It was on this day, the 6th of February, in 1932 that a young woman revolutionary, whom we scarcely remember and revere today, attempted to assassinate the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson in the Convocation Hall of the University of Calcutta. Bina Das, who at the age of 21 fired five shots at the Governor, though failing to kill him, said in her statement before the Special Tribunal of Calcutta High Court during her trial, “I can assure all that I could never have any personal grudge against any person or anything on earth; I have no sort of personal feelings against Sir Stanley Jackson, the man and Lady Jackson, the woman. But the governor of Bengal represents the system of repression which has kept enslaved 300 millions of my countrymen and countrywomen.” The revolver used by Bina Das was supplied to her by another forgotten woman revolutionary, Kamala Dasgupta, who had left home and taken a job as manager of a hostel for poor women, where she stored and couriered, bombs and bomb-making materials for the revolutionaries.
Both Bina Das and Kamala Dasgupta were members of Chhatri Sangha, an organization of women revolutionaries affiliated to the Jugantar group. Determined that armed resistance was the only way to freeing India from British rule, both girls were driven by a burning desire to lay down their lives for their country. Bina Das was born in Krishnanagar on August 24, 1911. A few years older, Kamala Dasgupta was born on March 11, 1907.
Shortly before Bina’s matric examination, Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay’s patriotic novel ‘Pather Dabi’ had been banned by the British as it was considered incendiary. However, Bina had already read the book by then and when asked to write an essay on her favourite book in her English examination, she wrote on ‘Pather Dabi’. Naturally, when the results came out, it was seen that she had scored far less in English than she deserved and she realized that it was due to her choice of novel for the essay that she had been so penalized. According to her, the marks she had lost in the examination were her first offering to the country.
Das was filled with indignation at the atrocities that her country had to suffer at the hands of the British and resolved to play her role in securing freedom for her country. On February 6, 1932, she attempted to assassinate the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson at the convocation hall of the University of Calcutta. She had a revolver concealed under her gown and fired five shots in rapid succession at Jackson. Unfortunately, the bullets missed her target.
Bina Das was sentenced to nine years’ rigorous imprisonment. In an impassioned statement before the special tribunal of the Calcutta High Court, she said,
“I confess that I fired at the Governor on the last Convocation Day at the Senate House. I hold myself entirely responsible for it. My object was to die and if I had to die, I wanted to do it nobly, fighting against this despotic system of government which has kept my country in perpetual subjection to its infinite shame and endless sufferings, and all the while fighting in a way which cannot but tell. I fired at the Governor impelled by my love for my country which is being repressed and what I attempted to do for the sake of my country was a great violence on my own nature too… The series of ordinances savouring of Martial Law, to my mind, showed nothing but a spirit of vindictiveness and were only measures to crush all aspirations for freedom.
"The outrages perpetrated in the name of Government at Midnapore, Hijli and Chittagong (my own district), the refusal to publish the Official Enquiry Reports and many more of such instances, were things I could never drive away from my mind. The outrages on Amba Debi of Contai and Niharabala of Chittagong literally upset my whole being. I used to help the wife of a detenue in her studies as a work of love. Every day I saw with my own eyes the sufferings of the poor girl who was leading the life of a widow during the life-time of her husband as also the demented parents of the detenue, slowly sinking into their graves, without their having the faintest notion of the supposed guilt of their son…
"I attended the Court proceedings during the trial of my sister Kalyani. She was punished to serve a term of rigorous imprisonment for having allegedly attended a meeting which could not be held and for being a member of an unlawful society only on the basis of the evidence of her having a proscribed leaflet in her possession. This was to my mind grossly unjust. Though she is an Honours Graduate who had earlier lived in all the comforts of a middle-class family, yet ignominy was hurled on her during her prison-life. What with the jail-dress and jail-diet of ordinary convicts classified as third class prisoners, and the sleepless nights amongst such criminals, militated against my whole being. I saw all these with my own eyes and also witnessed the bitter tears welling out of the eyes of my dearest parents….”
Such a heroic woman died in ruthless anonymity. After her early release from prison in 1939, Das joined the Congress party. She was imprisoned again from 1942-45 because of her participation in the Quit India movement. From 1946-47, she was a member of the Bengal Provincial Legislative Assembly and, from 1947–51, of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. In 1947, she married Jatish Chandra Bhaumik, a former activist of the Jugantar group. Subsequently, she took up teaching as a profession. But professionally she suffered since she didn’t have a graduation certificate. She refused to accept the pension for freedom fighters. After the death of her husband, she led a lonely life in Rishikesh and died in anonymity. Her dead body was recovered from the roadside on December 26, 1986 in a partially decomposed state. It was found by the passing crowd. The police were informed and it took them a month to determine her identity.
