• Streets of Delhi Coloured in the Shades of Protest

    Sumedha Pal

    September 5, 2018

    Standing in trains, travelling across the length and breadth of the country, leaving their families behind, women from the remotest of districts assembled in the national capital in a major show of strength. The nationwide call for the protest was given by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

    The unflinching spirit of the protesting women was on display as incessant rainfall greeted them in the morning, just when their march began. Those who did not have umbrellas used banners to cover their heads and marched towards Parliament, singing songs of resistance and chanting slogans like: “Modi Yogi hosh mein aao, Gundagardi nahi chalegi” to  shake the the Modi government from its slumber. They asserted that their fight had only just begun and this was a call to take it forward. The slogans in Hindi included–

    Awaz do, hum ek hai

    Mehangai pe halla bol

    Halla bol halla bol

    Har zor zulum ki takkar mein

    Sangharsh hamara nara hai

    Mahila hinsa pe

    Rok lagao rok lagao

    Bol mahila halla bol

    Halla bol halla bol

    Inquilab zindabad

    A major reason of the call for the protests is the ever-increasing culture of violence against women in the country and the brazen silence of the government on this violence.

    According to Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary of AIDWA, there has been an 82% increase in violence against women. The defence of the accused, as seen in the recent Kathua and Unnao rape cases, has triggered rage among women across the country. Additionally, low conviction rates, and the silence of the Prime Minister were major factors contributing to the culture of violence against women.

    Women also raised demands against low wages and no employment. Speaking to Newsclick, an Anganwadi worker from Maharashtra said, “We have been travelling for over two days, we get paid nothing, we get only Rs 33 per day. What can we do with that? We haven't been paid since the last few months. Even when wages are paid, it is done after 5-6 months, not regularly. If we are paid so irregularly, what will we eat? Wages have not increased since the past many years. We have to work from 10 a.m to 6 p.m and don't even get time to work elsewhere to make money. Because of all this, I am in huge debt. Every night there are arguments when my husband asks what are you working for all day if you are not getting paid? But we have been working since the past many years, so it is difficult to leave now.”

    The women have not received any pension or healthcare funds despite promises by the BJP government in the state.

    India is currently witnessing the worst agrarian crisis, with the highest increase in farmer suicides. For women to stake claim to compensation after their husband’s death is an uphill task. Many protesting women said they had not been compensated and were not recognised as farmers or inheritors of the land after their husbands committed suicide.

    No jobs

    Elaborating on the abysmal status of jobs for women, over 150 women joined the protests from  Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh. An USHA worker told Newsclick that “the workers are not getting their monthly salary of Rs 1,000 since the past seven months for delivering services in hospital, such as performing deliveries or treating tuberculosis patients.”

    Women workers cooking mid-day meals in schools had similar concerns. One worker said, “We are asked to cook mid-day meal everyday, but the foodgrains we get are of bad quality. Red chilli comes mixed with brick dust, turmeric comes mixed with yellow colour. Dal doesn't get cooked well. We have no food for ourselves, even as we cook for others.”

    Women in the country have for long been voicing these demands. To take part in this historic protest, some women said they raised funds to ensure that they could travel to Delhi. In preparation of this day, thousands of meetings were held in various districts. To make the message simple and clear for everyone, plays were performed. 

    The rally comes a day ahead of the historic Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh rally, a show of solidarity in taking on the Modi government’s neoliberal policies, its communal agenda and attack on fundamental rights of the people.

    Photos by V. Arun Kumar (Image Courtesy: Peoples Dispatch)

    First published in Newsclick.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.