The two-day 9th National Conference of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) was held in Delhi’s Surjeet Bhawan on September 30th to October 1st, 2023. The conference witnessed participation of more than 500 delegates from across the country.
In the inaugural session that took place on September 30th, writer and activist Arundhati Roy, folk singer Neha Singh Rathore, activist Navsharan Kaur, journalist Bhasha Singh, journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, farmer movement leader Sudesh Goyat, journalist Meena Kotwal and representatives of AIDWA, NFIW and ANWA (Nepal) addressed the vibrant gathering of delegates, and citizens of Delhi.
All speakers in the inaugural session unanimously declared that they understand how the Modi Government has betrayed the women by indefinitely delaying implementation of the women's reservation in the name of next census and delimitation.
Arundhati Roy addressed the conference and said, "Caste and religion play the role of feeding fascists. An important role of the women's movement is to defeat this nexus. Today the task before us is to throw the fascists out of power. BJP must be thrown out of the government in the coming election."
Neha Singh Rathore, the popular Bhojpuri singer from Bihar addressed the conference. She said in her own poetic style, "I entertain people through my songs in Bhojpuri. Till now several popular Bhojpuri singers have objectified women. When I started singing something else, FIRs were filed against me. Now I ought to speak out against the government. It is our duty as citizens to not become blind followers, but to keep questioning the power." She sang several of her popular songs that talked about constitutional rights, unemployment under the current regime and denial of right to education.
Meena Kotwal, Founding Editor, Mooknayak said, "Dalit women face double marginalisation in our caste ridden society. Their life condition has been made so worse that their life expectancy is almost a decade less than women of upper caste. Till today casteist practices like manual scavenging exist. Till today sanitation work is caste determined. Dalit women have to break double barriers of gender and caste to live a life of their own choices. "
Sudesh Goyat, leader of Farmers' Movement said, "We women were important part of the farmers' movement that became victorious. We farmers do not discriminate between caste or religion. We produce food and food is for everyone. Today's government must not take us lightly. Our wrestlers are still denied justice. The government will have to answer for it."
Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Journalist with The Wire said, "The Modi Government is trying to tell us we must celebrate because the women's reservation bill has been passed. Women of the country have understood the design of betrayal entranched in the act. If the reservation was really meant for women, there would have been celebrations on the street, not merely by BJP MPs."
Bhasha Singh, senior journalist said, "Today's women are asserting their rights everywhere. If they were a significant part of farmers' movement, they are also at the forefront of movements against CAA-NRC-NPR and Bulldozer Raj."
Mariam Dhawle, All India General Secretary of AIDWA and Aruna from NFIW addressed the conference and expresses their solidarity with AIPWA'S movement.
Meena Tiwari, All India General Secretary of AIPWA, gave the concluding speech to the inaugural session of the conference and said, "The AIPWA has led historic movements in the country. It is AIPWA'S struggle that ensured period leave for women in Bihar. AIPWA'S leadership role in the anti-rape movement of 2012 ensured progressive changes in anti-rape laws of the country. AIPWA leaders recently led a glorious battle of scheme workers in Bihar that ensured significant increase in their honorarium. The women of the country know the real face of Modi Government. We know they are trying to fool us by adding clauses in the women's reservation bill that has indefinitely delayed the implementation of women's reservation. Women of the country say today, Bahot Hua Nari Par Vaar, Dur Hato Modi Sarkar."
The second day of the Conference saw vibrant discussion over several issues concerning the women's movement of today.
The conference passed the following resolutions -
1. The Women's Reservation Bill has been passed by the Parliament. This bill was introduced in secrecy and haste by calling a special session a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, which shows the ill intent of the BJP government. By passing this bill, the government has given the impression that women have got reservation, but its implementation in practice is uncertain. The bill provides for its own implementation after the census and delimitation, and this government has postponed the census in 2021. It has not clarified when the census and delimitation will take place. This may take years.
It took 27 years for this bill to be passed. In this period, if we add Vajpayee's tenure of 5 and a half years and Modi’s tenure of 9 and a half years, then there has been a BJP coalition government for more than half the time. In 1989, the Women's Reservation Bill in Local Bodies was passed by the Lok Sabha, but it was dropped in the Rajya Sabha. We are also aware of the misogynist and patriarchal attitude of many BJP leaders in the past and present. Despite repeated postponements, the core issues behind the bill remained alive and burning. There has also been a legitimate demand for reservation for women from Dalit, extremely backward, backward and minority communities, as part of this bill. AIPWA still stands in support of this demand.
Social justice cannot be imagined by excluding women. Today BJP also talks about social justice, but when it comes to social justice for women, then Modi starts talking about women's unity. Shouldn't there be talk of social justice for Dalits and women from minority communities as well? In the patriarchal system, women are de facto second class citizens in every community but Dalit, extremely backward and minority women are victims of double exploitation and deprivation. Even today their share in education and jobs is abysmal. Minority women, especially Muslim women, continue to be the most deprived in terms of access to education, employment and public life. Yet, when it comes to the rights of minority women, the lack of a constitutional provision for religion-based reservation is eagerly cited.
