March-April 2013

Table of Contents

  1. The Message of Feb 20-21General Strike
  2. All Out Crackdown on the Working Class in Noida
  3. First-ever Two-Day Nationwide General Strike
  4. People’s Watch Over Parliament
  5. Long Live Women’s Struggle for Justice and Freedom
  6. An Ordinance That Dilutes and Subverts Justice Verma Recommendations
  7. Protest Against Afzal Guru’s Execution

Struggles in India

The Message of Feb 20-21General Strike:

Heed the People’s Voice or Quit Office

– Liberation, March, 2013.

Even as the Parliament in India began its annual budget session, millions of Indians went on strike across the country calling for urgent policy changes. The general strike called by 11 central trade unions and large numbers of sector-based federations and independent trade unions evoked massive response across the country. This was the 15th general strike called by Trade unions in the last two decades when liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation became the religion of India’s ruling elite. But this was the first time when trade unions called for a two-day strike and stuck to it despite the government trying to mislead the unions with empty last-minute gestures. And this was one trade union strike that truly became general with broader social support and all-out involvement of the Communists Party of India (Marxist Leninist) [CPI(ML)] and other parties of the Left and a section of the non-Congress non- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposition.

The powerful pan-union strike reflected a growing unity and assertion of the Indian working class. The unity one sees above in the form of all trade union centres including the Indian National Trade Union Cngress (INTUC) and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) – the trade union wings of the Congress and the BJP, the two parties that must share the biggest responsibility for the pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies that have been proved ruinous for the working people – coming together for a pan-union strike reflects a much more powerful united resolve of the working class at factory/office/occupation/sector level. It is the growing assertion of the unorganised/contract/honorarium-based workers, of young men and women, who now constitute the overwhelming majority of the Indian working class which has forced all trade unions to join hands even though unions in the railways once again hesitated to join the strike.

The demands raised by the strike reflected the common interests of all sections of workers, of workers as a class cutting across sectors and categories. The strike was as much against privatisation as for regularisation of contract/honorarium-based workers, social security for unorganised workers and a minimum monthly wage of Rs 10,000 for all workers. It is equally significant that workers have come out loud and clear against the government’s decision to open up the lucrative retail sector with an estimated annual volume of 450 billion dollars and the crucial pension fund for the global retail and financial giants, reflecting the common concern of small traders, shop employees, small peasants, low-income consumers and pensioners. And then there has been the most burning issue of rising prices that are making big holes in every pocket.

In the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), especially in Noida, the strike has been followed by a massive crackdown and the imposition of a virtual emergency on the entire working class. An instance of arson and looting by miscreants in the wake of the strike has been used as a pretext for wholesale witch-hunt and framing of falsified charges against Trade Union (TU) activists and ordinary workers alike, for imposition of Section 144, and for deployment of paramilitary forces in the industrial and working class localities.

The strike has sent out a message of warning from the people to the country’s rulers. The people have made it clear that they want the government to act fast and show results, and not deliver empty rhetoric. The aam aadmi (ordinary citizen) wants prices to be checked and all essential goods and services made adequately available and affordable to the common people. The decision to allow FDI in retail sector and pension fund must be scrapped. The land acquisition bill must be discarded and law made to protect agricultural land. And the government will also have to act on the two big issues that have been rocking the whole country – corruption and assault on women. Let the government just take three immediate steps – terminate the chopper contract, blacklist Finmeccanica and Wal-Mart for paying bribes and implement the recommendations of Justice Verma Committee in letter and spirit.

The popular resolve reflected in the strike must now be carried forward towards a greater assertion and awakening of the people. As the Lok Sabha election approaches, let the whole world know that 2014 will not be about making a certain Modi or a certain Gandhi the next PM of this country, but about changing the course of the Indian economy and Indian politics, and saving India from corporate plunder and American domination.

Struggles in India

All Out Crackdown on the Working Class in Noida

– Kavita Krishnan, EPW, March 2, 2013.

(An activist’s account of the working class anger and outrage in the NCR region during the two-day strike. It contradicts the media construction of the workers as a destructive mob. The basis for the anger of the workers lies in the blatant strangulation of industrial democracy, denial of rights to organise and unionise, and the open violation of labour laws, including minimum wage and contract work laws.)

The dominant media narrative about the two-day all-India Strike called by trade unions was one of ‘hooliganism’ by workers and inconvenience caused to the ‘public’. As is usual, the main demands of the striking workers found little space in the media’s discussion of the strike. The working class – usually invisible, both at the workplace and where they live – attained visibility on TV screens only as a ‘mob’. Workers, whose labour is, after all, the source of all production, are seen and shown as a source of wanton and mindless destruction. On 20 February 2013, the narrative of the workers as a destructive mob, was constructed with images of stone-pelting, arson and looting in Noida on the first day of the strike. What followed has been an all-out crackdown on workers all across Noida.

Before we get to what is taking place in Noida, let us talk briefly about why India’s working class responded so magnificently to the strike. The strike was successful in most of the vital sectors of India’s economy: oil, telecom, mining, defence, power, port and dock, insurance, transport, post, banking and income tax. State government employees also took part in the nation-wide strike. Industrial workers all over the country shut down the production in both public and private industrial centres. In the National Capital Region (NCR), the Gurgaon-Dharuhera industrial belt of Haryana remained virtually closed on the second day of the strike. Contract workers and workers of the unorganised sector participated fully in the strike everywhere. Several states – including Kerala, Bihar and Jharkhand – observed a complete bandh.

