Capitalist India – the land of a million festivals – has a unique trick up its sleeve to turn the most radical of events into a ritual to perpetuate its feudal status-quo. International Women’s Day symbolises women’s ongoing fight for emancipation while across the country thousands of young women are burnt alive and the only escape for victims of rape, sexual assault and harassment is a suicide noose. Poverty wages do not meet the cost of two square meals a day and sometimes can not even buy a minimum amount of milk for a woman to feed her kids. This too, can drive her to suicide.
With Red Salute, Nirmala Shetty, (Dudiyora Hora’ta)
International Women’s Day. Report from India.
Free Market Capitalism brings no end to women’s suffering
In India, communal bigotry, caste wars and language strifes are a common feature in every day life, but it is women who take the maximum brunt. They become victims of these sectarian killings and massacres. In recent weeks we have seen number of horrific instances of such carnage in which women and children were the main victims. The private armies of all-powerful Bihar landlords are killing daliths (lowest caste) and women every day.
The present all-India government headed by the BJP (the rightwing Hindu Communal Party) has emboldened the communal gangs, such as Bajrangdal and Shivsena, who have started a genocidal campaign against the Christian and Muslim minorities. Here again, women are the worst victims. In Orissa and Madhya Pradesh Christian Nuns and missionaries are subjected to murder and rape which have become an almost daily occurrence.
While women continue to face physical and mental torture the establishment of India every year celebrates March 8th with all the fanfare. Of course, in the statutes and the constitution of India, women are equal to men. The system claims time and again to give her a dignified life. But in reality she can be sold for half the price of a buffalo, and can be beaten up and treated like a slave. She can be burnt alive for not bringing with her a huge dowry when she gets married and she can be made homeless for not bearing a male child. The kinder spouse will simply force her to have repeated abortions.
She has to face all of this because she has an inferior or second class status in society. Women are forced to silently accept it because they are made to believe that they are biologically inferior to men. The Hindu fundamentalist bigots boast that their culture and tradition place women on the status of goddesses, but the facts speak more realistically. At least 76% of women in the country suffer from sexual abuse. Of these, 40% are abused by family members and 31% by known persons. These figures come from a survey conducted by a Delhi-based women’s support group (RAHI).
Marital violence against city women has increased by an alarming 52%. According to official reports alone, in the year 1997 more than 14,000 women were raped and 27,513 were sexually assaulted. The percentage rises in crimes against women between 1994 and Jan 1995 are:-
Rape – 16%; molestation of women – 78%; kidnapping/abduction – 27%; “Eve-teasing” – 68%. The latter is sexual harassment at work. The bosses use a convenient jargon to make light of the real cruelty.
Sexual harassment is a subject people do not talk about. Because of the lack of proper support from union organisations etc., women suffer in silence. Not only this, they are blamed for provoking men to “Eve-tease” by their provocative dress, style and behaviour. But all kinds of women – whether they are dressed in saris, Burka, Jeans or midis and whether they are educated or illiterate, beautiful or not beautiful, slim or fat – are victims of this sexual harassment.
Dowry deaths, abuse, domestic violence, etc., these kinds of incidents reflect the situation of women in this system. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution assures equality before law and equal protection by the laws. Articles 14 & 15 are supposed to guarantee a life of dignity without discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste or sex. Women know very well, that no kind of law or court will give them the required protection. Real justice remains very far off.
A fact highlighted in the 1995 UN Human Development Report is that “Liberal bail practice, low conviction rates and delayed trials make culprits bolder: they commit crimes with impunity”. With corrupt people at the top, feudal justice and weak laws, the bosses’ system has seen to it that it is very difficult for women to fight for their rights.
Adding fuel to this fire, the so called economic reforms have further worsened the day to-day living of women. The bosses and their system are trying to off-load their problems onto the backs of working class people by cutting their wages, retrenching workers and privatising the public sector industries and services. Liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation – the new jargon of the world’s rich – have only increased the pauperisation of working class people around the world.
The brunt of all this is felt by women who are still slogging it out as house-wives. The crisis has increased tensions in working class homes. In the economies of the under developed world this means more wife-beating, destitution and forced prostitution.
In the cut-throat competition of globalised trade during the developing recession, millions of workers in India are being made unemployed. Again, women receive the stick first. In the garment sector, where traditionally tens of thousands of women were employed, today factories are being closed down. Hence the women workers are facing redundancies. Many of these workers who are suddenly facing this ordeal are taking to suicide.
In all areas, whether it is an organised or unorganised sector, labour is highly exploited, wages are low, hours of work are long and there are occupational health hazards, no job security or social security benefits. Because of this women are becoming increasingly frustrated with the system that pays them less than men and forces them to take more responsibility for everyone else.
Pay for women in Asia is only about 30% of what their male counter-parts receive. India has one of the most unbalanced sex ratios in the world with 1,000 males to 923 females. Only 39% of women are literate. Less women than men work for a living and for every three men only one women makes use of health facilities.
No capitalist policy – the ‘free market’, ‘globalisation’, ‘liberalisation’ or ‘new economic policy’ – works to overcome these inequalities. It is only a system based on the equal distribution of wealth and resources under the democratic control of working class people – of which women must be equal partners – can change this wretched earth into a decent place to live.
One of the first duties of socialists, and especially of socialist women, is to reclaim the real traditions of international women’s day. In the process it is the duty of the socialists to expose the so-called liberators. The urgent need is to link the struggle of women with various other class struggles both within the country and internationally. We of the CWI in India dedicate ourselves to build a powerful socialist alternative which will emancipate working women along with all other exploited sections of society.