In Defence of Women’s Rights

Mar 28, 2014

Women, particularly those from the working poor, have faced grave economic and social insecurity in the years of UPA-2. The relentless rise in prices of essential commodities, the drastic loss of employment as brought out by official data, the escalation in cases of violence against women, are all pointers to the terrible situation being faced by them. Even the measures designed to give some relief to them forced on UPA-I through the pressure of movements led by the Left forces have been weakened and subverted under UPA-II.

In a country where 3 out of 5 women are anaemic, every second child under 3 years old is underweight, every third child is stunted and every fifth child is wasted, the budget for crucial flagship schemes and welfare programs in the financial year 2013-14 was slashed by nearly Rs.32,000 crores. Simultaneously, a staggering Rs 5.28 lakh crore rupees was foregone in the 2012-13 budget due to concessions in corporate tax.

The open plunder of natural resources by corporates with government facilitation has had the worst impact on women who have the primary responsibility to collect fodder, fuel, water, minor forest produce, etc. The encroachment and annexation of natural resources and the widespread displacement on account of land acquisition and large projects has meant that these resources have become less accessible and more expensive. At the same time the cuts in social sector spending have increased the responsibilities of women in domestic work and the care economy. The increased burden of this unrecognised work that women do, never ends.

The myriad failures of the UPA have led to widespread discontent. This is sought to be utilised by corporate backed, rightwing communal forces represented by the BJP whose politics are inimical to women’s rights. Communal ideologies represented by the RSS and the Hinduta forces see women as adjuncts of the male and continue to promote retrograde practices and theories in the name of tradition. These forces pose a grave threat to the right of independent citizenship of women enshrined in the constituion of India.

Betrayal on 33%

One of the biggest betrayals has been the utter failure of the UPA II to pass the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill, despite its majority in the Parliament. The BJP was complicit in stalling the Bill. With the exception of the Left parties, not a single opposition party seriously pressed for its passage in the Lok Sabha. Denying women their place in elected policy making institutions is a subversion of democracy.

Unprecedented violence against women

The degree and extent of violence against women - 68 rapes (3 rapes every hour) and 23 dowry deaths per day (almost 1 every hour) are an indicator of a disturbing and unacceptable trend. Women are facing the combined onslaught of neo liberal policies that has led to greater commodification of women, and the increased attacks being unleashed by casteist, communal forces with their patriarchal, and conservative mindsets.

The horrifying situation in W. Bengal where there has been a huge increase in the number of crimes against women shows that the politics of violence unleashed by the ruling party backed by its Government against its political opponents and indeed any dissenting voice, has serious consequences for all citizens and particularly women. It is a direct result of the criminalization of politics in W.Bengal and the patronage afforded to the criminals who have been defended by the Chief Minister herself such as her comments castigating women victims who have filed complaints of sexual assault. Rarely has India witnessed such insensitivity by a head of Government towards victims of sexual assault as by the Chief Minister of Bengal. For the second time in succession, West Bengal has reported the highest crimes against women, with a total of 30,942 cases in 2012, including 2,046 cases of rape and 4,168 cases of kidnapping

The latest all India figures are extremely shocking. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows a continuous increase in reported crimes against women, with a total of 2,44, 290 in 2012, a 6.8% increase over 2011. There was a 12.4. % increase in rapes (24,923) and an alarming increase of 28.4% in cases (38,262) of Kidnapping & Abduction over 2010. In the reported rape cases, 50.2% were women in the age-group 18-30. 12.5% were under 14 years of age, while 23.9% were adolescents in the age group 14-18 years.

Among the total cases reported in 53 ‘million plus’ cities in the country, Delhi accounted for 19.3% of the rape cases, 23.1% of kidnapping and abduction cases, 14.6% of dowry deaths and 10.9% of molestation cases.

Neither is rural Bharat any exception to this trend, as some RSS leaders have claimed. Indeed, the most vulnerable sections are the dalit, tribal and other marginalized sections of women. Between 9 September and 11 October 2012, there were 19 incidents of sexual assault in Haryana. Of these, 70% were incidents of gang rape. In 30% of the cases, the victims were from Dalit or Backward Caste communities. 47% of the victims were below the age of 20 years. The coalescence of old and new forms of violence is a chilling indictment of how unsafe the country has become for women and children, with child sexual abuse, acid attacks, crimes and killings in the name of honour, gang rapes on the rise.