Workers’ Demands

What were the workers saying, by striking for two days? They were demanding measures to curb price rise and unemployment. They were demanding that labour laws be enforced strictly. They were demanding compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days, and immediate ratification of the ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 that concern workers’ right to organise and collective bargaining. They were protesting against the rampant contractualisation of work of a perennial nature, in both public and private sector, in blatant violation of the law. They were demanding that mandated minimum wages be paid, and that the statutory minimum wage be fixed at not less than Rs 10,000. The government and the industrialists that are accusing workers of lawlessness, are themselves guilty of systematically abusing the laws enacted to protect workers’ rights.

In Wazirpur Industrial Area of Delhi, around 20,000 workers came out on the streets on the second day of the strike in a protest march organised by various trade unions, including the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). For workers employed in the factories in this industrial area, one of the key issues is the blatant and open denial of minimum wages. Some years ago, a struggle to demand payment of minimum wages in one factory was met with a ‘united’ opposition of all the industrialists in the area, and the local MLA as well. The struggle succeeded only thanks to the upswell of support from workers across factories and their families, most of whom are migrants living in the local illegal slum cluster that abutts a railway track. When a worker has been killed in a workplace accident and the management tries to fudge records to avoid paying his wages and compensation, women from this slum cluster, most of them married to the factory workers, have spontaneously gheraoed (surrounded) the factory and forced the management to pay the dues. In the slum cluster where the workers live with the constant threat of eviction, basic amenities such as water, drainage and sanitation are not available. Most of the migrant workers struggle for voter identity cards and BPL ration cards. Every time there is a major all-India strike, the response here is huge. During the strike, the anger of the young workers is palpable, and not uncommonly, factories that remain open and barricade their workers inside to prevent them from joining the strike, are targeted. This is not wanton vandalism – it is a bid to free fellow workers from the factory that uses coercion to prevent workers from exercising their right to strike. This time too the workers marched for hours in the lanes of Wazirpur, enforcing the strike, and they blockaded Delhi’s Ring Road for a couple of hours. But there was no looting: what was seen was the collective, organised anger and energy of the working class.

Police Action Against the Workers

What, then, happened in Noida on 20 February? For the large part, workers participated in the strike in Noida as they did in the rest of the country. But in a few pockets of Noida, especially Phase-II, there was arson and looting. Who, in fact, was responsible for that violence? Clearly, it was not the trade unions that planned and executed the arson – if they had, why would such actions be confined to a few pockets of Noida alone? Though the perpetrators of the violence are not known, the incident has been used by the Uttar Pradesh government, the police and the administration, to strangle the workers’ movement in Noida.

A virtual emergency has been imposed on Noida – at least on the working class. The Provincial Armed Constabulary is patrolling the area and conducting flag marches. Section 144 has been imposed all over Noida till the end of February. Reportedly, 150 people have been arrested against 338 FIRs. Trade union leaders have been systematically targeted and jailed. Many of them have been charged with attempt to murder, arson, rioting and looting. Ordinary striking workers and even by-standers have been branded as criminals and jailed. The entire working class in Noida today has been criminalised.

Several of us from Communist Party of India (Marxist-Lenist) (CPI(ML)) and All India Students’ Association (AISA) visited Noida on 22 February, following the arrest of 17 AICCTU activists on 21 February. On the morning of 21 February, our activists – including Delhi-NCR AICCTU Secretary Shyamkishor Yadav – were sitting inside the AICCTU office in Noida Sector 10, which is on the road adjoining the Sector 10 slum cluster. The activists, most of them unorganised sector workers, including rickshaw pullers and street vendors, were preparing to hold a march in support of the second day of the strike. They were arrested from inside their office, from where they could not have possibly violated Section 144! The AICCTU office in Sector 10 is very far (at least 20 kms away) from Noida Phase-II, where most of the violence occurred. The AICCTU activists had never even visited Phase-II.

On 22 February morning, when we arrived at the Sector 10 office, there was a palpable feeling of terror among the local workers and activists. We were told it was not safe to stand near a trade union office. Eyewitnesses told us that on the previous morning, a large fleet of white ambassador cars (15-20 of them) with flashing red lights drew up and disgorged a posse of police as well as several VIPs from the local police and administration. Mediapersons were also reported to be in these cars – presumably comfortably ‘embedded’ in the local administration. Once our activists were arrested from inside their office, they were paraded in front of the media, while the top police officials informed the media that the ‘culprits’ of the previous day’s rioting had been caught!

We waited in our office, trying to gather people who could stand bail for those arrested. We were also calling up the police, trying to get information on the status and whereabouts of those arrested. Several police vehicles drew up, and a large number of cops descended on us, including the SHO of the Sector 20 police station. The latter told us that we must disperse immediately, or else she would have us arrested! They waited till we left the place. Clearly, being in the vicinity of a trade union office, or being a trade union activist, is enough to merit being arrested in Noida today.

We then went to the Phase-II police station where those arrested had been detained. At the police station we were told that there was no question of bail, and that all those arrested would be jailed by evening. We asked to meet the arrested people and were told that one of us would be allowed to do so. I went inside the police station to meet our comrades in the lock-up. I was told to switch off my mobile phone before going in. I realised later that the demand was made to prevent me from taking photographs of the conditions in which the arrested workers were kept.

