Thousands of women from across all walks of life marched on the rain drenched roads of Delhi on 4 September protesting against the triple failures of Modi govt. - to curb violence against women, to create jobs and to end hunger and malnutrition. The anger and sense of betrayal was palpable in the women who braved a continuing downpour and flooded streets while marching through central Delhi.
Among the slogans – in different languages – one was most often heard. It was (in Hindi) “Modi Sarkar hosh mein aao! Hosh mein tumko aana hoga! Varna tumko jaana hoga!” (Come to your senses, Modi govt! Otherwise get out!). Placards protesting against increasing cases of rape and other forms of violence, and demanding jobs dotted the colourful procession.
Later, at the massive public meeting near Parliament, under the nose of enormous police barricades and squads of armed police, speakers reflected this criticism of the ruling BJP govt. by calling for the its defeat.
The protest rally, organised by the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) after a two-month long country-wide campaign, resolved to expose the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for having reneged on its promise to provide safety and security for the women across the country.
Lambasting those in power, Brinda Karat, former general secretary of AIDWA, alleged that the present regime wants to destroy democracy and bring in autocracy. She said that the under Modi Sarkar atrocities against Dalits, tribals, minorities and women had increased and criminals were roaming around with impunity.
"Forest lands are being encroached upon; Dalits and minorities are being lynched; and women are being raped either by those in power or people who have political immunity," she told the gathering.
Referring to the Unnao rape case where a BJP legislator is the prime accused and the Kathua rape and murder case where BJP organised a huge rally in support of the perpetrators, Karat said women are the target everywhere and there is no action against the culprits.
"Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the Unnao MLA who is accused of raping a girl and killing her father, has so far not been removed from the party by the BJP. Several BJP leaders are supporting culprits of Kathua rape victims. It is such a shame," she added.
Attacking UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, she said, "We don't consider him as yogi (the priest) as he is standing in support of the perpetrators of sexual violence."
The protesters said the crime against women and children have increased by 34% in the past four years.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures, which is available only till 2016, 6.68 lakh cases of violence against women were recorded by the police throughout the country in 2015 and 2016 together. These include rapes and gang rapes, abductions, assaults, domestic violence, dowry killings ang other crimes.
These numbers are staggering - translating into about 915 cases every day or nearly 40 incidents every hour. In 2016 alone, there were 39,000 reported incidents of rape - four rapes every hour across the country. Nearly 17,000 girls below the age of 16 were raped in that year.
Cases of violence against children that are pending in courts have risen to an all-time high of over 2 lakh. Conviction rates of all crime against women were just 19% and for rape only 25%. It means, three out of four rapists are getting away scot free.
The rally also witnessed heart rending testimonies of men and women who are struggling for justice for victims of violence and right-wing vigilantism. Deepika Rajawat (Advocate for the Kathua victim) spoke about the professional abuse and political consequences she had to face when she took up the Kathua case. Mahesh Singh Makkhi (the uncle of the Unnao victim and a petitioner in the case) narrated how he fears for his life and security of his family. The impact of social conservatism and the violence associated with it was narrated by Saroj (the mother in law of the honour killing victim) from Haryana. Cases of political violence and victimization were narrated by Swapna Ghosh of West Bengal and Vinita Choudhury from Tripura. The struggles on food security were narrated by Lahani Dauda from Maharashtra, whereas struggles on right to work were narrated by Santro from the Anganwadi Mothers’ group in Haryana, Poonam (a domestic worker from Noida, NCR) and MNREGA worker from Bihar.
Speaking on the occasion, Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, who is appearing in court for the victim's family in Kathua rape-murder case, said "There is a new trend that whenever a voice of dissent is raised by people, they are dubbed as anti-nationals. The need of the hour is: unite and raise voice."
A women activist of AIDWA from West Bengal drew a parallel between the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in the state and the BJP-led government in the Centre. "The strength of both the governments is violence. Both centres of power are trying to eliminate all dissenting voices and political rivals. Everyone knows about the violence orchestrated during Panchayat polls in West Bengal. We were not even allowed to enter polling booths and counting centres. The police were openly supporting the TMC goons," she said and alleged, "The BJP and the TMC are two sides of a coin."
AIDWA Vice President Subhasini Ali said "the message is common - the BJP government is anti-women and anti-people and we need to dethrone it in the upcoming elections.
"Ration distribution and MNREGA have been linked with UID biometric, leading to joblessness and starvation in tribal belts. Now, people are being denied even their basic right to live," she alleged.
Taking a jibe at PM Modi's pakoda remarks, she said, "Sarkar kahti hai ki pakoda becho (the government asks us to sell pakodas to earn money). But we want to tell them that the country voted you to power not for suggest us to sell pakodas to generate employment. We will do it as well but after throwing you out of power."
A resolution moved by Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of AIDWA, demanded reforms in the criminal justice system to ensure time-bound trial and certainty of punishment for the guilty. The gathering demanded safeguard of women's constitutional rights and liberties. A comprehensive law to tackle honour crimes is also an urgent need, it said.
The rally also resolved to resist the dismantling of the PDS scheme undertaken by the BJP government and the denial of ration to needy families due to "faulty" biometric systems and Aadhar card linkages. It demanded that the "exclusionary practice of targeting", linking with Aadhar and use of biometric machines in the PDS should be stopped forthwith. Instead, right to food should be a universal and fundamental right of every citizen.
The resolution called on the government to increase the allocation for all social welfare programmes aimed at addressing malnutrition, and ensure that these are implemented on a war footing. "The Anganwadi, midday meal and Asha workers who implement these programmes must be recognised as government employees and appropriate salary must be paid to them," the declaration at the rally said.
The protest rally also resolved to challenge the "falsehood that jobs have gone up under the BJP rule, and instead underlines the gross decline in female employment which is leading to the worst forms of exploitation and violence".
The resolution asserted that "we, the women of the country, are equal partners in its economic development". "We demand employment and minimum wages as important preconditions for women's emancipation. We demand legislation to uphold women's right to dissent, dignified work in a harassment-free environment, with equal and minimum wages".
Above all, the protest rally resolved that those who "betray and divide" the women and the people of the country must be face consequences of their actions.
"We, the women of India, are here to confront and change this state of affairs. We refuse to be silenced by the culture of fear being spread by the BJP/RSS and its hate brigades. We march to a future where we can claim the equality and basic rights enshrined in the Constitution."