Press Release: Women activists not allowed to enter Dantewada

Campaign against Sexual Violence and State Repression

On 12-13 December, 2009, about 120 people from numerous women’s and democratic organisations representing 10 states participated in the Campaign against Sexual Violence and State Repression meeting held at Raipur, Chhattisgarh. On 13th evening a representative group of 39 members set out from Raipur to Dantewada to extend support and solidarity to the adivasi women who had filed complaints before the NHRC and also filed private complaints of rape and sexual assault and are pursuing these valiantly.

The groups set out in 4 vehicles at around 10 p.m. The team was stopped at Charama Police Station, Kanker, at around 12.30 p.m. by D.S.P. Neg and his juniors; personal details were recorded while the drivers were whisked away separately inside the thana. Team members were forbidden to accompany the drivers and threats of ‘goli mar denge’ were repeatedly called out to us. Under the guise of interrogation the drivers were threatened with grave danger if they proceeded with us. Police confiscated one of our vehicles and forbid one driver from driving on allegations of improper documentation. The police finally allowed 3 vehicles to proceed to Makdi tola, the next junction, to procure a replacement vehicle for further journey. This entire episode lasted for about 2 hours.

After a twenty minute journey, the team was again stopped at Makdi on the grounds that the documents acceptable at Charama were now improper. Meanwhile our drivers succumbed to fear of further police action and refused to drive us further; we had also been followed by police in plain clothes. Around 3 a.m. the team somehow managed to board two buses going to Jagdalpur. These two buses were again stopped for passenger identification- first at Keshkal and then at Farusgaon; individual details noted were again noted each time and the halts were prolonged.

After a drive of 2 hours, the 2 buses were again stopped at Kondagaon police station; personal details were noted yet again. The passengers and driver were informed by policeman Awdhesh Jha that the buses would be allowed to proceed on condition that they offloaded the 39 passengers who had boarded at Makdi. Around 6 a.m., we were forced to disembark and wait at Kondagaon police station for the S.P. Khan M. Khan. DSP Vishwaranjan, when contacted by one of our team members, claimed lack of knowledge of our detention and promised to respond after finding the reason. Not only did he not call back but he did not take our further calls. S.P Khan, after he finally arrived at about 8 a.m., claimed that we’d been offloaded for our own protection. He also informed us that 4-5000 people were blocking the roads at Korenar and Dantewada in anticipation of our arrival. On further probing he claimed that we were free to leave and he would facilitate our travel to Dantewada with private vehicles.

We decided, however, to take public transport to Jagdalpur from the Kondagaon bus stand, primarily to consult with SP at Jagdalpur to assess the situation before further travel. Not surprisingly, the bus drivers at this bus-stand refused to take us; they claimed that they had been warned by the police. By this time the atmosphere was getting increasingly intimidating and oppressive as lots of motorcycles with youth cruised in front of us. Two trucks full of armed security personnel unloaded in front of us.

By this time many of our members had begun the process of contacting friends across the country and media both from Kondagaon and from Jagdalpur began arriving at the Kondagaon bus-stand. The team now began interacting with members of the public and press. We answered their queries and experienced no hostility; some of the local press narrated that the police were all-powerful in each locality and were instrumental in the suppression of free speech.

Given that we were unable to proceed to Jagdalpur, at around 10.30 we decided to return to Raipur by bus. This time though, our bus was met at Kanker bus stand by 10-15 men who initially blocked the entrance with placards, shouted anti-naxal slogans to intimidate us, and our co-passengers. As the bus left the bus-stand it was brought to a halt in the middle of the market; we again had men at the windows shouting at us. A man claiming to be a Haribhoomi journalist deflated a tyre; while it was being replaced two men boarded and shot us on camera at close quarters. We proceeded towards Raipur at about 11.45 a.m.

What we witnessed today has convinced us that all the reports of rampant violence, especially against women and their families could well be true. The state appears to be trying to hide the heinous crimes committed in this region by not letting independent teams enter the region and by the way it has tried to curb people’s efforts to reach there. It is disturbing to imagine what would be the situation inside the zone for women and for people’s movements and organisations.

The recent situation in Narayanpatna in bordering Orissa has also been similar where a fact-finding team of 10 women from across the country investigating allegations of molestation were bullied, intimated and roughed-up; their vehicle’s glass was broken and the driver was rounded up by the police at the behest of local liquor mafia, landlords and mining companies.

We hold the state responsible for our diminishing democratic spaces and demand an independent inquiry into this matter.

We further demand that people’s organisations have free and safe entry into these militarized areas for independent inquiry.

