On February 12, over 500 women, men, transgender, dalits and slum dwellers representing 15 states and over 200 networks and women’s organisation congregated at a convention Hum hi se Samvidhaan (We are the Constitution) at the Constitution Club in Delhi, to raise the clarion call that the “time has come for all women and marginal communities to reclaim the Constitution”.
The convention was organised by One Billion Rising, India in collaboration with Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Satark Nagarik Sanghathan (SNS).
Setting the tone, the keynote speaker, Prof. Uma Chakravarthy, well known scholar and feminist thinker emphasised that “what makes the movement for reclaiming the Constitution compelling and urgent is the unprecedented escalation of violence that we are witnessing against women and girls, exacerbated by caste-based violence and the complete denial of and alienation from the right to land, dignity and autonomy.”
Taking this forward, Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association and an activist who has been relentlessly battling against the heinous practice of custodial killing in Haryana and the stronghold of Khap Panchayats, pointed out that in the last five years, the plight of women, minorities, dalits and all marginal communities has visibly and palpably worsened and is bordering on wanton acts of indignity and cruelty.
The forum provided a platform for many women working on the grassroot level to shed light on their struggles. “80,000 children living in dalit houses are eating rats out of poverty and what is important for the government is still not clear to us,” said Ruth Manorama, activist for dalit women’s rights. She went on to add that, having seen and experienced the combined oppression of caste, class and gender, “it is vital to look at root of the problem and recognise the stark fact that dalits are on a daily basis dealing with structures of inherited inequality.”
Speaking on the issue of inequality and discrimination, trans activist Rachana Mudraboyina said, “The Constitution is not for men or women, it is for everyone living in our society.”
With the atmosphere of communal polarisation and attacks on constitutional institutions on the rise, the women asserted that this is a crucial time to defend constitutional and human rights, and fight back the ongoing onslaught by the right wing and fascist BJP government.
Addressing the gathering, Kavita Srivastava said, “We, the people, which is the basis of our Constitution would not mean anything if the BJP comes to power.”
“There is a crisis that is facing our nation today. We all should have one aim, to free our country of this autocratic government,” said Brinda Karat, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She added, “A coordinated effort is needed to remove the BJP and RSS from power.”
Many well-known feminists, women’s rights thinkers, academicians, political leaders and experts such as Dr. Syeda Hameed, Anjali Bharadwaj, Annie Raja, Kalyani Menon Sen, Nivedita Menon, Dr. Jayati Ghosh, Lara Jesani; political leaders such as Vandana Chavan, Alka Lamba and Sushmita Dey and grassroots activists such as Soni Sori, Angela Rangad from Shillong, Richa Singh were also present at the convention.
The women asserted the need to reclaim their rights which includes minimum wages, land rights, pensions and freedom from deep seated sexual violence against women.