In an alarming development which threatens the aspirations of our young girls, the NCRB recorded a total of 43,338 cases of child sexual assault in India between 2001 and 2011; there has been a 336% increase in child rape cases during this period. The highest numbers were recorded in Madhya Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra, UP, AP and Chhattisgarh. Shockingly, a report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights states that of the 39 cases it studied, 11 were from government run observation homes, while 27 were from private/NGO run shelter homes, children’s homes, destitute homes and orphanages. Apart from caretakers, security guards, cooks, senior inmates etc who were the perpetrators in both government and private institutions, offenders in private homes included managers, directors, owners, founders and their relatives and friends. The state has been lax in providing security and safety for children coming out to study and improve their condition.

The CPI(M) supports the Verma Committee Report which provided a comprehensive framework to address sexual violence, , and will struggle for proper implementation of the amendments that were passed in the Criminal Law after the Dec 16th 2012 gang rape and murder, which led to legal reform after unprecedented public outrage. It will continue to demand that existing deficiencies in the criminal justice system be identified and plugged so that the low conviction rates - at 24% for rape cases, 32% for dowry deaths and a paltry 21.3% for all crimes against women may be remedied.

The prescription for women’s safety by the conservative forces is that they stay safely within the confines of their homes. What is the reality? Some of the highest crime rates are within the home. The NCRB recorded 8,233 incidents of “Dowry Deaths” (Sec. 302 / 304 IPC), 1,06,527 complaints of “Cruelty by Husband and Relatives” (Sec. 498-A IPC) and 9,038 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act make up the bulk (50%) of the cases, indicating the extent of domestic violence of a criminal nature.

Although more and more women are coming forth to register complaints under the Act, allocation in the central budget has been nil, and cash strapped states have not put in place the independent Protection Officers with the requisite infrastructure and budgetary support to implement the Bill. What is required is strict implenentation of the law backed by social reform movements, education of young people, to make the equal status of women and men, girls and boys a reality, withn the home and in public places.

After 16 years of struggle primarily by women’s organisations for the implementation of historic Vishakha judgement of the Supreme Court, the Prevention of Sexual harassment at Workplace Act has finally been enacted. The CPI(M) had moved several important amendments to the Act to remove some serious flaws. However they were opposed both by the Government and the main opposition party, the BJP. The CPI(M) is committed to strengthening the Act.

Female feoticide: The 2011 Census figures have brought to the fore the further and steep decline in child sex ratios (CSR) from 927 to 914 between 2001 and 2011 and spread across 27 states and UTs. Recently released data from the 2011 Census shows a sex ratio of 919 for the age group for the age group 1 – 6 years, and even lower at 911 for 7-15 years, showing a gross neglect of the girl child. The situation exposes the utter failure by the State to implement the PCPNDT Act. It is also a damning indictment of the policies of the Congress and BJP Governments, which is fuelling an alarming hostility to girls. Gujarat under Modi has been one of the States which has consistently held a very bad record in child sex ratios.

Communal violence against Women

The shameful communal incidents in Muzaffarnagar in which several women from the minority community were raped, 40,000 muslim families were left homeless, is a taste of the divisive and communal politics being aggressively promoted by the Hindutva brigade. It is well established that under the patronage of the RSS various front organisations were working in the entire region to sow the seeds of division and hatred with an eye on the forthcoming elections. It is indeed shameful that the platform that was used was women’s security on the slogan “bahu, beti bachao” blaming the minority community for cases of sexual harassment. In fact as police records show, sexual harassment cases in the area involve criminals of both communities and the victims too belong to both communities. However emotions were inflamed and the worst cases of savagery were witnessed in an area which has remained a symbol of communal harmony between castes and communities. In other areas too the RSS front organisations have been actively promoting communal divisions. These have the worst impact on all women as they then become vulnerable targets to teach the” other community a lesson.”

Women’s security is linked to strengthening and defending forces committed to fight against the communal forces and their hate-filled, violence-marked ideologies andpractices.

Conservative backlash and moral policing

Crimes against women also link up to the backlash from casteist and reactionary forces, to the democratic assertions of women regarding their personal lives. Young couples going in for intercaste relationships have been facing the ire of self styled khap panchayats, whose dictates are unconstitutional and illegal. The spate of crimes in the name of honour is spreading as it gets entwined with vote bank politics. The government has failed to take action against Khaps and other such extra constitutional bodies who encourage such criminal acts for fear of losing political support. The CPI(M) stands for a stand alone law to deal with all so-called honour crimes and punitive action against all those who harass young couples for exercising their right to choose their partners.

There is conservative and patriarchal offensive from the reactionary forces that blame women themselves for the violence perpetrated against them. Moral policing by fundamentalist forces in all communities are also on the rise, with attempts to impose dress codes, ban the use of mobile phones by young women and prohibit co-education. There are attempts to reinforce control over women in the name of safety through extra-constitutional bodies. Such assaults on constitutional rights of women.

