IWD 2011 - Speech of the representative of the Association of Indian Communists.

Comrades,
 
First of all I bring greeting to you all from AIC and congratulate CPB for organising this wonderful event to celebrate 100th anniversary of international women’s day. It is my pleasure to be with you and I am grateful to Liz Payne and Navid Shomali who have given me an opportunity to share some information regarding Indian women’s struggle for emancipation. Celebration of International Women’s day is an excellent way to analyse women’s achievements and to plan for the future to work on the areas where progress is yet to be made.  Bourgeois communities also celebrate International Women’s Day. However for them it is a day to have fun and display their wealth while we the working class proletariats celebrate women’s achievements and take an opportunity to draw up future action plans. 
 
Comrades we are aware that world over subjugation of women and the discrimination they face in every sphere of life has its roots in the emergence of class exploitation and the institution of private property. We also know that while the emergence of the capitalist system of exploitation intensified the burden on women, the modern socialised production characteristic of capitalism also provides the conditions for masses of women to come out of their homes to organise together with the fellow workers both men and women against exploitation. Women all over the world took advantage of these conditions. Hence the struggle for emancipation grew stronger and more widespread in the 19th century. Indian women did not stay behind; they also were taken to streets to fight injustices.
 
Indian women played an active role in the anti-colonial struggle in 19th and 20th centuries. Millions and millions of women were influence by the struggle and they organised themselves against all forms of enslavement. Many identified the movement of the working class for socialism as a path to achieve emancipation for which they joined the left forces in defence of the theory and programme of communism. They challenged the patriarchal values and rejected their place in the home. They formed workers unions and led many textile worker’s strikes, for example in 1917 the Ahmedabad textile workers strike was lead  by Anasuya Sarabhai while women played a leading role in Bombay and Calcutta textile mill workers strike in 1928-29. 
 
While the communist women were active in organising and mobilising masses of women, the bourgeois national leaders and organisations were also active in organising women for their own aims. Although Gandhi did not favour women’s participation in the struggle against foreign rule, he agreed only after he was strongly challenged by women activists such as Annie Besant - – a member of Irish suffragette movement, Sarojini Naidu and many more. However, he as an Indian bourgeois leader continued to promote patriarchal values. He did not favour any form of women’s emancipation. After India ’s independence he opposed constitutional equalities for women and for other disadvantaged people and constitutional changes – granting equalities to every citizen – were included only after his death.
 
Indian reformist movement was running side by side to the national movement for independence and movement for women’s emancipation. Its contributions were invaluable in ending anti women traditions and religious laws such as sati, child marriage, allowing widow remarriage, creating provisions for female education and training for economic independence. Moreover Indian reformist organisations gave Indian women an experience of public activities. However their activities were limited with home being the primary focus. They promoted women’s education and training for them to become better mothers and wife. The Indian bourgeois leaders reinforced these views. Secondly the reformist movement’s activities were limited to urban, upper casts and middle class women only while the women’s organisations particularly the ones with socialist principles demanded political rights, reformed personal laws and challenged patriarchal values.    
 
After the end of colonial rule, Indian women received certain political and legal rights they did not have before. These included full voting right and right to contest in the local and national elections, Hindu succession Act gave women a right to inherit and own property, Hindu Code Bill, Anti- Dowry Legislation, legislation making domestic violence and rape a criminal offence. Moreover the Indian constitution gives total equality to women in all spheres of life. However, the new bourgeois ruling class deliberately retained the legal inequality of women in many spheres. The terrible oppression of women due to feudal and backward practices as well as cast oppression and discrimination, much of which was preserved by the colonial rulers and the newly born Indian bourgeoisie, added on to the capitalist exploitation of women. Even today nearly 64 years after the formal independence vast masses of Indian women continue to be victims of all these diverse forms of exploitation, defended by the Indian state and its institutions.
 
The radical laws and constitutional equal rights gave Indian women a sense of security and they felt they had achieved their goals to emancipation and there was nothing more left to struggle for. However they soon realised that the constitutional franchise and enactment of liberal laws alone was not enough unless there is a will to implementation. Hence their dissatisfaction with the status quo pushed them into struggle against injustices. Once again they organised themselves and tirelessly struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation, for better wages and working conditions, for equality, dignity and security. In order to ensure legislation are implemented and for women to exercise their rights effectively, they focus on raising awareness of women of their rights. 
 