The Campaign is not deterred by the state’s efforts to subsume and threaten democratic rights groups and activists reporting state atrocities against women with the label of “naxalite” and “naxalite-supporters” and “undertaking anti-government activities”. Unquestioned, the state’s use of sexual violence as a method of repression would remain uncovered and increase. If justice is to be served, we – individuals, organisations and various sectors of civil society including the media- should join hands in protesting against state repression.

Women against Sexual violence and State Repression as currently represented by: AIPWA, AISA (Delhi), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha (Chhatisgarh), CAVOW, Dalit Stree Shakti (Andhra Pradesh), HRLN (Madhya Pradesh), Human Rights Alert (Manipur), IRMA (Manipur), IWID, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (Madhya Pradesh), Kashipur Solidarity (Delhi), Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch (Madhya Pradesh), Nari Mukti Sanstha (Delhi), Navsarjan (Gujarat), NBA (Madhya Pradesh), Pratidhwani (Delhi), PUCL (Karnataka), Saheli (Delhi), Sahmet (Madhya Pradesh), Samajwadi Jan Parishad (Madhya Pradesh), Sangini (Madhya Pradesh), Vanangana (Uttar Pradesh), Vidyarthi Yuvjan Sabha, Women’s Right Resource Center (Madhya Pradesh), Yuva Samvaad (Madhya Pradesh), Stree Adhikar Sanghatan (Uttar Pradesh), and individuals.

Delhi Domestic Workers Union

The Delhi Shramik Sangathan, a federation of Construction Workers Union & Car Cleaners Union along with its constituent organization Delhi Domestic Workers Union jointly organized a rally on Tuesday, 26th, Aug’08 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Around 1500 domestic workers attended the rally and submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister, Labour Ministry and the Lok Sabha Speaker.

DSS Rally 1

DSS Rally 2

DSS Rally 3

The rally was addressed by several eminent political leaders, Union leaders, scholars and social activists.

DSS Rally 4

Anita Juneja, convener of Delhi Domestic workers unions welcome the participants at rally and urged the domestic workers of Delhi to increase the pace of the movement so that domestic workers could become a political forces to reckon with. She said that around seven-eight lakh strong workforce of domestic workers in the city is working at paltry sums of Rs 1200 – 1500 per month and live in semi-human conditions of bondage and starvation. They are victims of constant verbal and sexual abuse without any grievance redressal mechanism. Worsening their situation is the city administration’s brutal eviction drive – dislocating and destabilizing the lives of the very people without whom the city would come to a crippling halt. This disruption of people’s lives has led to children being the worst victims with an absolute denial of basic health care and education. Spending the meagre resources available to them to tackle continuous illness, the children by the age of ten are also forced to join as domestic help to contribute to the paltry income of the family. In the absence of any provision of maternity benefit, pension, ESI, PF, Gratuity, health facilities, crèche at work site etc these workers are forced to continue with no security of work.

DSS Rally 5
DSS Rally 6

The union along with Nirmala Niketan approached the National Commission of Women (NCW) to raise the issue at the national level. A subcommittee was formed by NCW to draft the bill on Regulation of Employment & Working Condition of Domestic Workers. The draft prepared was discussed during the National Consultation on Domestic workers organized by NCW on 14th-15th of March’08 at New Delhi. The recommendations of the consultation have been finalized. Now the recommendations need to be incorporated in the Bill drafted by the Sub-Committee of NCW and the final shape of the Bill need to be sent to the Central Government as recommendations of the NCW.

DSS Rally 7

Details of the NCW proposal

Under the proposed law a tripartite Board is to be formed by the State & Union Territories governments. This Board will register all employers, domestic workers and Placement Agencies. Board will collect its fund mainly from the registration of employers. Rs.1000 per year will be collected from the employer of live-in full time domestic Worker and Rs.200 per year from the employer of part time domestic Worker, which will add to about rupees one hundred crore rupees per annum in Delhi alone. In addition the Board will collect a nominal fee of Rs.100 per annum from the live-in full time domestic worker and Rs 20 per year from the part time domestic worker. Rs.100 per placement per year will be collected from the placement agencies besides a lump sum fees and security amount depending upon the number of annual placement done by an Agency.

DSS Rally 8

The Board will provide an identity Card, bank account, regular medical check up, shelter in crisis & sickness, provide working conditions, dispute regulation, regulation of placement agency, keep full record of domestic workers which will check and prevent child labor in domestic work and help in tracing trafficked girls to prevent trafficking for domestic work.

