Towards a Democratic and Secular Government to Strengthen Women’s Struggle for Equality and Emancipation
We the women of India regard the 17th General Elections to be held in 2019 as one of the most difficult challenges in front of all secular democratic forces in the country and an opportunity at the same time to dislodge the nightmarish regime of violence, fear, hunger and unemployment unleashed bythe RSS-BJP dominated Modi government in the last five years. Faced with their deliberate policy of destruction of thedemocratic and secular fabric of the country and the dreams of equality and emancipation for all sections that inspired our freedom struggle, we the women of India present this charter of demands to all politicalparties in opposition and urge upon them that they respond to it positively and make these demands a part of their Election Manifesto.
Why all democratic and secular forces must fight to dislodge the Modi Government
The extent of the devastation wreaked by the Modi Government and the RSS which guides it has not been calculated fully so far, but as he completes his fifth year in office, it seems to be a good time to recall the list of broken promises and to take an account at the same time of the larger economic, political, social damage done in his regime. We shall concentrate mainly on the Modi-effect on one particular segment of society: the women. Theyare the basic objectives of our struggle, namely, Equality, Gender Justice and Emancipation from all retrograde social norms, which are the very targets of Modi’s engine of destruction.This is seen in the ever increasing threat to food security calling up the spectre of hunger and malnutrition, rising unemployment, escalating communal and casteist attacks on the most vulnerable sections and an alarming increase in violence and brutality against women, especially girl children.
Never since Independence have we seen such blatant exclusionism, such arrogant concentration of power at the centre and so much use of force and fraud to retain power as in the Modi-regime. This is reflected in the fact that India is unparalleled today in the whole world in the speed at which the gap between the richest 1 percent and the poorest 70 percent has been growing. In 2014, the former had 49 percent of GDP under their control, which rose to 58.4 percent by 2016 and during the last year, to 73 percent of all additional wealth created in that year. The latter on the other hand, owned but 7 percent in 2016, half of what it had been in 2010.
How was this ‘achieved’? On one hand, we may say, by squeezing the poor to the maximum extent. In agriculture and related areas, which employ more than half our work-force, per capita real income came down by 2.02 percent between 2013-14 and 2017-18. In January 2018, agricultural wages were lowest in three years. By making the ‘Aadhar Card’ and biometric verification mandatory not just for banking but for various benefits like PDS and health services, large numbers of hungry and sick people were pushed out of the so-called ‘safety net’. Suicides of debt-trapped farmers denied remunerative prices, increased by 42 percent in the first 3 years of Modi, 61.28 percent of this being in BJP-ruled states. And these things happened not by acts of omission, but acts of commission which violate the basic premises of participatory, inclusive democracy. And it is precisely to fulfil these objectives that all democratic institutions including the Parliament and even the judiciary also had to be weakened.
This weakening of democracy, particularly the centralisation of governance, again facilitated the other side of Modi’s ‘achievement’: the massive rewards the rich were allowed to garner. Corporate write-offs during Modi’s years in office amount to Rs. 2,39,082 crores. Even the de-monetisation move, initiated without any consultations, not only brought distress and job-loss to petty producers and small traders, many women among them, but allowed owners of black money a surreptitious opportunity to launder it back into the open economy. Plans for recapitalisation of public sector banks reeling under ‘bad debts’ incurred by corporates were but devices to force their bailing-out by pressurizing ordinary Indian depositors.
The Finance Bill of 2018 was used as a cover to amend the FCRA, RBI Act, Income Tax Act and Representation of People Act without any reference to the Parliament, so that there might be free flow of corporate money into party coffers. Looting of land and other natural resources by predatory corporate capital, without any regard for rights of residents or environmental concerns, became a matter of routine. Laws and schemes which might have brought some benefit to the working people, particularly the underprivileged sections among them, such as the Food Security Act, Right to Education Act, Forest Rights Act, MNREGA, all of which had been wrested through long and arduous struggles, were diluted and diminished either by starving them of adequate budgetary allocations, or by creating hurdles in the implementation, or by amendments passed through force of brute majority.
The Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS) is the largest scheme for nutritional needs of women and children in the country. This has been rendered moribund through inadequate funding and is now in the process of being handed over to profit-hungry private ‘religious’ agencies. Similarly, whatever public infrastructure had developed for universal primary healthcare services is being undermined and handed over to the mercy of big business in health in the name of ‘health and wellness centres’ and schemes like ‘Ayushman Bharat’. The ASHA scheme of rural health workers is being continually weakened. The women working in ICDS and ASHA have not even been granted the status of workers.
Modi when he came to power, promised to control price rise but, in fact, prices of essential commodities are skyrocketing and the public distribution system has collapsed. The mandatory linkage of Aadhaar and the elimination of legitimate beneficiaries are resulting in starvation deaths. Anaemia enfeebles more than half our women 71 years after India’s independence. One third of our children are stunted. 20 crore of our people still go to bed hungry. In a country which has the highest number of malnourished women and children in the whole world, it is a crime to cut access to life saving food rations. The death of 11 year old Santoshi in Jharkhand due to denial of rations over 6 months, of 58 year old Savitri in Uttar Pradesh who could not renew her card due to infirmity and died of starvation, and many more cases of such denial are grim pointers to the crucial importance of the PDS in providing a life line to the poor.
Flagship schemes like ‘Ujjwala’ have turned out to be a hoax. Beginning from the time when she gets the connection under the scheme, a woman has to pay in instalments Rs.1500 for the stove and one gas cylinder; the subsidy on the refill, out of which she probably pays this, has already been curtailed and its price has gone up at least by a whopping 20 percent. How can she maintain the much-hyped gas connection even if she has got it? Even without recalling the plight of millions of poor families who are not covered under the above-mentioned scheme, suppose our Ujjwala beneficiary to be the wife or the mother of one of the millions of transport workers all over the country liable to lose their livelihoods as more and more buses and taxis are withdrawn as a result of the on-going hike in oil prices. Think also how that price-rise will affect the market-prices of all commodities that have to be transported. Does the scheme help her at all?
Look at another much-hyped scheme, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the special significance of which for women is always emphasised in the campaign. This was a scheme for the poor meant to address a need for access to basic amenities that might counter inequality and was also meant to release manual scavengers, men and women, from social inequity of the worst kind and give them option to other means of livelihood. But the ban on manual scavenging notwithstanding, over 300 people engaged in this job died in 2017 alone. The last budget allotted a measly 20 crores for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Attacks on Dalits all over the country have increased by 40 percent between 2012 and 2015, rapes of Dalit women from 1349 in 2010 to 2326 in 2015. Data from 2016 tells us that in 90 percent cases of crimes against Dalits and Adivasis no redress has been found. Even the Supreme Court seemed recently bent on diluting the law for their protection. Is it a wonder then that manual scavengers, who are among the most deprived sections of the Dalits, should be cheated of the benefits of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Further, the poor whom the scheme is supposed to benefit, in particular women among them, are finding that it is being used as a rod to beat them with. They are being subjected to public shaming, exclusion from basic rights like rations and ‘toilet vigilantism’ leading to the death at least of one man, because they did not have the means to install operational toilets at home.
The living conditions of women, and of all sections of the working people, have deteriorated sharply as a result of the neo-liberal, pro-corporate and corrupt policies of the Modi regime. The Modi regime promised two crore jobs per year, but has not provided jobs to even two lakh per year. On the contrary, demonetisation and GST under the Modi regime have directly resulted in the loss of 1.5 crore jobs.Women lost 88 lakh jobs whereas men lost 22 lakh jobs.A recent report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) shows that unemployment rates have reached 7.2 percent, highest since 2016. Unemployment is at a 45-year high and women, especially from disadvantaged groups, are worst hit by it. Particularly in rural India, the number of employed dropped between February 2018 and February 2019 from 40.59 crores to 40.01 crores.Unemployment for rural women, aged 15-29, rose from 4.8 percent in 2011-12 to 13.6 percent in 2017-18 (NSSO Report).
