Interview: Women’s Liberation in India
Posted by n3wday on November 17, 2008
This article was republished in People’s Truth.
Interview with Com. Janaki (Anuradha) from the March 2001 issue of Poru Mahila, the organ of Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan, DK.
People’s War has shattered the hesitations of the women of Dandakaranya!
(In this issue of Poru Mahila we are introducing to our readers Com. Janaki who had been working in the urban movement and had come to Dandakaranya to observe the adivasi peasant movement and to participate in it. Com. Janaki had led the guerilla squads directly as a divisional committee member of South Bastar from 1997 to 2000. Poru Mahila chatted with her on her experiences in the urban movement and in the adivasi peasant movement. We are here presenting the main features of that conversation – Editor, Poru Mahila. People’s Truth is reproducing that interview in the light of her martyrdom).
Po. Ma: Com. Janaki, would you please first explain to us the oppression faced by urban women?
Com. J: Though all women in India are under feudal, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal oppression, it is seen in various forms in different areas, the urban and the rural areas. The working class and middle class women in urban areas have some specific problems.
Firstly, if we look at the problems inside the family, even in urban areas women are oppressed by the feudal culture. Though the oppression of this culture may be less severe, still the majority of the young girls and women do not get the right in their families to take important decisions regarding their lives. The unmarried girls are under pressure to marry men from the same caste and same religion according to the decisions of the family. If a girl decides to marry a man of her choice from another caste or religion she will be subjected to a lot of pressure. She would have to face severe opposition from the family. Even if a woman wants to work outside home she will have to take the permission of her father, brother or husband. People of some castes and religions (for e.g. the Muslims and Kshatriyas) do not like their woman to do jobs. So it becomes inevitable for women to fight even for economic independence. In addition, since capitalist values have spread widely man-woman relations have also become commercialized and women are facing severe problems. The dowry and other items which have to be given to the grooms’ family before and after marriage has become a big problem for the parents who have given birth to girls. Added to that, it has become common to all communities to harass women for dowry both physically and mentally. When the wife’s life can be measured in money and gold killing her for their sake is not far behind. This terrible situation can be found in many households in the urban areas now-a-days. Especially since the past 25-30 years, maybe India is the only country in the world, where the new crime of burning brides for dowry has come into vogue.
One thing we have to observe is that a part of women belonging to the working class and the middle classes do not get an opportunity to go out and take up jobs. All their time is spent in house work and working for the family. As a result they depend on others for their living. Socially they depend on their husbands. That’s why they don’t try to do anything independently. There are so many restrictions on them to venture out or step outside the threshold. And if we look at the women who take care of their children’s studies it is almost like a machine. All her work revolves round her husband, the children’s studies and sending them to tuitions.
The conditions of the working class in urban areas are pitiable. The main reason is the severity of the problem of not having a place to stay. So the poor are forced to set up house illegally in open places. Many of them build a hut on the sides of the roads, railway tracks and sewers (even on top of sewers). In narrow lanes and the sides of the roads hundreds of families are living by building shacks. There is not even an inch of space to build a bathroom or a place which can be called a verandah. As the towns expand slums keep increasing on the sides of roads, on rocky places and on the small hills inside the town. They do not have toilets or water facilities. Crowded people, polluted environment, and lack of basic amenities – women do their work facing all these problems. Fighting for water is a common sight. In bastis like these goodaism and their harassment is another problem they face. But above all the biggest problem is the demolition of these bastis by the municipal and government authorities on the allegation that they are illegal. Usually it comes upon the women to oppose these demolitions. Because when officers come in the daytime with the police and bull dozers it is usually the women and children who are at home. The urban system in a backward country like India does not recognize the right to have a household as a basic right.