The police lock-up is a tiny 8 feet by 8 feet room, totally dark, with no light whatsoever. Through the bars I saw and greeted Comrade Shyamkishor. He is recovering from an accident, because of which he cannot sit on the floor easily nor stand for long periods of time. But inside that tiny room, there were 45 men sitting and standing in impossibly cramped conditions. There was a toilet, I was told, but it was flooded and completely unusable. And the men had not been given water to drink for several hours. They had been there since the night of the 21 February, cooped up in that pen and deprived of basic rights and dignities. Seeing me, several of the young workers, all migrants, were desperate to have me note down contact numbers of their families members, who would be worried about their whereabouts. They had not been informed about what they were being accused of, and what sections they were being booked under. Their families had not been informed about their arrest. Some family members who managed to reach the police station were not allowed to meet their arrested relatives.

When I asked the authorities about the conditions in which those arrested had been kept, he said, “What can we do, we have to keep them in a place allocated for such arrests by the government”. I asked them, had a politician or an industrialist been arrested, would they also be kept in such a lock-up? Since a large number of people had been arrested, why could they not be detained in a stadium or any other large space? Why should they be denied the right to inform their families? The answer was clear: the manner of the arrest and detention, and the denial of dignity, were punitive, intended to victimise and intimidate the entire working class.

I called on the number given to me by one of the arrested boys, Ram Bahadur. His aunt kept saying he had been on his way to visit a relative when he vanished. “My boy is bright, educated and a hard worker – why is he being treated like a criminal?” she asked. Throughout the day, Ram Bahadur’s family kept calling up, feeling utterly shocked and helpless about the arrest of their son and breadwinner. Another concerned person trying to meet the detainees at the police station told us that among those arrested was a schoolmaster in Sector 10 Noida, who had been sitting on the road reading a paper when he was arrested. We secured a copy of one of the FIRs, which named 59 people, charging them with charges as serious as attempt to murder ( Section 307). All those arrested have now been shifted to Dasna Jail.

In the FIR that named Shyamkishor Yadav, the SHO of Sector 20 police station stated that she and her team were on a raid when they received information that a group of people were gathering to protest. On reaching the spot, they found 34 people, whom they instantly recognised as the ones responsible for the arson and looting carried out the previous day. She further stated that they arrested all of them, and that their families would be duly informed of their arrest. She took care to add that the guidelines laid down by the honourable Supreme Court were followed to ensure that there were no human rights violations, and those arrested had no complaints against the police! The rest of the FIR was a litany of names of those arrested.

There is, as of now, no evidence of who exactly was responsible for the arson and looting in Noida Phase-II. But without any evidence, why are all trade union leaders and ordinary workers being randomly arrested and booked in blatantly concocted cases for serious crimes? Why is terror being unleashed against Noida’s working class and trade union movement?

Working class anger and outrage in the NCR region, contrary to the media construction, is reasoned and with basis. And the main basis for this anger is the blatant strangulation of industrial democracy, denial of rights to organise and unionise, and the open violation of labour laws, including minimum wage and contract work laws. Noida’s slum clusters where the workers live, are in stark contrast to the massive gated communities that are enclaves for the rich, carved out of what until recently was fertile farmland.

The industrialists, government, and mainstream media, rant righteously about the trade unions that ‘break the peace’. Maintaining exploitative work conditions by denying the right to unionise and encouraging the open violations of labour laws, criminalising Noida’s entire working class and trade union leadership and jailing them on blatantly fake charges, and deploying paramilitary forces in the industrial areas are not acts of ‘peace’. These are declarations of a virtual war on the working class. The Uttar Pradesh government and the central government are both equally answerable for this war on the workers – happening so close to New Delhi, India’s seat of power.

Struggles in India

First-ever Two-Day Nationwide General Strike

– Liberation, March, 2013.

The strike called by 11 central trade unions including All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) against the pro-corporate and anti workers’ policies was unprecedented throughout the country affecting all vital sectors bringing the life to a standstill. The banking system collapsed. The transport sector has responded magnificently in most of the States. The strike was observed in oil, telecom, mining- coal & non-coal, defence, power, port & dock, insurance, State Government employees. Post offices were on strike; income tax offices have largely been hit by the strike. Industrial workers all over the country have shut down the production. Public and private industrial centres have been heavily affected. The industrial area of Gurgaon and Dharuhera at Haryana remained virtually closed on February 21st. In many states trains were stopped and highways were blocked for several hours.

There was unprecedented participation of unorganised labour including large sections like agriculture, construction apart from other rural and urban workers. Significantly Contract workers joined the strike in a magnificent way. The impact of the strike has been considerable in all the States. Several states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Puduchery and Kerala observed complete Bandh. The strike was magnificent in Assam, Orissa, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, U.P. and W. Bengal.

Many areas have reported the incidents of attack on the workers, lathi-charge and indiscriminate arrest.

In Noida, there was a brutal lathi-charge on a peaceful demonstration causing serious injuries to a number of workers and death of one worker. Trade Union leaders including 17 AICCTU activists have been indiscriminately arrested, picked up from their offices and homes. A leader of Haryana Transport Corporation union was even killed in Ambala Transport Depot by the miscreants to disrupt the strike.

