Thousands of women from all walks of life will be gathering in Delhi to protest against growing incidents of violence against women, rampant joblessness and the neglect of malnutrition and hunger that grip large sections of people, especially women and children. The protest is being organised by the country’s largest women’s organisation, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
The rally will be attended by working women, students, and those women who are not employed. Agricultural labourers, industrial workers, govt. employees, other professional women like teachers, journalists and diverse other sections of working women are expected to join, along with women who run families and may not be employed.
“There are a host of issues that the women want to raise. Among the most prominent ones are the growing violence against women, including the new attacks like lynchings, the dire situation of jobs for women and the lack of policies to tackle malnutrition and hunger the brunt of which is borne by women and children of the country. Also, the growing tide of communal strife and caste-based violence are in focus,” explained Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of AIDWA.
Most of the women coming to participate in the rally will stay over and also join the workers-peasants rally the next day, on 5th September being organised by the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU, Dhawale said.
Violence against women in multiple forms has assumed unbridled proportions in recent years. According to NCRB figures, available only till 2016, some 6.68 lakh cases of violence against women were recorded by the police across the country in 2015 and 2016 together. These include rapes and gang rapes, kidnappings, assaults, domestic violence, dowry killings, and other crimes. These numbers are staggering – translating into about 915 cases every day or nearly 40 incidents every hour. The scale must be much bigger if one considers that many women do not report violence to the police because of social pressure, and many police personnel do not register cases.
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Just in 2016, there were nearly 39,000 reported incidents of rape. That’s over four rapes every hour, across the country. There has been an increase in violence against women despite the ruling BJP – and the Prime Minister himself – repeatedly asserting that women’s safety is their top priority. Reality shows that these assertions are mere jumlas – empty slogans – without any determination or will to back them.
While the Prime Minister in his 15 August speech lauded a Madhya Pradesh court for speedily trying a rape accused and handing him a death sentence under the new law, this was actually another attempt to cover up the fact that conviction rates for all crimes against women were just 19% and for rape only 25%. That means one in four rapists are getting away scot free! And, this is not even counting innumerable cases where women do not reveal or report rape.
One of the reasons for the rising tide of violence against women is the coming to power of a party that has the most regressive mentality about women, which draws inspiration from so called ancient traditions that treat women as second-class citizens and worthy only of domestic labour and producing children. With such an ideology coming to rule the country, it is small wonder that large parts of state machinery – from police to courts – have slid into blaming women if any violence is committed against them and diluting laws like Sec.498A that protect women from cruelty by husband or relatives demanding dowry. India continues to be the sole country in the world where women are barbarically murdered – mostly burnt to death – for not bringing enough dowry.
In 2016, 7455 young newlywed women were killed for dowry.
Such is the scale of this assault on women that nearly 17,000 girls below the age of 16 were raped in 2016. Cases of violence against children that are pending in courts have risen to an all time high of over 2 lakh.
According to the most recent survey carried out by the Labour Bureau, women’s work participation rate (the share of working women to their total adult population) is a mere 25.8% while for men it was over 73%. This very low share of working women in India is a peculiarity that the country shares with only a handful of countries in the world, mostly West Asian countries.
Various studies have established that it is not as if most women do not want to work. They do – but there are no jobs. In addition, there is an obstacle of patriarchal mentality that propounds that women should not go out to work and that their rightful place is within the four walls of the home, looking after domestic chores, caring for children and elderly and, of course, producing children.
Recent years have seen an acceleration in spread of education in the country’s women. So, a gigantic educated workforce is wasting away their years in the absence of job opportunities in society. In times of economic crises, women bear the brunt from both sides – they lose the jobs first and they also suffer hunger and deprivation at home because of their subsidiary status. This is ironical because it is in precisely such times that the family needs every bit of additional income and if women were to get jobs, the family would do better.
Those women who do find work, are forced into the most menial and low paying jobs. Women’s work participation increases only among the poorest sections like agricultural labourers, Dalits and adivasis where economic distress has forced a change in thing about women’s work to some extent.
Women workers also face special problems at work which often discourage their participation. These include lower wages than men for the same kind of work, absence of creches and other supportive facilities, denial of maternity leave and sexual harassment at workplaces or outside. The complete absence of any kind of policy on the part of the govt. to address these problems, and the rampant jobs crisis in the country brought on by Modi’s disastrous policies, have aggravated the problems of women, both working or seeking work.
Last year, an 11-year-old girl, Santoshi, died because her family had not been getting rations for six months before her death. The case of 58-year-old Savitri Devi is similar - she was denied PDS rations since 2012 when her ration card was cancelled. These are but two examples of the how citizens of the country – many of them women and children – are dying of starvation even in this 21st century. These cases are arising because of Modi govt.’s brutal imposition of Aadhaar linking to distribution of food grains through the state-run and legally mandated public distribution system.
India is home to over 20 crore hungry people. Over 30% of children are suffering from stunting. This is in times when there is record grain production. Women and children are the most affected because families consider them to need the least attention – the bread winner, usually male, gets priority, although they are also under-nourished. It is bizarre and criminal for the govt. to neglect this most basic of rights of citizens, the right to life itself, even though it can spend Rs.4000 crore on erecting a statue of a leader and plan to launch a person in space.
The issue of hunger is intrinsically linked to that of jobs and also to the prevalence of the women-as-second-class-citizens mentality that is the hallmark of the ruling party. It is also intrinsically linked to the neo-liberal dogma that the Modi govt. has adopted and imposed on hapless citizens of India. It is this dogma – borrowed from Western countries – that calls for cuts in govt. spending on welfare measures. Ultimately, it filters down to people through cuts in mid-day meals and nutrition programmes through anganwadis, or limits to PDS through so called ‘targetting’ it.
Through the 4 September Rally, women of this country are raising issues that are really issues of the whole country, of all people. AIDWA has been waging relentless struggles on these and related issues at the ground level all these past years. The 4 September rally is thus a culmination of these ongoing struggles, channelizing the anger and discontent of people against the Modi regime. It is also a launching pad for a larger unity that is targeted at dislodging the present govt. in the general elections next year.