Women in urban areas have many opportunities to step out of home and work. They get jobs in factories, offices, schools, hospitals and shops. But in many jobs they are not paid equally with men. Or the salaries are so low that they cannot run a household with that. Many working class women work in the construction industry under the contractors. Many women work as maids. All these works come under the unorganized sector. These do not have any job guarantee or a guarantee for salary. On top of it they have to face harassment from the contractors and the men under whom they work. This takes place in many forms. Not only the working class women but even educated middle class women are facing such harassment. Women are harassed sexually with such pressurizing tactics as threatening to oust them, not giving them work, transferring them, writing bad remarks in their records etc. Very few women are able to share such things with others.
Now-a-days in big cities electronic industries of the imperialists have come up on a large scale. Girls are employed in many of them. But the problems of more labour, less salaries and a ban on organizing are present in these industries. So they have to fight even for the basic right of forming unions.
In the past some industries like beedi making and agarbatti making were thriving in households. Now even many new companies are giving most of the work to do at home. The poor housewives are taking up these jobs thinking they can earn a bit while being at home. There is lot of exploitation in this work. Even if they work all day long with the help of their family members it is difficult for them to earn even 20 rupees. The labour power of poor women is paid very less. They are being exploited a lot is what I want to say.
Lastly, another point is the influence of imperialist culture is very great on the urban women. They are not only influenced by consumerism but are also victims of it. This is increasing day by day. Instead of human values they are giving more importance to beauty and beauty products. As a result there is an environment of insecurity due to atrocities and harassments in the urban areas. The young women are facing a feeling of insecurity to step out of the house. In an urban life women are suffering from many such problems. But there are very few organizations which fight against them at present.
Po.Ma: Tell us about the various trends in the women’s movement.
Com.J: Around 1980s there was a spontaneous outburst of women’s movements in many parts of the country, especially in the cities. This movement was an indication of the increasing democratic consciousness and anti patriarchal consciousness among the women. After the Naxalbari movement dealt a severe blow to the semi feudal, semi colonial system in India, there was an outburst of working class and student movements and there was the Emergency and the social, economic and political crises of the ruling classes – the women’s movements sprung out of this background. Internationally also there was the influence of the student and women’s movements. Mostly the student, middle class and professional women participated actively in these movements. Out of these spontaneous democratic movements many small and big women’s organizations also took birth. But in the past 20 years there have been many changes in the women’s movement, their political character and in these organizations. Later the women’s liberation movement, dependent on the urban middle class women, split into various political and ideological streams. In the nationality movements, especially in the Kashmiri struggle for their self determination the active participation of women has increased considerably. Women are playing a prominent role in exposing the inhuman atrocities of the police and army. Under the leadership of the Maoist Party the revolutionary women’s movement has developed well in the rural areas especially in Dandakaranya ,Jharkhand and North Telengana. Even the BJP and RSS have recognized the strength of women and are paying attention to spreading decadent social values and vicious politics among them.
Many women who had spontaneously participated in movements against dowry deaths, sati and harassments, drawing the attention of the nation towards such problems, had withdrawn from the movement in later years. But many out of them have gained a name for themselves as researchers and ideologues on women’s issues both in India and abroad. Many of them founded voluntary organizations (NGOs). They are getting funds from international agencies for women studies and emancipation of women. But they have a feminist viewpoint and a feminist ideology. Now they have become propagandists for feminism, saying that patriarchy is the main problem for women, and that we have to fight only against patriarchy. But patriarchy has its roots in class society. In all societies it is perpetuated by the exploiting classes, i.e. feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. So fighting patriarchy means fighting against these exploiting classes. But the feminists are against recognizing this. They believe women’s conditions in this society can be changed by politically lobbying with the governments and by propaganda alone. In reality this feminist stream today is representing the class outlook and the class interests of the bourgeois and upper middle class women in the country.