Kamala Dasgupta’s political career began with her connections with the Jugantar group. She spent a long time in Presidency and Hijli prisons because of her connections with revolutionary groups and incidents of shooting and bombing. She was arrested for the last time in 1939 for her involvement in the Dalhousie Bomb Case. Besides being a freedom fighter, Dasgupta also contributed in the movement for the social and economic freedom of women. After the communal riots of Noakhali, she devoted her time to give relief to the victims of the riot taking charge of the ‘Vijaynagar’ centre. She edited the women’s journal ‘Mandira’ for many years. She also authored two memoirs in Bengali, ‘Rakter Akshare’ (In Letters of Blood, 1954) and ‘Swadhinata Sangrame Nari’ (Women in the Freedom Struggle, 1963). She died on July 19, 2000.
Even as the divisive, communal and sinister CAA was passed amidst surging protests throughout the country, led in great part by women and youths, atrocities against women and the relentless pauperization of the masses have continued to rise steadily.
We are approaching the International Working Women’s Day at a time when Indian women are not only facing unprecedented violence but also being deprived of decent jobs and wages and being pushed into an existence of dependence and penury. Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau have revealed that a total of 2,249 unemployed women committed suicide in 2018. The total number of suicides by unemployed women and men surpassed that of farmers and serve as a harsh comment on the state of joblessness and poverty in the country.
The new Codes on Labour, which will condense over 40 labour laws into four codes, is being sought to be passed in Parliament and will further affect labour rights in the country, especially those of the most vulnerable section, women. As it is the female labour participation rate in India — the share of working-age women who report either being employed, or being available for work —has fallen to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18, meaning that over three out of four women over the age of 15 in India are neither working nor seeking work.
According to a recent Oxfam report ‘Time to Care’, released in January this year, such is the income inequality in India, it would take a female domestic worker 22,277 years to earn what a top CEO of a technology company makes in one year. The report further said that women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day — a contribution to the Indian economy of at least Rs 19 lakh crore a year, which is 20 times the entire education budget of India in 2019 (Rs 93,000 crore). If care work had been socialized and industrialized – if communal kitchens, public laundry, crèches for children and the like had to replace today’s system of individual women and girls spending billions of hours cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly – then not only would employment rise but also women’s unpaid work would be replaced by work for wages.
Unpaid care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving, and little wonder that this ‘hidden engine’ is driven by women who have little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how the society and country is run, and who are therefore trapped at the bottom of the economy. Yet, no government till date has come up with a policy to replace this unpaid care work with socialized and paid care work as a means of empowering women.
Unable to give all able-bodied women work for wages, unable to provide equal wages for equal work, unable to create an enabling atmosphere for women to get educated and employed, unable to ensure a modicum of safety for women, the government is now bent on destroying whatever remains of the democratic and secular fabric of the country in the name of CAA-NPR-NRC. If not resisted, these communal tools will make women further vulnerable to devastation, displacement and even disenfranchisement. The evil design of transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra, based on the precepts of Manu Smriti, where women are but objects of male desire and slaves of patriarchal families, cannot be allowed to succeed.
Thus it is indeed heartening to note that across the country women are taking to the streets in thousands. Shaheen Bagh has already created history in women’s non-violent resistance to divisive state policies. Further, Shaheen Bagh is not alone. In various cities of the country similar prolonged demonstrations by women continue to thrive. The women’s mandate on CAA-NPR-NRC is clear: it cannot be allowed to stand. Kashmiri women, in the face of the most brutal kind of state terror, continue to fight for democracy.
All India Revolutionary Women's Organisation (AIRWO) too resolutely opposes CAA-NPR-NRC and, besides frequently hitting the streets demanding its repeal, extends its solidarity to Shaheen Bagh and its sisters. On March 8 this year, AIRWO calls upon all democratic women to rise and organize to the following slogans:
No to CAA-NPR-NRC!Stop violence against women! Equal pay for equal work! Dignified and secure employment for all able-bodied women of working age!
Sharmistha Choudhury, GS, AIRWO
The fourth all-India conference of the All India Revolutionary Women’s Organisation (AIRWO) was successfully held in Kolkata from 27-29 December, 2019. On 27th December, a grand women’s rally was held from Ramlila Park to Rani Rashmoni Road, where hundreds of women then converged for a public meeting. The stage was named after Comrade Kondapalli Koteshwaramma, the communist leader and feminist writer who passed away in 2018. The public meeting was presided over by Comrade Fatima, conducted by Comrade Usha and addressed by leaders of the AIRWO including Pramila, Urmila, Fatema, Anusha and Sharmistha, as well as leaders of friendly organizations like Vimukta, Evam Manabi and Shramajibi Nari Mancha. Girl students Sulochana and Anindita and Vimukta representative Ashu presented songs.