The demand of the Domestic workers is to accept Domestic Work as ‘Work’ and Domestic Worker as ‘Workers’ and lend it the dignity and reorganization of labor. Consequently all benefits and rights that accrue to workers must be extended to this huge workforce (of which no census statistics are available) so far unprotected by any labor legislation. Minimum labor standards should be applied to achieve decent conditions of work and a living wage by including domestic workers as unorganized sector worker as the Central Government representatives assured the Supreme Court of India in a PIL on behalf of Domestic Workers.

DSS Rally 9

The rally demanded that –

1. The legislation proposed by the National Commission for Women be called The Domestic Workers (Regulation and Conditions of Employment & Welfare) Act;

2. The Domestic Worker Act should provide for compulsory registration of Employers, Domestic Workers and all service providers, including placement agents/Agencies and contractors;

3. The Tripartite Boards of Domestic Workers should constitute State/District level Committees for complain against sexual harassment at work place which should also provide protection for women going about to work as Domestic Workers;

4. Domestic Workers should also be registered at the source area and regulation of employment along with ID cards be done, also at source;

5. Minimum age of employment should be 16 years;

6. Tripartite Boards of Domestic Worker to be set up to regulate employment conditions, social security and welfare measures. The board should be authorized to constitute dispute resolution councils and Appellate Authorities;

7. Tripartite Board of Domestic Worker should have 50% representative of Domestic Workers directly elected by the registered domestic workers and 25% representatives of related department of Central and States Governments such as Labor, Child and Women Welfare, SC/ST Welfare, Social Welfare etc. and 25% representatives of employers and Resident Welfare Associations;

8. Tripartite Boards of Domestic Workers should be authorized to formulate guidelines for regulating employment and working conditions for domestic workers going outside India as domestic workers and provide social security to them;

9. All Labor laws to apply including Minimum wages Act, Payment of wages Act, Workmen’s’ compensation act, Accidents benefit Act, etc. and any such legislations applicable to industrial workers;

10. Tripartite Boards of Domestic Workers will be authorized to file complains/FIR etc. on behalf of Domestic Workers where the Domestic Workers is not in a position to file a complain;

11. Rights to inspection of workplace and living space by individuals / groups / organizations as assigned by the Tripartite Board of Domestic Workers;

12. Tripartite Boards of Domestic Workers will primarily depend upon the registration fees collected from Employers, Domestic Worker and Placement Agencies but till enough fees is collected the government must make adequate budgetary provisions for implementing the Act either as grants or loan.

Contact Address: c/o- Flat No-231, Pocket-A, Sector-13, Ph-II, Dwarka, New Delhi-110075. Ph-011-28031792; email- delhidss@gmail.com

Oppose violence against women in politics

Anant Maringanti, Viren Lobo, Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Pradeep Narayanan, Vanita Suneja, Cynthia Stephen, Vinod K. Jose & Soma K. Parthasarathy

As horrific tales of sexual violence against women and girls in Nandigram allegedly by CPI(M) cadres and the West Bengal police emerged in the media, we have been asking ourselves the simple question, “Why?” This is not the first time that this question is being asked: why has violence against women in most unspeakable forms become part and parcel of political conflicts? The violence in Nandigram was after all a political contest, essentially between the CPI(M) and local people, many of them former supporters of the CPI(M) itself, who were apprehensive of their lands being taken over by the Government to set up SEZs.

In fact this question arises again and again in the recent history of political violence in India. The Committee against Violence on Women (CAVOW) reported the rape of 8 women from Kandkipura village of Bastar by uniformed police personnel. The provocation for this was the people protesting against forcible land acquisition for industry. The CAVOW fact-finding report highlights many atrocities perpetrated on women by Salwa Judum goons and the state security forces. In Kalinganagar, in the wake of police firing against an unarmed crowd protesting against the forcible take-over of their land for industry, corpses of women with breasts cut off were handed over to their relatives. While mainstream media rarely takes notice of the violence against civilians indulged in by the Indian Army in the North East, the recent outpouring of extreme resentment at the military forces shook both the media and the state as forty Manipuri women –twelve of them naked– stormed the Army headquarters in Imphal, holding signs that read “Indian Army, Rape Us!” Thanglam Manorama’s brutal murder by Army personnel was the source of anger for the protesters. Manorama’s murder is far from being an exceptional case in Manipur where rape, abuse and murder are everyday realities. In their brave protest, Manipuri women shamed the Indian army by parading the very female body that brought humiliation and death to their sisters. With their raw anger and amazing mobilization, these women refused to get knocked down by the ‘rape culture’ that enables the ‘victor’ to demoralize their victim. And about the violence against women in Gujarat in 2002, it was reported, “…The pattern of cruelty suggests three things. One, the woman’s body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture. Second, their sexual and reproductive organs were attacked with a special savagery. Third, their children, born and unborn, shared the attacks and were killed before their eyes…”.