The women organizations of revisionist parties like CPI, CPM and Liberation are working actively in some cities. They run movements on social and political issues of women. Along with issues of women’s oppression they even take up processions and do dharnas on problems like price rise etc. They are different from the feminist stream, because they don’t give importance only to struggles against patriarchy. But they are also completely reformist organizations. Because of their revisionist politics they are not linking the women’s liberation with revolution and are working with the belief that by changing governments they will be able to improve their conditions inside this existing social framework itself. For e.g. for the past 2, 3 years they have concentrated all their activities on gaining the right of 33 percent reservation for women in the parliament. Actually the common people have lost confidence on the corrupt parliamentary system long back. It has also been proven that whoever gets elected to the parliament will always serve the exploiting ruling classes and not work for the rights of women or those of poor people.
There are some organizations in the urban areas which are working actively basing themselves on Marxist analysis, seeing the roots for the exploitation and oppression of women in the class society and recognizing the link between women’s liberation and social revolution. Since a decade they have been working among the working class, students and employees among women. They are not only taking up movements against women’s oppression and other problems but also doing extensive propaganda among women about their rights and about the exploitation and oppression perpetuated on them.
It is an alarming phenomenon for the democratic and revolutionary women’s movements that the Hindutva forces are also working among women. They are reinstating age old feudal values in the name of opposing western culture. In the name of Hindu traditions and Bharat Mata they are diverting the growing consciousness of women. Not only that, they are carrying out vicious propaganda against religious minorities among them. They are even giving them military training in the name of Nari Shakthi.
In brief, the women’s movement is divided into various ideological streams all over the country. We have to study them and build up a strong women’s movement by fighting against the wrong ideological trends in them.
Po.Ma: How much do the outside people know about the revolutionary women’s movement? What is its impact?
Com.J: The adivasi women’s movement emerging in the Dandakaranya since the last decade has a lot of prominence in the history of contemporary women’s movement in India. The vigor and initiative of Kashmir women is more than in other parts of the country. Thousands of women are coming into the streets opposing the cruel repression of the army and all kinds of atrocities. After the political activeness of Kashmiri women it is the Dandakaranya adivasi peasant women who are playing an active role socially and politically. They are organized on a wide scale in large number of villages. They are opposing the age old patriarchal traditions inside the Gond adivasi society. They are participating in the armed struggle against the exploiting government and its army and in political campaigns. This is a big victory of the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan.
But it is very sad that very little is available outside about the extent of the KAMS and about its activities. The CPI (ML) (People’s War) members and sympathizers in other states know little about it. The party put in some efforts for this. The paper written for the Patna seminar (it was published in Telugu and Hindi), the book on women martyrs and some stories and short stories helped in propagating it. But information about this revolutionary women’s movement is not going out regularly. Even your magazine ‘Poru Mahila’ is seen outside very rarely. It is necessary to plan its distribution outside the movement areas also.
Nevertheless whatever little information they maybe getting but those belonging to democratic and revolutionary organizations are very much enthused about it. They are getting influenced by the determination and courage displayed by adivasi women. Widespread propaganda about KAMS and its activities is much needed. Through that we can give a fitting reply to the government’s negative propaganda about the approach of revolutionary parties towards the women’s question.
Po.Ma: Tell us about your experience in DK.
Com. J: Before coming to DK I read articles and reports about the women’s movement here. But I did not have an assessment that it was so widespread. That’s why I was very happy to see the size of this movement. I must tell you something. In the lessons taught about tribal societies in the colleges they say that the Gondi society is very liberal. But after observing the Muria, Madia and Dorla people from close quarters I understood how patriarchal the tribal society was too. I understood how important it is to study the problem of women’s oppression deeply. Though the participation of adivasi peasant women in the production process is widespread, patriarchy has curbed much of their basic rights.