In Bihar, a complete Bandh was observed. At various stations trains were stopped and different highways were blocked. At Patna, the march to ensure a successful bandh was led by Party General Secretary, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya. At Dak Bangla crossing he addressed the gathering and met the leaders of unions of bank, insurance, etc. and addressed them as well.

In Jharkhand, the state observed total Bandh in response to the call of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)]. Thousands of workers led by party and AICCTU came out on the streets to make the Bandh successful in every district. In Giridih, the GT road was blocked from 5 am to12 noon in the leadership of Party’s CC member Manoj Bhakt and MLA Vinod Singh. In Saria, the railway track was blocked; and the Bandh was observed in Rajdhanwar, Jamua, Gandey-Giridih, Koderma, Hazaribagh, Bhurkunda, Dumka, Jamtara, Godda, Deogarh, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Ranchi, Lohardaga, Gumla, Tata, Latehar and Palamu. In Ramgarh more than hundred construction workers held a rally and in party activists organized the Bandh in several areas. In Gola, party activists were arrested while blocking road. In Dumka district also dozens of party activists were arrested. In Ranchi city a big workers’ rally of AICCTU was held which was led by Bhuneshwar Kevat, CPI(ML) state secretary Janardan Prasad, party leader Anant Prasad Gupta and All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA) leader Sunita.

AICCTU played a leading role in organizing the strike in coal belt in Jharkhand. Central Coal Fields Limited (CCL) Ramgarh (Hazaribagh), Eastern Coal Fields Limited (ECL) Mugma area and ECL in

West Bengal were in total strike. In Mugma area in Nirsa 100 activists were arrested. At Bokaro, steel contract workers went on strike in leadership of AICCTU.

In Delhi, there was a massive and spontaneous response of industrial and unorganized workers to the strike call. In Wazirpur industrial area, which was in total strike around 20,000 workers gathered and held a rally on 21st February. Many workers were also arrested here. In Okhla industrial area too, around 10,000 workers gathered and held a rally. Construction workers led by AICCTU held demonstration and rallies.

In Tamil Nadu,-joint demonstrations were held in Chennai, Ambattur, Chennai, Tiruvellore district, Kanjipuram, Tirunelveli, Alankulam, Karur, Kumarapalayam, Dindigul, Tiruchi Collectorate in which thousands of workers from both unorganized and organized sectors with state leaders of AICCTU participated. Also there was a massive demonstration at Karanodai which went for more than 1 ½ hours and was addressed by comrades A S Kumar, Janaki Raman , general secretary of state All India Agricultural Laborers Association (AIALA) and others. Comrades utilised this striking day for door to door collection of money in workers’ residential areas for the successful party Congress. In one factory when contract workers are brought in lorries early in the morning, vigilant workers of AICCTU blocked the vehicles and thwarted the attempt to run the factory. In total 3000 workers participated on our initiative at this area. In rural areas of this district, NRGEA work was stopped in 6 panchayats by AIALA activists. In Namakkal cadres of AICCTU implemented strike in powerloom sector, while other unions abstained from enforcing strike. In Tiruchi, public sector BHEL and Ordnance factory came to a standstill. In Bharat Heavy Electric Limited (BHEL), the trade union wing of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) also joined the strike. In Coimbatore AICCTU affiliated unions at Pricol and Suba plastic firmly went for successful two day strike in spite of pressure from all quarters to reduce it to one day strike. In Tirupur district, Loadmen of AICCTU union in public distribution system almost closed 17 godowns to give a clear message to Governments of state and Centre of their precarious living conditions. In Salem, on AICCTU’s initiative on both days more than 3000 workers took part in the strike. More than 100 workers of AICCTU union took part in Mettur thermal power station. People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) participated in the strike with AICCTU. On 21st, a joint demo with AICCTU at Idinthakarai of Koodankulam was addressed by PMANE leader Dr. S P Udayakumar.

In West Bengal, despite the Chief Minister’s intimidation and threats, the overwhelming working people of the state gave a befitting reply to the autocratic state government by actively taking part in the 48 hour all India General Strike. Workers of the entire industrial belt, from jute, engineering, hosiery, port, coalfields, brick kiln in south Bengal to tea gardens in north Bengal along with the thousands of unorganised sector workers took part in this strike. 16 brick fields participated in this strike defying the terror of Trinamool Congress (TMC) hooligans at the initiative of AICCTU at Shibdaspur. Transport Workers of Bongoan of the same district also took part in the strike and as a result all export business along Indo-Bangladesh border was stopped. AICCTU workers organised Rail roko at Chandpara. The construction workers of Konnagar Hoogly, organised a militant rally which was attacked by the TMC hooligans but was valiantly resisted by the workers. Rallies were organised at Budge Budge, Nadia, Bardawan, Kolkata and in different Districts.

Apart from joint Trade Union (TU) programme, AICCTU along with CPI(ML) took independent initiatives all over the state, organised processions, meetings and Dharnas in different factory gates. The Transport Workers under the banner of AICCTU organised meetings in different Depots and defying the oppressive steps of the state transport dept. took part in the strike.

Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) of West Bengal deviated from the central decision and proposed industrial strike on 21st February exempting transport on the pretext of international mother language day which all other striking TUs opposed. Ultimately, CITU decided to observe 21st as general strike exempting the transport. The TUs belonging to the left front supported this position of CITU but AICCTU opposed it.

