Dear comrades, friends and well-wishers,
‘We have no other way but to start another struggle for Independence’, these prophetic words were uttered by Manikonda Suryavati, a leader of the women’s movement and one of the major founders of All India Democratic Women’s Association in Andhra Pradesh in the last public meeting attended by her in 1993. Like Kanak Mukhopadhyay from Bengal, Manikonda Suryavati was born in 1921 and our organisation will be paying tributes to their exalted memory this year on the occasion of their common birth centenary. In doing so, we shall have to recall again and again that what they shared in common together with many of the founders of our organisation was their early induction into left politics and their vision of an independent India where all the people, including women, would enjoy social justice and equality.
What Manikonda Suryavati had perceived in 1993, even at the outset of the neo-liberal regime in India, has become starkly evident to our movement today. She had spoken of policies ‘increasing the gap between the rich and the poor’, of the nation being ‘pawned’ to foreigners again and of the fruits of ‘our hard-earned Independence’ being on the verge of disappearance. For veterans like Suryavati, Independence meant not only political independence from colonial rulers, but also freedom from child marriage and from caste prejudices, right to widow remarriage, right to education, and the rights of farmers, men and women, to the land they enriched with their labour. Her words of warning suggest that she could see that when these social and economic rights of the people were jeopardised, the sovereignty of the nation would be in danger again.
Have we not experienced in the last few decades how the neo-liberal model of development, far from transporting us to twenty-first century hyper-modernity has increased manifold hunger, lack of employment, humiliation, and worst kinds of violence against women? Have we not seen how corporate greed intent on squeezing natural and human resources to the utmost finds its best allies in the most authoritarian, most anti-democratic, most retrogressive forces in the country which seek to replace the Constitution by Manusmriti? As our cherished organisation moves towards its 40th anniversary on 12 March this year, do we not have the responsibility to emulate the example of our founder-leaders by rising to be equal to the enormous challenge that faces our women today? Let us resolve that we have to win this second freedom struggle!
Malini Bhattacharya, President, All India Democratic Women’s Association