While writing about the women’s movement during the war for new democratic society in China Jack Beldon, the American writer and journalist had written, ‘The Chinese Communist Party has got the key to the victory of the revolution. They have won over the most oppressed section of the Chinese society’. When I saw the women’s movement in DK it were these words of Beldon which came to my mind. In fact, after the Chinese Revolution it was the revolutionary movement in DK that has proven that where there is a people’s war, where there is armed struggle against the feudal, comprador, imperialist system for the victory of New Democratic Revolution, the working class women participate actively on a large scale for the emancipation of the whole society as well as for their own emancipation. People’s War had shattered the hesitations of the women. It doubled their strength. It showed the path for the liberation of women. There is a link between the semi feudal semi colonial society and women’s oppression. It has been proven once again by this victory of the DK party that the Marxist principle that we can carry forward the fight against patriarchy only along with the fight to end this system is correct.
Wherever the party is working systematically, we can see that the participation of women is more in all political activities and movements. In 1998 due to the severe famine conditions in South Bastar many women had migrated to Andhra Pradesh for daily wage work. There were KAMS range committee members too among them. But when we asked them to come for March 8 meetings, in one place 700 and in another 450 had attended. Before that in rallies against famine conditions thousands of them had participated. When I was there, women got recruited into the PGA on a large scale. In some places the recruitment of young women was more than the young men. The thing which influenced me the most was that the wives of married comrades who were already in the squads are also getting recruited. Many of them had given away even their little children to their relatives and are becoming guerilla warriors in the ongoing great People’s War for changing this society. And, I have seen many women comrades who stood steadfast with the People’s War without looking back even though within a few months their husbands had died in police encounter or in some other accident. By breaking away from the traditional, dreary, narrow confines of the family they like this new life more, though it is full of dangers. In that manner their life and their existence is becoming meaningful. I have seen many comrades taking training and taking up new responsibilities.
Building up KAMS units in every village, election of their committees, election of Range Committees in range conferences, sending the unit members to villages for propaganda campaigns, participation in bandhs and other protest activities, giving them military training – all these are victories of this movement. But what I have observed in my experience is that since the Area Committee members are engaged without respite in various kinds of responsibilities and due to some routine work style KAMS work is being neglected. We have to think of new methods to involve the elderly women in the villages. Women and their children are facing a number of health problems. By increasing their understanding in these matters and by paying special attention to their welfare we can increase their zest. We have to increase their participation in the village level meetings. Many people call the KAMS as an organization of young women. Widening their narrow knowledge of society is another challenge in front of us.
Likewise there is a need to give special social and political training to women members in the squads and platoons. We have to plan to give them continuous education in scientific knowledge regarding health problems. Though there are discussions on these topics due to lack of time and due to getting immersed in various works they get postponed. We can get rid of their inferiority by giving them scientific knowledge and imbibing wide social thinking among them.
Po.Ma: What is your message to the women working in squads and in KAMS in DK?
Com.J: Our adivasi women comrades in DK are building a new history today. Though it is a most backward area of the country it is in the first place in the ongoing women’s movement in the country. They are answering the guns of the police in a fitting manner by fighting equally with the men comrades in the armed struggle to free this country from the vicious clutches of imperialism, feudalism and comprador bourgeoisie. In the villages they are standing up for their rights by facing the threats and pressures of village elders. They are weakening patriarchy in Gondi adivasi culture.
Though they are opposing such big enemies and forces, the shyness and sense of subordination whose remnants are still present, are also their big enemies which are obstructing their development. Inferiority complex comes out of these. Its roots are very deep. What I want to tell my KAMS colleagues is that they should increase their self confidence. They have to fight against the enemy inside them. In the coming days KAMS will be facing many big challenges. The state repression is already there. Apart from that, the government will try to keep the adivasi society and culture in backwardness with the help of village elders and through adivasi leaders. It will become necessary for the KAMS to face them politically. Likewise the KAMS should keep itself ready to put forward its understanding regarding true liberation of women by intervention in the women’s movement which is going on in the form of various streams in the country. To face all these challenges our women comrades should attain political and ideological maturity and have self confidence.
(Translated by Nallamma. All emphasis in the original interview)