In Karnataka, AICCTU had an impressive participation at 5 centres, with hundreds joining the demonstrations, holding road blockade, rallies and enforcing strike in areas surrounding International Tech Park (ITPL), areas surrounding Electronic City, Koppal district, Tumkur, Mangalore, Mysore and Davangere districts. In Mangalore an impressive rally was held.

In Puducherry, a total Bandh was observed on 21st February. During picketing 200 activists of AICCTU were arrested at 3 places. In Maharashtra, in Thane district 2 impressive rallies were held at Palghar and Dahanu tehsils by AICCTU. In Nagpur 300 workers under AICCTU banner joined the meeting at Reserve Bank Chowk.

In U.P., a massive strike of unorganized and industrial workers was held in Kanpur. The highway was blocked at Dadar Nagar industrial area. Tanneries were closed. In Lakhimpur a big rally was held. In Deoria, an impressive rally of scheme workers like Anganbadi etc. was held under the banner of AICCTU.

In Rajasthan, hundreds of construction workers under the banner of AICCTU participated in rallies and demonstration in Pratapgarh, Salumbar, Udaipur, Jhunjhunu, Ajmer, Bhabri and Jaipur. In Gujarat, AICCTU activists organized successful strike in sectors like Forest, Water supply and public works.

In Guwahati, trains were stopped where AICCTU leader Bibek Das and several others were arrested. Under the banner of AICCTU construction, contract participated in the strike throughout the state and held programmes. In Dibrugarh women workers under the banner of AICCTU organized road block and were arrested. In Guwahati Oil refinery, loading and unloading workers affiliated to AICCTU and others held strike. In Tea gardens also, the affiliated union of AICCTU organized strike in several tea gardens.

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In Post Graduate Institute (PGI), Chandigarh, the contract workers led by AICCTU were on total strike on the issues of implementation of agreement of same wage for same work and provision of housing. An impressive rally of 700 workers and road blockade was organized at the crossing of sector16-17- one of the most important centres in Chandigarh. Mansa witnessed a total Bandh in the leadership of CPI(ML) and AICCTU. In Batala, National Highway-1A was blocked for several hours. In several other districts like Sangrur, Gurdaspur and others, AICCTU took leading role in organizing strike.

Struggles in India

People’s Watch Over Parliament:

Are Our Lawmakers Ready to Listen to the Voice of the

Movement Against Sexual Violence?

– ML Update, February 27, 2013.

On February 21st, the first day of the Budget Session of Parliament, hundreds of protesters, on the call of the Bekhauf Azadi (Freedom without Fear) campaign, held a massive Peoples’ Watch Over Parliament to demand that parliament enact an effective law against sexual violence based on Justice Verma Committee recommendations, and to reject the government’s ordinance as an eyewash.

Several student groups performed songs and plays. The Manzil Mystic Band performed several songs; women students of Maitreyee College performed a play on the theme of the ongoing movement, Nimisha of Maitreyee College performed a Bharatnatyam dance against gender violence, and Manipuri students of the Artists Creative Theatre performed several powerful protest songs. Hirawal from Patna, which had performed the street play Bekhauf Azadi several times in Delhi in the campaign towards the People’s Watch, rendered several songs. Asmita Theater Group enacted a street play. The Mandala Circle performed a play based on poetry. Women activists of Saheli and Jagori and many others introduced the protesters to time-honoured protest songs and got all the protesters to join in. And at the end of the day of protest, when the sun set, Maya Krishna Rao’s dynamic Reclaim the Night dance performance made the darkness come alive with the spirit of women’s autonomy, rebellion, and determination to win freedom and defeat fear. Beautiful poetry posters by Anupam, Sagar, Bablu and other artists were on display.

The day-long gathering was addressed by Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA) and the Bekhauf Azadi campaign, Ranjana Kumari, Binalakshmi Nepram from Manipur, lawyer-activists Karuna Nundy and Madhu Mehra, activist and educator Gautam Bhan, Kamal Chenoy from JNU, Ruchira of Apne Aap, and many others. Vrinda Grover, Farah Naqvi, Pamela Phillipose, Nilanjana Roy, Rahul Roy, Mukul Manglik, Anuradha Chenoy, and several other lawyers, activists, journalists, writers, filmmakers, university teachers and many others participated in the protest.

Actor Shabana Azami came in support of freedom without fear campaign and condemned the dilution of JVC recomendations. Much to the enthusiasm of the protesters, she also sang two poems for women’s and people’s freedom by Faiz Ahmad Faiz (‘Bol’) and Kaifi Azami (Uth Meri Jaan). The programme was conducted by many young women students – including Sucheta De, Shivani Nag, and Raj Rani. The protestors demanded resignation of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson PJ Kurien as well.

Post Script:

Far from heeding the people’s voices, Parliament is preparing now to follow up the ordinance with a Bill amending sexual violence laws – in the wrong direction, by making women the accused in rape and sexual assault! The Delhi gang-rape braveheart suffered unimaginable brutality and lost her life – and sparked off a remarkable movement with her spirit. Now, insulting her spirit, the Government is preparing a rape law (that will replace the ordinance) that says rape and sexual violence are gender-neutral. The whole country asked for better laws to protect women from violence by men. The Govt is giving us a law that can be used against women, whereby women can be accused in rape cases. So now, not only will women have to fight against accusations that they ‘asked for’ or ‘provoked’ sexual violence, they will also have to be accused of being the perpetrators of sexual violence rather than its victims. According to the Govt, rape and sexual violence are crimes that women commit against men just as much as men commit against women. So, according to the Government, rape is no more a crime of male power – it is a mere sexual crime that women, too, can be accused of by men. Shame to the Delhi braveheart’s memory that the Govt can use her to introduce a law that is openly, blatantly, anti-women. To say that rape is a crime committed BY women rather than AGAINST women is simply a blatant lie and an insult to women! We must of course continue to protest for progressive changes in the sexual violence laws – but now above all, we have to fight tooth and nail against these anti-women changes in the law.