CPI(M) is firmly committed to an uncompromising fight against reactionary, divisive and communal forces and their anti-women ideologies.

Rampant Social injustice

A chilling feature of the last three years has been the huge escalation of violence against Dalits and Dalit women in particular. The NCRB data for 2012 reports a total of 1576 cases of rape of Dalit women, compared to 1349 in 2010. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan make up more than 50-60% of the cases. Haryana shows almost a doubling from 37 to 67 in this period. Despite the constitutional mandates against caste discrimination, untouchability as a form of social violence continues in many parts of the country. These have been highlighted in the struggles for temple entry, common burial grounds, against separating walls, etc launched by Left-led anti-untouchability platforms.

The CPI(M) is committed to the struggle against caste discrimination and violence against dalit women.

Women and work

Women’s work has become even more invisible, and devalued. They are being pushed into the unorganized sector, as domestic workers, or home based workers or contract labourers, characterized by low wages, no legal protection, and high vulnerability to exploitation. The introduction of FDI into the retail sector threatens the livelihood of lakhs of self employed women. Many poor women are forced to opt for unsafe and exploitative migration and trafficking.

Shockingly even as more women are being forced to take up any kind of work available to ensure family survival, Government data for employment shows that there has been a decline of over 2 crores of women from the workforce between 2004-5 and 2009-10, a period during which the economy grew at its fastest in many decades.

The unabated agrarian distress has created a serious crisis in rural areas. It is reflected in the high and continuing rate of farmers’ suicides and distress migration. As per NCRB data, a total of 2,70,940 Indian farmers have committed suicide; the yearly average between 2001 and 2011 is 16,743, or 46 suicides a day. The plight of the families whose main breadwinner is lost, and the sudden burden on the widow is a tragic reality of neo-liberal policies. Additionally, women are still not recognized or registered as farmers, they are left out of the credit ratings, and excluded from the debt waiver schemes. The recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission, which included specific measures for women, have been ignored.

The CPI(M) had pushed for passage of MNREGA in 2007-08 as an important instrument in addressing rural unemployment and distress. Specifically, the high participation of women which rose from 41% in 2006-07 to 52% in 2012-13 is a measure of the positive response from poor women. However because of the high productivity norms in general women are denied the minimum wage. The workdays in MNREGA have also come down to just about 45 workdays a year instead of the guaranteed 100 days. Now, the funds have been cut, and work is denied to beneficiaries, in violation of the mandate of the Act.

The CPI(M) has fought for proper implementation of the MNREGA, and will take forward the struggle for an Urban Employment Act as well.

The lakhs of women workers who are employed by the Government under flagship programmes, without any recognition of their rights- the anganwadi worker and helpers, the ASHAs, the mid day meal workers are being systematically denied their rights to a minimum wage. The CPI(M) will fight for their due recognition and rights as workers.

Price rise and food insecurity

Relentless Price rise

Price rise, and food insecurity have particularly badly affected women who in a patriarchal society are charged with managing household economies often cutting down on their own needs for family survival. While affecting the large majority of our people, price rise is a critical issue responsible the deterioration in women’s living standards and quality of life. It cannot be tackled without a change in policy, which only the Left has been advocating strongly. The CPI(M) calls for reintroducing regulation of petrol/ diesel prices, ban on futures trading in essential commodities, stringent action against hoarders and blackmarketeers, and universal coverage under the PDS instead of the inadequate and flawed National Food Security Act that has been adopted.

The CPI(M) is committed to a universal system of public distribution with a minimum of 35 kgs of foodgrains per family at not more that a prive of two rupees a kilo.

Social sector entitlements have come under attack, as the State- both UPA and BJP led Governments- withdraw from the provision of basic facilities to its people. The privatization policies of both these parties are transforming education and health into money spinning ventures. Without sufficient funds, and political intent, the right to education is completely diluted. The health sector has witnessed rapid corporatization promoted by Government at the cost of the public health services. Even daily necessities are getting privatized. In developed India, 58% families do not have access to piped water. More than half the households do not have access to toilets. The plight of women who carry this onerous responsibility has been worsened by the callous approach of the Congress and BJP governments to these needs. Public expenditure for the provision of universal affordable free services has declined sharply in the neo liberal era.

CPI(M) is strongly of the view that there can be no guarantee to a life of dignity for people without a commitment to providing basic entitlements like water, sanitation, housing, education and health for all.

The CPI(M) views the issues and demands of women as an intrinsic part of the democratic movement. The issues of women’s right to a violence free environment, social justice and a life of dignity is a central issue for the CPI(M) political agenda.

The CPI(M) pledges to work for the human rights of women, and will strive to put in place the alternative policies that tackle the multiple oppressions that chain and oppress women as workers and citizens.