International Women’s Day Protests

On the occasion of International Women’s Day this year, protests were held all over the country demanding implementation of the Verma Committee recommendations and especially the enactment of an effective law against rape and sexual violence.

In Delhi, women’s groups held a joint rally from Mandi House to Parliament Street, reflecting the spirit of the ongoing movement against rape following the December 16 gangrape. Participant organisations included AIDWA, AIPWA, CWDS, Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, FORCES, Jagori, JWP, NFIW, Nirantar, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangthan, Purogami Mahila Sangthan, Saheli, Swastik Mahila Samiti, and YWCA of Delhi, as well as student groups including AISA and students from various DU colleges, JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia. At Parliament Street, a protest meeting was held, which was addressed by women’s movement activists including Sudha Sundararaman of AIDWA and Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA. The programme was conducted by Sehba Farooqui of AIDWA. On the presidium, AIPWA was represented by Sucheta De, one of the leading figures of the Delhi anti-rape protests. Addressing the protestors, Kavita saluted the century of women workers’ struggles which were being commemorated on International Women’s Day. She hailed the spirit of the women resisting POSCO at Odisha, who on the eve of Women’s Day had been severely lathicharged and booked for criminal offences when some of them stripped their clothes off in protest against land grab. She hailed the women of Koodankulam protesting against the nuclear project. She demanded justice for the women of Kashmir and North East and for Soni Sori, subjected to rape by security forces and the police. She commented on the fact that both the Government and the main Opposition party, BJP, were united in the agenda of diluting and subverting the Verma Committee recommendations and introducing anti-women provisions in the rape law. She pointed out that the Government’s ordinance as well as the Bill prepared by the Standing Committee headed by BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu had identical provisions, recommending that men be allowed to accuse women of rape; that the age of consent be raised from 16 to 18; retaining the protective shields for public servants and army officers accused of rape; refusal to amend AFSPA or recognise marital rape. Only the relentless pressure from the protests on the street and efforts of the women’s movement, had forced the Government to reconsider the move to make the accused in the rape law ‘gender neutral’ and the move to raise the age of consent. Women are not going around raping or assaulting men, so why should they be accused of sexual assault? She pointed out that raising the age of consent would make young teenage boys branded as rapists even for consensual sexual activity with girls of the same age. She demanded strict provisions for errant police officers to ensure accountability for the police. Reminding of the rapes in Kunan Poshpora, and of Thangjam Manorama and countless others in conflict areas, she demanded repeal of AFSPA. She demanded that the offensive provisions of exemption of marital rape be removed from the rape law, since wives were not sexual property of men. She pointed out that death penalty for rape would in no way make women more secure, since it would only provide rapists with an incentive to kill their victims. She saluted the spirit of the Delhi December 16 braveheart who had lit the torch of struggle that had revitalised the movement against rape and sexual violence in India and across the world, and demanded that the Government and Parliament should respect her memory, not with lip service but with a gender-just law based on the Verma panel recommendations.

In Bihar, protests were held by AIPWA at district HQs all over the state, demanding a law based on JVC recommendations; reversal of the Nitish Govt’s alcohol promotion policy, and demanding withdrawal of suicide charges against Irom Sharmila and scrapping of AFSPA. In Patna, a large procession of women from rural and urban Patna marched to the Bihar Assembly and held a protest meeting there. AISA and RYA also held a march from the Magadh Mahila College in which many women and men students participated, demanding ‘Freedom without fear’. On the same day, powerful protests were held in Siwan, Buxar, Bhojpur and other districts of Bihar.

In Kolkata, women workers along with women, student and youth activists in large numbers participated in the women’s day rally organised by AIPWA state committee, West Bengal. Decorated with posters, placards, flags, and banners and resonating with slogans against gender violence and demands of women workers, the spirited rally started off from College Square and ended near the Sealdah railway station. Women workers from unorganised sectors like beedi-rolling, domestic work, zari work, ASHA and mid-day meal, construction sector participated from five districts. Following the rally a street cultural protest was held at Sealdah.

In Andhra Pradesh, AIPWA held a dharna at Kakinada in front of the collector’s office; a protest march in Sathupalli – mandal headquarters of Khammam district; a dharna at Ananthapuram before collector’s office; a protest meeting at Vijaywada; and a dharna by mid-day meal workers at Nuziveedu at the Revenue divisional office.

In Uttarakhand, protests were held by AISA and AIPWA at many places demanding freedom without fear and implementation of the Justice Verma recommendations as well as punishment for the police officers responsible for the mass rape of Uttarakhand statehood movement protestors at Muzaffarnagar in 1994. At Pithoragarh, AISA held a seminar at the Municipality Hall, followed by burning a copy of the Government’s ordinance in protest against its provisions of gender-neutrality of the accused. The seminar, chaired by women’s activist Namrata Bora, was addressed by AIPWA activist Sheela Punetha, AISA’s Hemant Khati, CPI(ML) District Secretary Jagat Martoliya, and many others. In Bhikyasain, the ASHA workers’ union affiliated to AICCTU and AIPWA held a protest march in the marketplace and held a protest meeting which was addressed among others by CPI(ML) leader Purushottam Sharma. AISA held a seminar at Rudrapur, where students read an article on the subject of sexual violence and capitalism, and AISA activist Ruby Bharadwaj led a discussion on the issue. CPI(ML) leader KK Bora also addressed the gathering and the seminar was conducted by Lalit Matiyali. Journalism students at the Garhwal University at Srinagar held a seminar in which CPI(ML) and AISA activists participated. CPI(ML)’s Indresh Maikhuri and Kuldeep Sailani of AISA addressed the seminar.

In Bohisar (in Dahisar of Mumbai, Maharashtra), 8th March was observed by women of many villages in the Tarapur gram panchayat. Women gathered at the community hall of Dalits and held a meeting there. The meeting was presided by Comrade Leela Dubla of CPI(ML)’s Jambhalpada unit, and was addressed by many CPI(ML) activists. Following the meeting, a women who had shared her experience of domestic violence, was inspired to go to the police station with the comrades and file a complaint against her abusive husband.

In Ranchi, AIPWA held a rally to Albert Ekka Chowk where a protest meeting was held demanding ‘Freedom without fear’, implementation of Justice Verma recommendations including an effective law against all forms of rape and sexual violence, dignity and proper remuneration of women workers and domestic workers; a policy for women in Jharkhand. The protest meeting began with a rousing women’s movement song which said, “A new star shines on the world’s map, half the earth and half the sky is ours!” AIPWA State Secretary Sunita, President Gunni Oraon, Ranchi district Vice President Shanti Sen, and JSM’s Anil Anshuman addressed the gathering. AIPWA secretary Sarojini Bisht conducted the meeting. JSM’s Prerna team convenor and AIPWA leader Soni Tiriya rendered inspiring songs.

In Ruabandha Sector of Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, AIPWA held a meeting on the theme of women’s freedom, safety and rights, demanding implementation of the JVC report and demanding release of Soni Sori and punishment of the police officers and Salwa Judum leaders accused of rape.

AIPWA and Mahila Mukti Morcha held a dharna at Ghadi Chowk, Supela in Bhilai, in which contract worker women participated.

Liberation Archive