Politics in India

International Women’s Day: Long Live Women’s Struggle for Justice and Freedom!

– Kavita Krishnan, Liberation, March, 2013.

8 March – International Women’s Day – marks the historic day when, more than a century ago, women workers on the streets of the USA struck work to demand an 8-hour working day and the right to vote. This commemoration of over a 100 years of women’s struggles for equality and liberation takes on a special edge this year in India; it will be observed in the wake of a remarkable countrywide people’s upsurge against sexual violence.

Reclaiming the Republic

On Republic Day this year, thousands marched in Delhi in a ‘Freedom Parade’ to assert women’s freedom and people’s freedom. The Freedom Parade, taking place not long after the Republic Day parade ended, was held under the banner of the ‘Freedom Without Fear’ campaign, launched to take forward the ongoing movement against sexual violence. Around 2000 protestors, including students and teachers from Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia, Women’s groups and citizens from different parts of the city, marched in the procession from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar to ‘Reclaim the Republic’.

In the weeks preceding Republic Day, young protesters against sexual violence had been branded as ‘dented and painted’ and as a ‘mob’. That is why they marched to assert that the Republic comprises of the ‘public’, whose role is not just to be spectators; to realise the true spirit and the potential of the constitution, you need an active, protesting, dissenting ‘public’.

The Freedom Parade carried placards and banners with the names of 40 victims of rape and sexual violence, including Neelofar Jan, Aasiya Jan (Kashmir 2010), Tabinda Gani (Kashmir 2007), Mubeena Akhtar, Aamina (Kashmir 1990), Bilqis Bano (Gujarat 2002), Mathura Bai (Maharashtra 1974), Bhanwari Devi (Rajasthan 1994), Meena Xalxo (Chhattisgarh 2011), Lakshmi Orang (Assam 2007), Soni Sori (Chhattisgarh 2011), Surekha Bhotmange, Priyanka Bhotmange (Khairlanji 2006), Thangjam Manorama (Manipur 2004), Tapasi Malik (Singur 2006), Rumi Konwar (Assam 1991), Bhanimai Dutta (Assam 1991), Nilima Boro, Foudoro Boro (Assam 1992), Undibala Roy (Assam 1991); women raped over the years by security forces in Assam – Putala Bora, Lakhi Gogoi, Anola, Subsunka, Niru Gogoi, Meena Gogoi, Jamuna Gogoi, Punya Gogoi, Raju Borua; Srinivas Ramachandra Siras (the gay professor of AMU who committed suicide), transgender victims of rape Chandini (2002), Kokila (2004) and Madhumita (2006), Christy Jayanthi Malar and Rukmani (the lesbian couple who committed suicide in Chennai after victimisation and harassment). They also held placards with names of places associated with sexual violence: Delhi, Naroda Patiya, Shopian, Kunan Poshpora, Sarguja, Singur, Hisar, Rohtak, Bamon Kampur, Guwahati, Khairlanji. Interspersed with these, they also held placards remembering the ‘unknown citizen.’ Kashmiri students held placards telling the details of the Shopian and Kunan Poshpora rapes.

Throughout the colourful parade, people raised rousing slogans demanding implementation of the Justice Verma Committee Report. Among the slogans raised were ‘Jang ke hathiyar nahin, Inquilab ke auzar chahiye’ (We want – Not weapons of war but Instruments of Revolution); Bekhauf Azaadi mang rahe hain, aaj chahiye, abhi chahiye (We Demand Freedom Without Fear – today, right now); slogans rejecting ‘Bhagwat’s goons; Maulana’s diktats; politicians’ rhetoric; and state repression; ‘Anjaan nagrik jaag uthi hai, badal raha sansar hai/Duniya bhar mein mang rahi hai, Azaadi ka tyohaar hai’ (The unknown citizen has awakened, the world is changing/in the whole world, there’s the festival of freedom). When the parade reached Janpath, there were slogans of ‘Rajpath (the rulers’ road) may be yours, Janpath (people’s path) is ours.’ Through placards, people asked, “Will Govt Implement JVC Recommendations? Will the Govt Spend On Making Women Safer, with more judges and courts; rape crisis centres; safe houses for women and children; forensic examination facilities; and safe public transport? Or Will the Govt’s Next Budget As Usual Gift Crores to Corporates?”

When the parade reached Jantar Mantar, a massive public meeting was held. Sucheta De, former JNUSU President and AISA leader, conducted the proceedings. Addressing the gathering, Kavita Krishnan, secretary All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) talked about the stories of the various people named in the placards the protestors were carrying. She said that the Government was afraid of the Justice Verma Commission report: and this is a sure sign that the report is a victory for the movement. She called upon people to stop fearing the freedom of others. Hailing the slogan of ‘naari mukti sabki mukti zindabad’ (women’s freedom, everyone’s freedom Long Live), she said that the subordination of women was intimately linked to the subordination of others. Men cannot be free as long as women are held in fear and without freedom. None of us should fear the right of women, the dalits, adivasis, the religious minorities, the people of Kashmir and the North East, and the sexual minorities, to seek freedom from discrimination, indignity, and violence, because in their freedom lies the freedom of all.

