodgrains and essential commodities became dearer. Widespread unemployment has pushed women into unorganised sectors, increasing their exploitation. Increasing indebtedness is leading to a rising number of suicides. She stressed that sustained struggles are the need of the hour.
Lambasting the anti-woman RSS ideology, Subhashini said that an 'ideal' Hindu family meant Shiv Parvati and their two sons. There is no place for daughters. It is due to such a regressive ideology that women are considered subordinate and face inequality in every sphere. Son preference has led to an increase in sex determination tests and female feoticide. She reminded the audience that these 'Hindutva' forces are the ones who were carrying forward the tradition of those who threw cow-dung on Savitribai Phule. She called upon the women to unitedly raise their voice against all forms of communal ideology, as all of them are anti-women and anti-working class.
The public meeting was also addressed by Ahilya Rangnekar, Kalindi Deshpande, Kiran Moghe, Hemlata Patil and the JNPT trustee Bhushan Patil and was presided over by state president Mariam Dhawale.
The delegate session started in the evening after the rally with the election of the steering, minutes, credentials and resolutions committees. AIDWA state general secretary Kiran Moghe effectively placed the three year state report consisting of three parts, namely political, organisational and work report. After briefly reviewing the international and national situation, the political report outlined the specific issues facing women in Maharashtra against the background of increasing communal tensions and attacks on dalits. Severe drought, crisis in agriculture, decreasing employment, collapsing public distribution system, dismal situation of health services and education, population policy, decreasing sex ratio, growing menace of dowry, increase in domestic violence and the problem of liquor were outlined in the report.
The work report reviewed the struggles and campaigns organised in various districts specially on the right to food, corruption in the employment guarantee scheme and against liquor and violence. The organisational report analysed committee functioning, cadre building, membership enrolment and fund collection. Due to consistent struggles in the last three years, AIDWA membership in Maharashtra has grown from 38,653 in 18 districts to 54,520 in 21 districts. The report also made a self-critical review of the organisation, pinpointed the weaknesses and placed tasks for the future.
As many as 82 delegates participated in a lively six-hour discussion on the report. The interventions of the delegates reflected the experience gained in agitations, campaigns and conscious efforts at organisation building. The deliberations also expressed a determination to overcome the weaknesses and surge ahead in Maharashtra in the days to come. The report was unanimously adopted after the reply by Kiran Moghe.
The conference passed resolutions condemning the torture of Iraqi prisoners by the US imperialists; opposing communalism and for peace and harmony; demanding immediate relief measures in drought affected areas; to build a political struggle for the right to food and strengthen the PDS; demanding the supply of minimum three litres kerosene per head at cheap rates; strict implementation of anti-liquor laws wherever women demand it; demanding regularisation of forest plots and registration of land in joint names; demanding 33 per cent reservation of seats for women and condemning the BJP-police atrocities on CPI(M) leaders and activists in Surgana, Nashik district.
The financial accounts for the last three years were placed by state treasurer Sugandhi Francis, who expressed an urgent need to strengthen the financial position of the state and district committees. The accounts were unanimously adopted.
The report of the credentials committee was placed by Madhuri Kshirsagar. The report showed the growing participation of young women and also reflected the broad character of the organisation as dalits, adivasis, minorities and OBCs were well represented. It also showed that more than fifty per cent of the delegates supported their families financially.
In her summing up speech, AIDWA treasurer Kalindi Deshpande congratulated the Maharashtra state committee for holding a successful conference. She said that it is important for the organisation at all levels to intervene and react immediately on issues relating to women in particular and the toiling masses in general. It is also essential to pay attention to organisational expansion and consolidation. Our influence extends beyond our membership. Hence it is necessary to continuously plan an increase in our membership enrolment and concentrate on development of activists. She reiterated that AIDWA is organising women with the ultimate aim of bringing about a basic socio-political change in the country. She called for the building of a strong, independent and democratically functioning organisation to face the challenges that lie ahead.
The conference unanimously elected a 47-member state committee which in turn elected the following 17-member state secretariat - Patron - Ahilya Rangnekar; President - Kiran Moghe; Vice-Presidents - Prabha Ghangare, Hemlata Kom, Saraswati Bhandirge, Santi Malavkar and Naseema Shaikh; General Secretary - Mariam Dhawale; Joint Secretaries - Sonya Gill, Hemlata Patil, Subhadra Khillare, Mangala Gosavi and Rasila Dhodi; Treasurer - Sugandhi Francis; Secretariat members - Suman Patil, Parvati Jadhav, Nirmala Wagh and Madhuri Kshirsagar. The conference also elected unanimously 27 delegates for the All India conference.
Due to the general elections, the reception committee had only three weeks for the preparations of the conference. Fraternal organisations in Raigad district like CITU, AIKS, DYFI, SFI, workers unions of public sector industries, and all AIDWA activists worked tirelessly to ensure a successful conference. The National Railway Mazdoor Union also extended great help and cooperation. Amidst thunderous applause, Subhashini Ali and Brinda Karat felicitated all the leaders and activists of these organisations.
With a renewed zeal and determination to ensure the defeat of the BJP-Shiv Sena communal combine in the ensuing assembly elections and to strengthen the womens' movement and organisation, the conference ended with a resonant rendering of 'We Shall Overcome'.