The question “Why?” can be asked and answered in varieties of ways using many different frameworks of analysis. What is clear is that these instances of violence against women are occurring in the context of an aggressive expansive thrust of Indian capitalism, seeking hegemonic status in the global arena. Nandigram is clearly tied to the aspirations of investors like the Salim group of Indonesia and the CPI(M)’s vision of industrialisation through national and trans-national capital. Kalinganagar and Dantewada (Bastar) are similarly the product of a political clash between the same vision of industrialisation and resistance to it. The violence in Gujarat happened at a time when the State Government was aggressively marketing it as an attractive destination for global investments. The North-East has been afire due to the conflicts between the oppressed sub-nationalities of that region and the dominant nationalities of peninsular India, who now see it as a hub for investment and trade.

While these are the most egregious examples of violence against women in political conflicts, there are also other forms of violence against women, which are widespread and invisible. Familial violence or domestic violence includes, for example, the violence of traditional practices and foeticide, infanticide, forced/early marriage, forced sex-work, wife battering, and violence against widows. Violence at the community level includes caste-based violence, body mutilation, honour-killings, abduction, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual harassment and workplace violence, and trafficking. The beating, rape and mutilation of sexual organs of women of a dalit family at Khairlanji in full view of the public is a recent example. All forms of gender-based violence against women and also children (girls and boys) violate their human rights and are political, involving power and patriarchal domination. The common thread in these diverse forms of violence is social and gender-based domination which makes violence against women acceptable in familial and community contexts.

After economic liberalisation, the focus on women is increasingly as a cheap labour force. Despite apparently positive indicators of progress, particularly in education and paid employment, little has changed in the position of women. Studies suggest that while there is an increase in low-wage employment and self-employment, gender discrimination is being reinforced. While micro-credit is a necessary but altogether insufficient condition to address poverty, evidence suggests that the burden of its access, utilisation, and repayment fall entirely on the shoulders of women. Notions of `family honour’ are being re-worked such that women must bear the brunt of family survival strategies through credit and increased workload, while financial players reap the benefits of reduced transaction costs. Even more worrying are the increasingly reported instances of sexual harassment and assault at workplaces where women are essentially unorganised. In this context, the liberating and empowering effect of the workplace has only partially materialised.

Without losing sight of its intrinsic links with all forms of gender-based violence, we would like to focus attention on the violence against women indulged in by State agencies and political actors. All politics, regardless of ideology, is ostensibly about making a better world. Political activity draws upon the thoughts and aspirations of the people for a better life. Violence against women can never be countenanced by the political imagination as a means to a noble end. Yet such violence persists because of the patriarchal view of women as chattel, as `territory’ to be conquered, as `honour’ to be saved or violated. This is closely tied to the practice of male control of women’s sexuality and reproduction. In general, the cultural construction of masculinity and femininity reify women’s roles in reproducing community and nation, and men’s roles in their defence.

What seems to emerge clearly from the examples we have cited is that whether it is politics of the Right or of the Left, of the hegemonic or of oppressed groups, of neoliberalism or of the resistance, certain essentialist notions of masculine and feminine with their roots in patriarchy seem to regularly result in sexual violence against women as a `legitimate’ form of conflict. As neoliberal economies take root, whether in the form of industrialisation in Bengal or irrigation projects in Andhra Pradesh or in the form of urban renewal missions, we fear that gross physical violence against women will only increase and escape the conventional institutional solutions available to us. As persons who believe in and participate in progressive politics, this is a matter of grave concern to us. We believe that this clandestine indulgence towards violence against women is intolerable. We therefore call upon fellow citizens to declare that there is no place in politics for this assault on the bodies and minds of women. This is a precondition for achieving any vision for a better world.

Anant Maringanti, Research Scholar, University of Minnesota
Viren Lobo, Development Professional, Udaipur
Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Researcher and Consultant, New Delhi
Pradeep Narayanan, Development Researcher, New Delhi
Vanita Suneja, Development Professional, Faridabad
Cynthia Stephen, Independent Researcher, Bangalore
Vinod K. Jose, Foreign Correspondent-India, Radio Pacifica Network
Soma K. Parthasarathy, Researcher and Consultant, New Delhi