Advocate Madhu Mehra also addressed the gathering, warning that the Government was trying to reduce the Justice Verma report to a protest management exercise. Several women’s organisations, citizens’ groups, student and youth organisations, including Saheli and Jagori, All India Students Association (AISA), Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA), National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) and the New Socialist Initiative also participated.

The protestors condemned the President of India for awarding a gallantry award to yet another rapist in uniform: SP Kalluri, accused of raping an adivasi woman in custody in Chhattisgarh. Young girls presented ‘Mardangi Maryada medals’ and Laxmanrekha Medals’ to people who have been making atrocious, sexist, misogynist, victim-blaming statements, and who have been accused of rape. These medals were presented to photographs of Abhijeet Mukherjee, Mohan Bhagwat, Asaram Bapu, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Abu Azmi, Ankit Garg and Botsa Satyanarayana.

The protestors demanded the immediate implementation of Justice Verma Commission report, and demanded that the government and various political parties break their silence on the report.

On 24 January, a massive rally for women’s freedom and dignity was held in Patna, organised mainly by AIPWA along with AISA and RYA. Around 3000 women from rural areas of Bihar blockaded the road at Kargil Chowk, and held a mass meeting, where they demanded the implementation of the Justice Verma Committee Report, and condemned the UPA Government and Bihar’s NDA Government for protecting the forces unleashing violence against women. Meetings were held by AIPWA in Bhubaneshwar and marches in Varanasi, Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand at the same time.

Politics in India

An Ordinance That Dilutes and Subverts Justice Verma Recommendations

– Kavita Krishnan, Liberation, March, 2013.

(A version of this article appeared in Tehelka Issue 07 Volume 10).

Any ordinance is promulgated as an emergency measure. Women live in a daily state of ‘emergency’, their freedom curbed by the fear of sexual violence. But it is not that emergency which has prompted the Government’s ordinance. Rather, for the Government, the ‘emergency’ was the desperate need to somehow dilute and divert the Justice Verma recommendations, which reflected the aims and demands of the ongoing countrywide movement.

The Justice Verma Report was a breath of fresh air, letting in the flowing wind of democracy and freedom into all the prisons of patriarchy. For the first time, here was a set of reasoned recommendations, backed by painstaking homework that recognised that sexual violence was about power, not sex; that removed sexual violence from the frame of ‘shame-honour’ and understood it in terms of women’s bodily integrity and dignity; and which sought to undo the many kinds of unbridled power and impunity that breed violence against women. The ordinance, instead, shores up the walls of patriarchal privilege and impunity.

It is true that the ordinance expands the definition of sexual violence, recognises stalking, acid-throwing, and voyeurism, and introduces more severe punishments. But on a range of key questions, the ordinance actively militates against women’s autonomy and rights, and protects the impunity of powerful rapists, and the lack of accountability of police and other institutions.

Justice Verma’s Report had redefined the meaning of ‘consent’: stating that unless a woman indicates ‘Yes’ to sex, either by word or by gesture, no one can ‘assume’ that she consented. In the present system, many rape cases go unpunished because a woman is ‘presumed’ to have consented unless she has marks of injury on her body or on the body of the accused. She is ‘presumed’ to have consented if she is married to the accused. A girl is ‘presumed’ to be incapable of consent to sexual contact if she is 16-18 years old, even if her partner is of a similar young age, unless she is married to him. Moreover, she is ‘presumed’ to be lying if the man she accuses is a public servant; a judge; a magistrate; or an army officer; that is why, in such cases, prior permission from the Govt is needed in order to prosecute the accused. Justice Verma sought to challenge and change these in-built patriarchal assumptions, and protective shields for the powerful, that go against justice for women. The ordinance’s purpose seems to have been to prevent these patriarchal assumptions and protective shields from being swept away.

And further, the ordinance adds provisions that make women even more vulnerable than they are under the existing laws. For instance, the ordinance makes the perpetrator of rape ‘gender-neutral’: i.e both men and women can be accused of rape. This will mean that if a woman files a rape complaint against a man, he will be able to file a counter-complaint of rape against her!

The ordinance does not respect the right of young girls between the age of 16-18 to have sexual contact by their consent with male friends of a similar age. Instead, by automatically branding all such sexual contact as ‘sexual violence’, the ordinance will strengthen the khap panchayats and moral policing brigades who seek to curb the freedom of young people of that age.

The ordinance legitimises marital rape and strengthens the idea of the wife as the ‘sexual property’ of the husband. It also retains the provision of lesser sentence (minimum sentence of 2 years) for a husband who rapes a legally separated wife! Therefore, even if a wife has taken the pains to separate herself from an abusive husband, the law will make excuses for him if he rapes her. The exclusion of marital rape and the lesser sentence for rape of a separated wife are shocking violations of the principle – upheld by Verma – that the relationship or prior relationship of the accused with the victim will not be grounds to undermine the rape complaint or show leniency.