The delegate session was held on 28th and 29th December at Begum Rokeya Hall, Savitribai Phule Nagar (Nitika-Don Bosco,Tyangra) in Kolkata. The delegate session began with the raising of the AIRWO flag by Comrade Pramila amidst shouting of slogans. After entering the hall, the conference was conducted by a presidium comprising comrades Pramila, Usha and Shukla. Close to a 100 delegates from 8 states thoroughly discussed the general secretary’s report and draft, revised programme and constitution of AIRWO for two days. Comrades from Vimukta also attended the conference and participated in the discussion. Finally, all the three documents were unanimously passed with certain amendments.
Resolutions against NPR-NRC-CAA, violence against women, trafficking, abuse of liquor, discrimination in the workplace and a host of issues were passed at the conference. The conference also gave a call to observe 8th March, 2020, with a central rally and convention on working women in Raichur, Karnataka. The conference elected a 15-member central committee comprising comrades Sharmistha, Pramila, Urmila, Usha, Shukla, Deepa, Sukanti, Fatema, Radharani, Sujata, Pushpamma, Anusha, Bhuvaneswari, Sheeba and Khemlata, and a seven-member executive committee including comrades Sharmistha (General Secretary), Pramila (President), Urmila (Vice President), Usha (Treasurer), Shukla, Deepa and Sukanti (Secretaries). The conference ended with the lowering of the flag on the afternoon of the 29th January.
We are holding the 4th All-India Conference of the All India Revolutionary Women’s Organisation in Kolkata at a time when, on the one hand, rapes and sexual attacks on women have reached an unprecedented high and, on the other hand, fascist forces have unleashed vicious attacks in the form of abrogation of Article 370, passage of CAB and threat of NPR-NRC, each of which targets the Muslim community, democratic activists as well as all oppressed sections, and makes women vulnerable to the worst kinds of atrocities including denial of basic rights.
Recently, the country was shocked by the rape and murder of Dr Priyanka Reddy, a young veterinarian from Hyderabad. Even before the shock died down, the horrific murder of a rape survivor from Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, by her rapists out on bail, sent fresh shockwaves throughout the country. And these two incidents were only the ones which made headlines, there have obviously been many more which have not even been reported, leave alone made it to the newspapers.
According to popular statistics, a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. According to the most recent government data, more than 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017, about 90 a day. Of these, courts disposed of only about 18,300 cases related to rape that year, leaving more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017.
We have always maintained that rape as a weapon of subjugation is extensively used by the Indian State, be it in Kashmir, the Northeast, Chhattisgarh or elsewhere. We remember the women of Kunan Poshpora, we remember Thangjam Manorama, Soni Sori, Ledha Bai and countless others who were sexually assaulted and raped by men in uniform. We remember the rape of women in the State-sponsored genocide in Gujarat in 2002.
The State upholds, sponsors and perpetuates patriarchy. It does so by denying women employment, by promoting commodification of women, by glorifying the traditional roles of women, by upholding Brahmanism, by taking a tolerant view of abuse of women, by engaging in naked violence against women and in a million overt and covert ways.
In India, the female labour force participation has had a decadal fall from 36.7 per cent in 2005 to 26 per cent in 2018, with 95% (195 million) women employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid work where discrimination and vulnerability to abuse is the highest. The intensification of neo-liberal policies has further worsened the condition of women by shrinking employment, depriving people of their right and access to jal-jangal-jameen, and unchecked pauperization of the masses. This, along with the feudal ideology still strong in large parts of the country, is wreaking havoc on the lives of women.
Today we have arrived at a situation when it is imperative for women across the country to unite against this overarching patriarchy that is threatening not only our hard earned rights but also our very existence. We are fast slipping back to a Dark Age, with violence being meted out to women both inside and outside the home and the State seeking to unleash a fascist onslaught that can have only the most devastating effect on the rights and lives of women. It is at such a juncture that we are holding the 4th All-India Conference of AIRWO with women from over 12 states participating. We appeal to all women, struggling within the home or without, to be a part of AIRWO and join the militant movement against patriarchy and all forms of patriarchal oppression.
With revolutionary greetings,
All India Revolutionary Women’s Organisation
4th All India Conference of AIRWO
27, 28, 29 December, 2019, Kolkata
27 December: Rally and public meeting from Ramlila Park to Comrade Kondapalli Koteswaramma Manch (Rani Rashmoni Road)
28-29 December: Delegate session – Begum Rokeya Hall, Savitribai Phule Nagar (Nitika – Don Bosco Hall, Tyangra), Kolkata
How tragically often are women who shaped the destiny of our country and society relegated to forgotten chapters of the past, simply because they were women! The achievements of men with far less glorious roles, far less pioneering roles, are celebrated but women trailblazers, notwithstanding the tortuous roads they navigated, are consigned to ruthless oblivion.