In our country where more than 10 lakh job-seekers enter the job market every month, unemployment is at its highest among women most of whom work in the informal sector, and women’s work participation rate (a mere 25.8 percent) is the lowest since Independence. 77 per cent of the households in the country have no regular wage/salaried person. The BJP regime is out to throttle and dismantle MNREGA by starving it of funds. The disastrous policies of the Modi government have aggravated the problems of women, both those working or seeking work. Their desperation for work has made them vulnerable to the worst forms of economic and sexual exploitation.
The promises of ‘achhe din’ are being betrayed at every step. The Government expresses concern about the declining labour force participation of women and ‘growing informalisation’ of women’s work and promises to bring them into the formal economy; but how? By creating part-time jobs with ‘flexi-hours’ for women in the organized sector, so that more full-time jobs can be put into the back-burner and less needs to be paid in wages. Isn’t this proposal on a par with the other more recent plan to replace permanent jobs by ‘fixed-term’ appointments? The government also talks of more jobs for women in the IT sector when in reality this sector is already hit by acute job-loss.
Modi came to power with the promise of 33 percent reservation for women in Parliament and assemblies and 50 percent in panchayats; this seems quite shameless when we consider that the Government has deliberately sidelined the Reservation Bill over the last 5 years; additionally, women’s participation in panchayats in BJP-ruled states is being jeopardized by introduction of unconstitutional conditions like having minimum educational qualifications, operational toilets and two-child norm! In policy, everything will be done to strengthen social security and availability of pensions, subsidies, crèches, hostels, shelter homes etc. In practice, budgetary support for all this is being severely curtailed!
The promise of correcting child sex ratio imbalance by implementation of PCPNDT Act and awareness generation is belied by the latest data showing a dip in CSR in 17 out of 21 states, knocking the bottom out of government claims about the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ scheme. Instead of implementing the Right to Education Act for increased enrolment and retention of girl children, state-aided schools in thousands are being closed down in BJP-ruled states. Through UGC directives, access is being made more difficult for under-privileged students in centrally-funded universities. Growing student suicides say something about the vicious atmosphere prevailing within such institutions.
The increased economic vulnerability of women has also increased their social vulnerability. Crimes against women and children have increased by 34 percent in the first four years of the Modi Raj. In the single year 2016-17, there was 2.9 percent increase again.In the same year, there was 13.6 percent increase in crimes against children and 83 percent increase in child rape. According to NCRB figures, available only till 2016, 6.68 lakh cases of violence against women were recorded by the police across the country in 2015 and 2016 together. These numbers are staggering – translating into about 915 cases every day or nearly 40 incidents every hour. In 2016 alone, there were nearly 39,000 reported incidents of rape. That’s over four rapes every hour, across the country. Nearly 17,000 girls below the age of 16 were raped in 2016. Cases of violence against children that are pending in courts have risen to an all-time high of over 2 lakh. And conviction rates for all crimes against women were just 19 percent and for rape only 25 percent. That means one in four rapists is getting away scot free! Since many cases are not even reported, or registered by the police, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Gang-rape, abduction, physical and mental abuse, torture of various kinds, threats of killing and rape are not isolated incidents. Instead they are a part of the larger systemic problem. Concerted efforts have been made by some groups to show women their ‘true place’. With the political patronage of the BJP-RSS, there has been a spurt in the number and brutality of such incidents against women. BJP-RSS goons were directly involved in the horrific gang rape and murder cases in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, the gang rapes at Khunti in Jharkhand and the sex scandals in shelter homes in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh. The serial crimes against women in BJP-ruled Tripura are condemnable. On paper, there is much talk of taking steps to monitor investigation agencies to effectively curb crimes against women, in practice the government is diluting 498A, and slashing funds meant for prevention and redress. The much-bruited Nirbhaya funds lie largely unutilised.
Worse still, the BJP and the fascistic RSS have been unleashing terror by spreading caste and communal hatred and violence. Mob lynching has become the order of the day. Self-appointed ‘cow-vigilante’ groups are having a free rein and are roaming scot-free after killing people with impunity. They have taken the law into their own hands and have derived tacit support from their political masters. The minorities, Dalits and women are their special targets.