There is a deliberate attempt now, on part of the Government, as well as a variety of patriarchal voices that have become active, to suggest that ‘marital rape’ is a ‘controversial’ issue. This is strange, to say the least. What is controversial about saying that a woman, by marrying, does not sign away her sexual autonomy for life? We should ask those who are painting apocalyptic visions of disintegrating families as a result of recognising marital rape: do you mean that marriage and the family institutions rest on the pillar of the sexual power a husband enjoys over his wife? By recognising marital rape, will we not, in fact, democratise the marriage relationship to a greater extent?

One absurdity in the ordinance is that while wives are specifically prevented from being able to accuse husbands of sexual assault – because of the ‘gender-neutral’ provision, husbands can now accuse wives of sexual assault!

The ordinance continues to provide a shield of impunity to the powerful. There are no provisions against candidates charge sheeted for sexual violence. The ordinance retains the requirement of ‘prior permission’ for prosecution of public servants/judges/magistrates/army officers. So, no Ruchika Girotra or Soni Sori (molested by a police officer), Geetika Sharma or Rupam Pathak (raped by MLAs), or Thangjam Manorama (raped by army personnel) can expect justice under this ordinance! Senior police/army officers will not be investigated or punished for custodial rapes that are committed at their orders or with their knowledge in custody by their junior officers.

The Government argues that the prior sanction clause is needed to protect public servants and army officers from ‘false complaints.’ Why should the Government be allowed to decide if a woman’s complaint of sexual violence is false or true? Why can’t the Courts be left to decide this, especially in cases where the accused is powerful?

To ensure accountability of the police, Justice Verma has stipulated a punishment of 5 years imprisonment for failure to register an FIR or biased investigation, in order to instil fear of consequence in police personnel who fail to abide by the law. But the ordinance dilutes this to a mere 1 year, and so clearly sends a message of leniency out to the police.

The ordinance retains patriarchal language, continuing to call molestation as ‘outraging modesty.’ Not only does the ordinance fail to ban the demeaning and sexist two-finger test, and its definition of rape actually legitimises the two-finger test, in the name of ‘penetration for medical purposes.’

The shoddily-drafted and anti-women ordinance, promulgated by stealth before any citizen of the country had even seen it, is a disservice to the painstakingly prepared Justice Verma Report that adopted a thoroughly democratic and rigorous process, and came up with a report showed the way to promoting women’s freedom, rights, and safety. This is why there is a public outcry against this ordinance.

The Government’s position is that they have not ‘rejected’ any of the Verma Committee’s recommendations, but have simply left out ‘controversial’ provisions. Women’s autonomy and rights, and the question of ending impunity and ensuring accountability are the backbone of the Verma Report: by terming these controversial, the Government has revealed its own ideological bias.

The ordinance continues to make excuses for rape in a variety of contexts – and that is why people will protest during the Budget Session of Parliament, demanding that it must, at the earliest, be replaced by a thoroughgoing Criminal Amendment Act that is based on the Justice Verma recommendations. The protests will also demand that the Government must also back the Verma recommendations with budgetary allocations in the forthcoming Budget: spending enough on rape crisis centres, more judges and courts to ensure speedier trials, safe houses for women facing violence in their homes, and forensic facilities, rather than on lakhs of crores of tax giveaways to huge corporations.

Struggles in India

Protest Against Afzal Guru’s Execution

– Liberation, March, 2013.

On 9 February at 8 am, news of the stealthy and shameful execution of Afzal Guru came in. The PUDR called for a silent protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar. CPI(ML) Central Committee member Kavita Krishnan, Comrade Girija Pathak of CPI(ML) central headquarters, and AISA and RYA activists joined the demonstration. A small band of Bajrang Dal goons were at Jantar Mantar ‘celebrating’ the execution. When some Kashmiri young men and women raised placards of mourning and outrage, they were attacked by the Bajrang Dal men, who collected some other men from around Jantar Mantar by whipping up hatred against ‘anti-nationals.’ The police stood as mute spectators as the mob grew in aggression, and allowed the saffron goons to inflict violence on the peaceful protesters, including young Kashmiri women and men. A civil liberties activist’s face was blackened. The police, instead of arresting the saffron mobsters, arrested several of the peaceful demonstrators, especially the Kashmiri youth, and took them to Mandir Marg police station. However they were released later on the intervention of human rights lawyers.

In Dehradun, too, Kashmiri students protesting against the recent killings in Kashmir, the blockade and the hanging of Afzal Guru, were beaten up on 12 February by Bajrang Dal goons and arrested. Kashmiri youth, who had not even participated in the protest, were also beaten up in the market place by the Bajrang Dal mob, which demanded that the police book the Kashmiri youth for sedition or else ‘hand them over’ to the lynch mob. Democratic intelligentsia, activists, and journalists intervened and eventually the 16 Kashmiri youth were released late at night on bonds.

On 16 February, at Gandhi Park, Dehradun, there was a joint Left protest against the incident, demanding:

1. Immediately drop all the charges against the protesters.

2. Arrest all the Bajrang Dal/BJP goons as people have enough proof (visual and otherwise) to identify them.

3. Suspend all the police officers who participated in this brutal attack and shielded the right wing goons.

Protesters included Indresh Maikhuri and Malti Haldar, State Committee members of CPI(ML), the CPI(M)’s Uttarakhand State Secretary, CPI’s State Secretary, and leaders of CPI(ML) New Democracy, as well as Gautam Navlakha and several others.

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