After independence, there have been several amendments to the Constitution. So why no constitutional amendment when it comes to urgent demands of women? The strength and beauty of a vibrant democracy lies in its readiness to bring the deprived and exploited sections of the country into the mainstream and protect their rights. We need this today more than ever. Therefore, AIPWA demands that within the 33% reservation, Dalit, extremely backward, minority women should get reservation; this reservation should also be given in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils; and this reservation should be implemented from 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
2. Manipur has witnessed rampant violence in the last 5 months. Hundreds of women have fallen victims to sexual harassment. Incidents like murder, arson, violence on women, rape, and gang rape are taking place. Manipur has a BJP government and under Section 353, most of the administration of Manipur is under the control of the Centre. But the Central Government has not taken responsibility, nor has the Chief Minister of Manipur been removed yet. The fact is clear that there was a conspiracy between the two communities. Currently, the Central Government has decided to continue AFSPA for 6 months in some districts of Manipur while keeping some districts free from it. This is a completely biased decision.
During the visit of the AIPWA team to Manipur in the month of August, the visitors saw the poor condition of the relief camps there. We demand that conspiracies to create religious-tribal division in Manipur be stopped. The Chief Minister of Manipur should be immediately removed and justice should be given to the victims of sexual violence.
3. Privatisation is continuously being promoted in the field of education and health and both are increasingly becoming out of reach of poor women. AIPWA demands implementation of the common school system, establishment of first level government women’s colleges in every block, and free education of girls till graduation.
AIPWA demands a ban on privatisation in the health sector and creation of health centres equipped with doctors, medicines and health facilities at the Panchayat level. AIPWA will continue its struggle on this issue until the demands are met.
4. AIPWA will continue to raise its voice to end the ongoing discrimination against working women and to ensure their complete protection from sexual violence at workplaces. Even today, there are many sectors including agriculture, where women get lower wages than men.
In the private sector, women are always burdened with excess work amidst the insecurity of losing their jobs. Labour laws have been amended, women's rights to form trade unions have been removed, and work time limits are being removed. AIPWA stands with the struggle for recognition of scheme workers as government employees.
Bihar women employees achieved the right of period leave in 1991. AIPWA (Pragatisheel Mahila Manch) played a big role in this struggle. Now efforts are being made to gradually eliminate this right. There is a need to raise our voices against it. AIPWA demands that all working women across the country – permanent, temporary, contractual – should get this right to period leave.
5. Ahead of its national conference, AIPWA launched a membership drive among women in cities and villages of the country. In this sequence, lakhs of women have become members of AIPWA. AIPWA will continue to fight against the anti-women policies of the government based on the collective strength of its members. During our campaign, we have seen first-hand the capriciousness and hollowness of the Modi government’s slogan of women empowerment in rural areas. AIPWA will continue the struggle for nutritious ration, housing with kitchen and toilet, respectable pension for old people, widows, disabled, single women, unemployment allowance for educated unemployed girls, and fixing the price of gas cylinder at Rs 500 for all.
The schemes run with the support of the World Bank, whether it is women's self-help groups under the Livelihood Mission started in 2011 or the cleanliness campaign – all these features in the Modi government’s plans. Self-help groups of women have been formed under the Livelihood Program. But these groups are reducing employment arrangements for women and trapping them in the debt trap. The government also has no control over the groups formed by private banks. AIPWA demands livelihood, employment, and interest-free loans for women of all groups. AIPWA will continue the movement on this.
6. AIPWA will continue to oppose the efforts of the Modi government to create communal-religious divide and legalize persecution of minority communities on the basis of religion. AIPWA is an organization that is carrying forward the legacy of Savitribai Phule and Fatima Shaikh. It will continue its efforts towards the unity of women. AIPWA emphasises the need for unity of women's organizations and hence will continue to work to unify the women’s movement across the country.
7. It is after years of struggle that the LGBTQIA+ community was successful in revoking section 377 from IPC that criminalised homosexual relations. Even after five years of this landmark verdict, the BJP refuses to uphold equality and dignity of the LGBTQIA+ community. The central government led by BJP is opposing legalisation of same sex marriage in India and all sorts of arguments humiliating homosexual couples are being given by the Union government in the Supreme Court. AIPWA is ready to take the battle forward for equal marriage rights for all gender and sexual identities.
8. There is a concerted effort by the present BJP government to flare up anti-Muslim sentiments in the name of bringing in a Uniform Civil Code. While the 21st Law Commission had categorically recommended gender just reforms in all personal and special laws and advised against uniformity in personal laws, the BJP is intentionally ignoring the recommendations of the last law commission and introducing a debate over Uniform Civil Code to target the Muslim community. AIPWA is determined to defeat all ploys to communally divide women in the name of UCC. The battle for gender just reforms in all personal and special laws will be intensified in the coming days.
During the conference, a 151-member National Council was elected. Comrade Meena Tiwari has been elected as the National General Secretary and Comrade E Rati Rao as the National President.
The conference concluded with the resolve to carry forward and strengthen the clarion call of the conference – justice, equality and women’s liberation.