The overarching ‘manuvadi’ ideology of the RSS treats women and Dalits as subordinates and unequal citizens. The Muslim is identified as the satanic ‘other’. Attack on a girl-child of a minority community, intensifying the atmosphere of terror as in Kathua, is part of the same story as increasing fake encounter deaths in UP, so-called ‘cow-vigilantism’ against Dalits and Muslims, legal interventions banning or restricting cattle trade, detention of innocent Muslim youth on false charges and on the other hand, release of members of Hindutva outfits charged with acts of terrorism. Aggressive ‘Hindu’ nationalism is being used to silence all voices of dissent. The killing of 40 jawans in Pulwama by a terrorist suicide bomber is used as an occasion for harassment of Kashmiri citizens and jingoistic muscle-flexing.
The recent revelations about the hand of the Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindutva outfit, in the assassinations of Gauri Lankesh, M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, point to the terrorist nature of the former organisation. The latest arrests of human rights activists, lawyers and intellectuals reveal the Modi regime’s authoritarian and repressive character of suppressing all dissent.Not only do we find those in governmental seats of power bluffing about the miraculous advances made by science and technology in ‘Hindu’ India and challenging Darwin, but similar people occupy seats of power in almost all national and state institutions, even universities and research bodies which are supposed to enjoy some autonomy; such people are themselves sponsoring educational and research institutions.Thugs like Ram Rahim of Dera Saccha Sauda and Asaram Bapu are allowed to grow and flourish until the rot becomes too evident to cover. ‘Garbh-Vigyan’ professing to help women produce ‘quality babies’ having the desired sex is promoted by people in high places.
On the other hand, the myth of ‘love jihad’ is propagated creating anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit paranoia. Horrors of rising communal and caste fundamentalism within Hindu society are revealed in growing incidents of honour crimes in Modi’s 4 years (79 percent rise just in one year, 2014-2015). If Modi is a champion of women’s causes, how is it that he has not moved a finger to bring in stringent legal measures against such crimes? How is it that his henchmen keep on mouthing words of praise for caste-based khap panchayats and profess that a law against ‘honour crimes’ is likely to be misused by women in the same manner as, according to him, they ‘misuse’ 498A of IPC? This unconcern for oppressive customs which victimize Hindu women lays bare the hypocrisy of shedding crocodile tears for divorced Muslim women by criminalising triple talaq after it has already been made illegal by a Supreme Court Order. This ethics of divisiveness and hatred is strengthened by the official and unofficial leanings of the party in power.
We the women of India call upon all opposition political parties, national, and regional, to include our following demands in their election manifesto for the 17th Lok Sabha elections. We will conduct a widespread campaign amongst the electorate on the basis of this Women’s Charter.
• Enact the 33 percent Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve one-third seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women immediately.
• Remove all unconstitutional provisions in states preventing women from contesting in panchayat and municipal elections to ensure their participation in 50 percent reservation in these decision-making bodie.
Food Security and Price Rise:
• Universalise the PDS to exclude only tax payers. Ensure a minimum entitlement of 35kgs of foodgrains per household. Ensure ration cards to all, especially single women, unorganized sector workers, disabled, migrants and street dwellers.
• Strengthen the PDS and provide pulses, sugar, tea, edible oil, salt, milk and vegetables at controlled prices through ration shops. Take strict action against hoarders and blackmarketeers under the Essential Commodities Act. Ban futures trading in essential commodities.
• Remove the cap on number of domestic LPG cylinders available at subsidised prices. Ensure a minimum quota of at least 5 litres of kerosene per person at controlled prices through the PDS shops. Provide subsidised LPG for cooking Midday Meals and at ICDS Centres.
• Reduce prices of petrol and diesel
• Stop cash transfers, linkage of Aadhar and biometric machines for availing of essential commodities especially food and fuel through the PDS.
• Universalise the ICDS. Ensure hot cooked meals in ICDS, MDMS and other nutrition programs.
