Women’s Groups Release A Statement Prior To The 2019 Lok Sabha Elections| #WomenMarch4Change
For the last five years, women of India have watched with growing anger as our struggles for equality have been dented and our hard-won freedoms undermined. We have watched the present government and its followers spread misogyny, hate and lies across this land. Today, on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we say, NO MORE!
Violence Across The Land
Violence is something women know well. We have suffered it on our bodies. We know that violence against women will not stop unless violence in society stops. And a government that uses brute force to access political power, cannot be a torchbearer for our rights. For five years, the present government has led a war against its own citizens – mob lynching, hate speeches, invoking draconian laws against peaceful protests, arresting people and calling them ‘seditious’, ‘anti-national’ and ‘urban naxal’. All this to silence citizens asserting their right to speech and dissent, to keep critics at bay and to give an elected government unaccountable and absolute power. This goes against every principle of a democratic republic. Women, dalits, adivasis, Muslims, de-notified tribes, students, workers, farmers, artists and writers, journalists, Christians, people with disabilities, human rights defenders, transgender and queer people have been harmed, many killed. The selective silence of the Prime Minister encourages the mob on the street and signals impunity. Justice today is less within reach than it was 5 years ago, especially for the most vulnerable – the Muslim, dalit, and adivasi citizens of India. The shrill cry of war, escalation of hostilities on the border, the glorification of masculine aggression, the perennial creation of false ‘enemies’ within -we will not tolerate this any longer!
Development For Whom?
Women have a huge stake in a development agenda that gives us greater agency over the resources of this country, and by extension, over our own lives. What we get from the state instead are slogans and paternalistic narratives. The Ujjwala scheme is a ‘gift’ from the PM to the poor women of India. Why a gift? This is our money, this is our right. And where are the schemes to build women’s leadership? Not a single such scheme has been inaugurated. When the development agenda of the state shifts towards making us mere ‘recipients’ of paternal largesse, rather than investing in our leadership and empowerment, we are all harmed and we are all disempowered.
The flagship programme Beti bachao beti padhao has been an unequivocal failure. The sex ratio continues to plummet, while the Government spends more on posters promoting its leader, than on the scheme itself. Public funding on education is down from 6.1% to 3.7% of GDP, while privatisation is being promoted. Tribal, Dalit and Muslim girls continue to drop out with close to 40% girls not making it to even class 10. The Higher Education Financing Agency funds have been cut by 24% in the 2019 interimbudget. The government is pushing central universities, IITs and IIMs to move towards taking loans rather than depend on grants. Women Studies departments are being squeezed for resources.
This is a government of the rich and powerful and it has worked hard to benefit them. The National Health Protection scheme, based on a discredited insurance model, strengthens private health care providers while starving the public health system of resources. The National Health Mission’s budget has been halved in the last five years and the Reproductive and Child health component has been drastically cut. The poorest women and children of India are low priority for this government.
The recent NSSO report, which the government discredited and shamefully refused to make public, records a sharp fall in employment during 2017-18. This is the outcome of its ill-thought and poorly implemented economic policies, including the disaster called demonetisation in 2015, and the GST in 2017. Rural poor are most affected and 4.3 crore Indians have been pushed out of the labour market. Women’s participation has fallen by 7% and is most acute in the age group of 15-59 years. A majority of women, young boys and girls in this age group are neither in school, nor under training nor employed. This is the stark reality on the ground despite the tall claims of skilling youth and the chimera of 21st century skills.
Virtually every state and non-state institution, social, cultural, educational, development related, directly under government control or dependent on government funding, has been taken over and filled with appointees who demonstrate scant respect for women’s rights, citizen’s rights, or for the principles of transparent democratic functioning. We need to regain control over our public institutions.
In word and deed, this government and its supporters are hell-bent on criminalising entire groups of people and communities. The bogey of ‘love Jihad’, Romeo Squads, Khap panchayat diktats and the vicious trolling of women who dare to speak their mind – are all direct attacks on women’s right to choose, to curb their agency with threats and violence.
It has criminalised Muslim men through the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights in Marriage) Bill, 2018, that has been pushed through as an ordinance, not as an Act of Parliament. We need to ask why?
In the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, consent has been taken out of the hands of the sex worker and her associates, who now bear the burden of proving that they were neither trafficked nor are engaged in trafficking.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, has taken away the agency of a trans person to self-identify as per the 2014 NALSA judgement. Instead it mandates an invasive body screening committee constituted by the state. The Bill criminalises activities like begging and indeed, even community living, which is often the only option open to sustain transgender communities that have historically faced discrimination and societal exclusions (from jobs, housing and social security).
The proposed New Forest Policy aims at arming the Forest Department with guns. Women in forest areas are responsible for 80% of minor forest produce collection and the present regime has made them even more vulnerable to the wrath of the Forest Department. Adivasis and forest dwellers are being treated like criminals and there have been ham-handed attempts to evict them from their lands and forests. The Supreme Court has now stayed its own order of February 2019.
Students from universities across the country have been arrested, trolled in online spaces, denounced in offline spaces and faced violence, simply because they have raised their voices against injustices happening on their campuses.
Journalists, writers, academics, lawyers and human rights defenders have been arrested under draconian non-bailable laws and face prolonged trials, for doing their jobs of writing teaching about and defending human rights. Some have been killed.
Agrarian Crisis And Denial Of Forest Rights
The agrarian crisis has hit women and men farmers. Women are not recognised as farmers even though 65.1% of the female labour force is dependent on agriculture. A majority of women in farming belong to dalit and adivasi communities. The lack of concern for women farmers is evident in the paltry 8.5 per cent of the agriculture budget allocation for women in the sector. Women continue to work as family labour under increasingly difficult circumstances of agrarian distress as investments have flown to agri- business corporate ventures. Farmer suicides mostly by men, continue unabated with no comprehensive measures to tackle this crisis in the past few years. Women bear the burden in Farm Suicide Affected Households as the entire responsibility of farming along with family care and repayment of debts falls on them.
These 5 years have seen every effort to undermine the Forest Rights Act 2006 and its entitlements to forest dweller communities. Only 17% of the potential forest area has been recognized under forest rights, within which women’s claims are systematically challenged. Tribal and and OTFD (other traditional forest dweller) women have been marked as ‘encroachers’ by the forest department, while formulating laws (eg: Compensatory Afforestation Act) and policies (New Forest Policy Draft) that divert forest lands and deny them their right to life .
Women’s March for Change is an inclusive platform for diverse communities of women and transgender people – farmers, students, activists, professionals, artists, workers, persons with disabilities, academics, journalists, lawyers, sex workers and forest dwellers – to dismantle this regime of oppression, towards ajust and peaceful future. Collectively, we shall raise our voices against violence, hate, discrimination and war; against the shrinking of democratic spaces and the crackdown on dissent; against the systematic destruction of India’s democratic institutions; against this environment of toxic masculinity and macho nationalism; against attempts to kill the very soul of our democracy.
Women across India and their comrades in solidarity, will MARCH FOR CHANGE on April 4, 2019, and beyond. Together, we will reclaim and VOTE FOR our constitutional rights as citizens of a democratic republic.
Surce : Feminism In India