More than a thousand women and men, representing nearly 30 organisations, participated in a militant demonstration from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in the heart of New Delhi, on March 8 this year, to mark hundred years of the declaration of International Women’s Day. The demonstration was organized under the banner of the ‘Centenary Committee to celebrate International Women’s Day’.
Throughout the last one year and more, the Centenary Committee has been holding press conferences, seminars, discussions, demonstrations and rallies in various parts of Delhi, to highlight the oppression of women and bring women and men together to organise to change this. The March 8 demonstration was a part of this joint effort.
With colourful banners bearing the names of the participating organizations, the demonstration made its way through the political and financial hub of New Delhi, housing important government offices, ministries, offices of major political parties, banks, financial institutions as well as multinational companies. Slogans such as “Long live international women’s day!”, “With political power in our hands we shall end oppression and injustice!”, “Women and men, unite against exploitation and injustice!”, “Down with the crushing burden of skyrocketing prices!”, “Down with the government that cannot give us food and security!”, “Equal pay for equal work (Ek kaam ka ek daam, aurat aadmi ek samaan)!”, “Down with the rape and murder of women and innocents under AFSPA!”, “Down with the rape and murder of women in state sponsored communal violence!”, “Punish the guilty!”, “We shall fight, we shall win!”, “Red salute to hundred years of struggle of women for liberation!”, “Inquilab Zindabad!” rent the air. Participants in the march also carried placards with these and many other slogans. From atop a van leading the demonstration, enthusiastic young girls and working women interspersed the slogans with songs expressing the determination of women to fight for their liberation and win.
A large contingent of school and university students, young girls who brave daily harassment at the hands of the hoodlums backed by the police, joined the demonstration. So did hundreds of working women from poor and far flung slum colonies across the city and the National Capital Region. Many of these slums are today facing the threat of demolition and eviction of their residents, as Delhi prepares to host the Commonwealth Games. Teachers, lawyers, doctors – women and men from various professions – as well as political and social activists, cutting across ideological affiliations, came together on this historic occasion.
A leaflet was issued by the Centenary Committee on this occasion, highlighting the history of International Women’s Day and calling for united struggle against price rise, for health care, universal PDS and food security, for guaranteed livelihood, fair wages and good working conditions, equal pay for equal work for women and men, social security for domestic and unorganized workers, against Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and all repressive laws, against all forms of violence on women including state organised communal violence and state terrorism. The leaflet boldly stated that “The women’s movement in India recognizes that genuine emancipation of women is possible only in a society where other inequalities and injustices also cease to exist, and hence has always strived to link with the struggles of other sections oppressed by patriarchy, class, caste, and religion.” Thousands of copies of the leaflet were distributed along the route of the demonstration.
At Jantar Mantar, near the Parliament, the demonstration turned into a huge rally, which was addressed by representatives of all the participating organizations. Speakers at the rally pointed out that the call to celebrate March 8 as International Women’s Day had been issued a hundred years ago by communist women, who saw the road to emancipation of women in the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system of exploitation and usher in socialism. Representatives of different organisations raised their voice against the outright attack on the workers and poor of our country as a result of the huge price rise and destruction of the public distribution system, the proposed amendments to labour laws to deny the rights won by working women and men through struggle and sacrifice, attacks on women on the basis of caste and community, the growing violence against women, state terrorism and black laws such as AFSPA in Kashmir and the North East. Members of several organizations sang songs hailing the struggles of women and oppressed masses against oppression and injustice. The audience was particularly inspired by a skit performed by school girls of a slum colony, depicting how the spiraling prices of food and other essential items are causing immense hardship to workers and their families.
The rally was addressed by representatives of the Purogami Mahila Sangathan, CSW, CAVOW, Action India, Ankur, Kadam, Delhi Students Organisation, Jagori, Nirantar, AIPWA, AISA and others. The speaker of Purogami Mahila Sangathan pointed out that the present political system is democracy only for the big capitalists, while the political process ensures that the masses of working women and men are kept out of political power, deprived of the right to make decisions or initiate laws about issues that affect their daily lives. Those guilty of committing the worst atrocities on women are never punished because the culprits in most cases enjoy powerful state support and political patronage. What justice can be expected when the accused, the prosecutor and the judge are the same, i.e. the state, she questioned. Nothing short of the united struggle of women and men, to overthrow this capitalist system and establish the political power of the working and oppressed, can lead to the emancipation of women, she asserted.
It is significant that this demonstration and rally was being held at around the same time that the UPA government was trying to introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. This Bill, which seeks to give 33% reservation for women in all legislative bodies while leaving intact the existing political system and process, is being touted as the government’s “gift” to women on the centenary of International Women’s Day. The militant rally was in sharp contrast to the activities of the CPI(M) and its allies, who were busy mobilizing women in support of the UPA government and the Reservation Bill, spreading the illusion that somehow this is a measure that would contribute to the empowerment of women.