• Control the price of all essential drugs.
• Extend procurement of all food crops at remunerative prices in all areas of the country.
Employment and Wages:
• Remove the 100 workdays cap in the MNREGA. Revise work norms and ensure payment of minimum wages to women. Remove all backlog on wages. Ensure implementation of crèches at worksites.
• Enact an Urban Employment Guarantee Act.
• Regularise ICDS, ASHA, Midday Meal and other scheme workers with minimum wages pensions and social security benefits.
• Universalize and implement the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act of 2008. Provide adequate budgetary support to implement various social security schemes in a single window system.
• Implement a special protective legislation for agricultural workers for minimum and equal wages, maternity benefit and pensions and other social security for them.
• Recognise working women in the organised and unorganised sector as independent economic units.
• Ensure equal and index linked minimum wages of at least Rs 18000 per month.
• Implement a universal and mandatory child care scheme.
• Set up Committees and ensure implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.
• Ban FDI and control the entry of big business houses in retail trade.
• Include women’s Self Help Groups as part of priority credit sector and provide them with loans at 4 percent. Ensure adequate training and marketing support for their products. Pass a law to stringently regulate MFIs.
• Fill up all permanent posts in the public sector instead of promoting casualization in them.
• A minimum universal non-contributory publicly funded pension of Rs 2000 per month for all women above the age of 55 years, all widows and all disabled women irrespective of age.
• Increase public spending on Education to 6 percent and on Health to 5 percent of the GDP.
• Regulate and bring social control on private health services. Promote universal and free public health care for all.
• Regulate and monitor clinical trials.
• Enact a Central law to provide free and compulsory education in the age group 0-18years, with special emphasis on the girl child. Regulate private investment both in school and higher education. Restore scholarships particularly for students from disadvantaged sections.
• Remove the two child norm. Give priority to single women, SC, ST, minority women headed households and disabled women in all welfare schemes. Ensure rehabilitation of women and children in households affected by suicides of farmers, handloom workers, agricultural workers, etc.
• Implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Committee for reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and jobs.
Land, Water, Natural Resources
• Distribute surplus ceiling land to landless households with joint pattas to women.
• Ensure land for house sites for all homeless, with priority to single women in rural and urban areas in the joint names of women and men.
• Prevent the diversion, acquisition, encroachment and takeover of common lands like pastures, community forests, scrublands, etc and ensure user rights for women over them, especially for those from SC, ST, migrant and nomadic communities. Implement Forest Rights Act and stop displacement of tribals in forest areas.
• Treat women as Project Affected Persons in all relief and rehabilitation measures, minimise displacement, no displacement without prior informed consent; ensure alternative means of employment and livelihood for women displaced due to infrastructure, urbanisation and industrial projects.
• Stop privatisation of water resources and drinking water schemes in rural and urban areas. Give priority to water for irrigation and drinking water purposes.
Resource Mobilisation and Budgetary Allocations:
• Increase substantially public expenditure on economic and social development programmes for the people, maintain integrity and ensure full utilisation of allocated resources, stop budget cuts on pro-people works.
• Provide central budgetary support for the effective implementation of the PWDV Act, anti-Sexual Harassment Act, Criminal Law Amendment Act and for schemes to support survivors of crimes against women, particularly sexual assault, acid attack, honour crimes and sectarian violence.
• Stop proliferation of liquor vends as a source of revenue mobilisation.
• Ensure that all Ministries and Departments effectively allocate at least one third of total budget for women. Ensure a minimum of 30 percent allocations for women within schemes for SC, ST, Denotified Tribes, Minorities and other socially deprived groups. Ensure that allocations for sub-plans for minorities, dalits and tribals are not diverted.
• Stop giving tax concessions to the rich and corporate sector. Raise taxes on the wealthy and the corporate sector and unearth black money in order to increase the expenditures on public infrastructure, health, education, welfare schemes, etc. Identify ‘bad debts’ and ensure their speedy return to public sector banks, imposing stringent penalties on defaulters.