The contemporary women’s movement in India has seen women come out in a large numbers, often in the forefront of the struggle together with men, against the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, against the loot and plunder of their land and resources by the big monopolies, against the state violence for national rights, for their rights as workers and against all other forms of social oppressions and degradation. For example women are at the forefront of struggle against dowry and for women’s right to inherit and own property, for abolition of personal laws replacing them with a uniformed civil code. 
 
Other movement Indian women have been and are involved in are:
 
•Struggle for the rural poor and industrial working class such as Tebhaga movement in Bengal .
•Telangana movement in Andhra Pardesh
•Tribal landless labourers’ movement against landlords in Maharashtra .
•Anti- alcohol agitation.
•Anti price rise agitation
•Chipko movement – clinging to trees saving them from cutting. This raised awareness of importance of trees.
•Anti – dowry. One woman dies a dowry related death in Delhi , the Indian Capital City .
•For inheritance rights- despite the constitutional right Indian women are denied a right to inherit.
•Domestic violence.
•Anti – rape – an Indian woman is raped every 54 minutes. This is a recorded figure while a vast majority of cases go unreported.
•Shah Bano Case -  Shah Bano was granted maintenance from her husband under section 125 of criminal procedure act. This was not acceptable to the Muslim religious fundamentalist leaders. They accused the Government interfering with Islamic Laws and did not protect the minorities. The government bowed to the fundamental Muslim leaders and passed a legislation that applies to Muslim women denying them a right to maintenance.
      This case is a land mark in the Indian women’s struggle against injustice
      to Muslim women.
•Anti – Sati; Sati was outlawed in 1872. However we observed Roop Kanwer forcefully burnt with her husband in 1987. Instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice, the Government applauded the action.   
•Anti- child marriage. Children, especially girls, as young as 12 years are married off. 
 
The status of women in modern India is a sort of a paradox. If on one hand she is at the peak of success, on the other hand she is mutely suffering violence afflicted on her by her own family members, in the form of dowry, incest, domestic violence, female foeticide thanks to the modern technology. If a woman tries to exercise her right to inherit she is subject to alienation, brutal violence and even murder.
 
No doubt women in modern India have achieved a lot and are empowered by educational achievement and economic independency but it is limited to women at the higher spectrum of the society. Women at the lower end of the spectrum do not have the same opportunities to better themselves because they always are struggling against poverty and for the basic needs such as food and water. They suffer poor health, poor diet, lack education, are mistreated. Unfortunately Indian women’s movement is divided by status, religion, cast, region and party politics; and is lacking one common platform. The bourgeois classes do not wish to see women to be emancipated as they are seen as a challenge to capitalist system. Changing societal attitudes and women’s own self perception which are deeply rooted in our psyche and social structure is not easy. For every step forward that the movement takes there are backlash and a possible regression. Struggle for women’s rights is long and hard, it is a struggle that must be waged and won that is only possible through class consciousness.
 
Indian women in Britain : Indian women living in Britain have been part and parcel of working class and have been actively involved in British labour movement. Unfortunately their contribution in the movement has not been adequately recognised. They have been at the forefront in the struggle for equal wages and better working conditions, for right to organise, in the struggle against racism and institutional racism in the form of racist laws such as Immigration and Nationality. It is high time that the labour movement pays due attention to Indian women’s contribution in British Labour movement.
 
Although domestic violence has been made a criminal offence, women and men arriving from abroad on spousal visa are not given same protection against domestic violence. Comrades it is not a responsibility of foreign spouses, it is our responsibility to ensure that every one in Britain are protected from any form of violence.
 
Cultural norms and personal laws have been brought into Britain that deny women many rights, one of then being a right to inheritance. Indian women are discriminated against by their family. Parents will is almost always in favour of sons. Again comrades it is not the responsibility of Indian women, it is our collective responsibility to fight against all forms of discrimination – culture or not culture.
 
Long live International Women’s Day