Protection of Civil Rights
• Enact acomprehensivelawagainstcommunalviolence. Ensure speedyjusticeandadequatecompensationtothevictimsofcommunal violence, particularly rape survivors and children. Enact a comprehensive law against superstitions and irrational practices. Ban assassin outfits like ‘Sanatan Sanstha’.
• Prevent dilution of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and amend it to include obstructing the use of common resources such as wells, ground, social and economic boycotting, prevention of participation in elections, etc. Make adequate budgetary provision for rehabilitation of manual scavengers.
• Provide for the reparation and compensation of families of wrongfully confined minority and tribal youth. Take stringent action against army, para-military and security personnel indulging in human rights violations in disturbed areas including Kashmir. Start dialogues and economic uplift in such areas to ensure the safety and the human dignity of the people, to ease tension and to prevent growth of internal militancy.
• Scrap the colonial Sedition Law to remove the ‘culture of fear’.
• Enact an anti-racist law to ensure greater security of people from the North-East.
• Scrap divisive Citizenship Bill and stop harassment of people in Assam by putting them in camps.
Violence against Women and Legal Issues:
• Implement all the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report. Include sexual violence against women from SC, ST and minority communities as aggravated sexual assault. Make marital rape an offence. Safeguard Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
• Provide central budgetary support for the effective implementation of the PWDV Act, anti-Sexual Harassment Act and schemes to support survivors of crimes against women, particularly sexual assault, acid attack, honour crimes and sectarian violence.
• Fast track all cases of violence against women within a legally bound period of time.
• Increase the number of judges and courts to bring the judge-population ratio on par with global best standards and ensure speedier trials.
• Stringent implementation of the PcPNDT Act. Safeguard women’s right to safe abortion.
• Protect young couples in a relationship and their right to choose a partner. Enact a comprehensive stand-alone law to deal with crimes in the name of “Honour” and to regulate khap panchayats.
• Amend the criminal law so that the statutory rape provision does not apply in consensual sexual relations between young couples when the girl is 16 years or more and the age difference is 3 years or less.
• Enact a comprehensive law to prevent trafficking of women and children for labour and sexual exploitation. Oppose the proposal to delink prostitution and trafficking. Make child labour illegal in all forms even when it is supposed to be in the interest of ‘family enterprise’.
• Enact a law for equal rights in marital and inherited property for all women. Strengthen laws relating to maintenance for women and children. Ensure protection and adequate maintenance and rehabilitation for all deserted women including those who are victims of instantaneous talaq. Scrap ordinance criminalising triple talaq.
• Make registration of marriages compulsory.
• Introduce and enforce a stringent liquor policy to control production and sale of liquor. Delegate powers to women gram sabhas and ward sabhas to permit opening liquor vends in the area.
• Ensure the availability of Government-funded, free rehabilitation and de-addiction facilities, and incentivise poor working-class households to seek de-addiction care by providing compensation for households of those who seek such care.
• Ensure adequate economic and social rehabilitation for LGBTQ community and protection of privacy of same sex adult consensual relationships.
• The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 must not be reintroduced in the new Parliament. It must be freshly drafted in consultation with transgender groups.
• Institute and implement a Code of Conduct for the prevention of anti-women derogatory statements by persons in public office. Draft and implement a gender-sensitive Media Code.
• Strengthen the autonomous functioning of the National and State Commissions for Women, the selection and composition of the members must be made through an institutionalised, independent and transparent process and Members should not be political appointees but experienced professionals and women’s rights activists.
• Promote and financially support Women’s Studies Centres in all Universities.
ALL INDIA DALIT MAHILA ADHIKAR MANCH (AIDMAM)
ALL INDIA DEMOCRATIC WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION (AIDWA)
ALL INDIA MAHILA SANSKRITIK SANGHATHAN (AIMSS)
ALL INDIA PROGRESSIVE WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION (AIPWA)
GUILD OF SERVICE
MUSLIM WOMEN’S FORUM (MWF)
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDIAN WOMEN (NFIW)
PUROGAMI MAHILA SANGHATHAN (PMS)