On November 26, Constitution Day, let us remember one such woman who created history in more ways than one but finds scant glory in our history books. Dakshayani Velayudhan, the only Dalit woman in the 299-member strong Constituent Assembly that was tasked with drafting the Constitution of India, was one of the 15 woman members of the Assembly. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India by the Cochin Legislative Council (to which she had earlier been nominated) in 1946. She was the only Scheduled Caste woman to be thus elected.
Interestingly, though an ardent admirer of both Gandhi and Ambedkar, she by no means worshipped them blindly and did not hesitate to spell out her differences with their politics and strategies. For instance, she famously said that as long as untouchability remained, the word ‘Harijan’ was meaningless and was akin to calling a dog ‘Napoleon’. Another striking example of her unique politics can be seen in the when on 8 November 1948, Dr BR Ambedkar introduced the draft Constitution for discussion, she expressed some appreciation for the draft but was also scathing in her criticism. She found the draft constitution “barren of ideas and principles”. The blame, she said, had to be shared by all the members of the constituent assembly who, in spite of lofty ideals, illustrious backgrounds and prodigious speeches, could not come up with an original constitution. She called for greater decentralisation. She, in fact, suggested that the final draft of the Constitution should be adopted following a ratification through a general election. This was a revolutionary suggestion reflected lofty democratic ideals.
Dakshayani’s first speech in the Constituent Assembly focused on slavery and, according to her daughter Meera, “was a clear articulation of what was to become Article 15 of the Constitution.” Her term in the Constituent Assembly was defined by two objectives, both inspired and moulded by Gandhi and Ambedkar. One was to make the assembly go beyond framing a constitution and offer people “a new framework of life”, and two, to use the opportunity to make untouchability illegal, unlawful, and ensure a “moral safeguard that gives real protection to the underdogs”.
Born in a village in Ernakulam district in 1912 to a family which, at that time, was spearheading reform movements against widely prevalent caste evils like untouchability and segregation, she belonged to the ‘untouchable’ Pulaya caste and her name itself was a rebellion against casteism as being another name of Goddess Parvati, the name Dakshayani was supposed to be reserved for the upper castes.
A year after her birth, in 1913, her uncle, Kallachamuri Krishnaadi Asan, along with Pandit Karuppan and TK Krishna Menon led a civil disobedience movement against caste oppression. They founded the Pulaya Mahajana Sabha that defied restriction of movement for the oppressed classes. The organisation found an ingenious way to defy the king’s order that proclaimed that no Dalit group could have a meeting on his land — they held their meeting on a row of catamarans anchored to an iron pole in the middle of the Vembanad lake. By conducting the meeting on water, the group actually defied the king without literally disobeying the royal order It was this historic Kayal Sammelanam (Meeting on the Backwaters) that later formed the basis for the name of Dakshayani’s memoirs, “The Sea Has No Caste”.
Growing up amidst such radical opposition to social injustice and oppression, the young girl was a part of a series of firsts for her community. According to a 1934 report by KP Karuppan, who fought for their rights, men and women of the Pulaya community could not wear clothes to cover their upper torso or cut their hair. They were not allowed access to public roads, public wells, markets and government schools and hospitals. Further, a Pulaya had to keep 64 paces behind a so-called upper caste and make their presence felt by uttering a particular cry after every four or five paces. Such was the oppression suffered by the community Dakshayani was born into.
Dakshayani was one of the first girls in her Pulaya community to wear a dress covering her torso (till then most women of her community were not allowed by the so-called higher castes to cover the upper part of their body) and receive education at a government institution. After finishing her schooling, Dakshayani went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam — the only girl in the class. In fact she was the first Dalit woman in the state to become a science graduate. Later she would recall how she would have watch lab experiments from afar as an upper caste professor refused to let her touch the equipment.
Graduating with good marks in 1935, she then went on to get a teacher’s training course from Madras University, following which she was posted in a government school in Thrissur. All this while, she continued to participate in movements that called for abolition of caste slavery, equality for all and the democratization of public spaces. This defiance, grit and steely strength would mark much of her life.
In 1940, Dakshayani married Dalit leader Raman Kelan Velayudhan at Gandhi’s Wardha ashram, Sevagram. The ceremony was officiated by a leper and attended by both Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. Two years later, she was nominated to Cochin Legislative Council seat and in 1945, she made her first speech in the Council, slamming untouchability as inhuman. In 1946, she became the first and the only Dalit woman in India’s Constituent Assembly. She was just 34. Dakshayani called for implementation of non-discrimination provisions through public education and pointed out that it would send a great public signal if the Constituent Assembly were to endorse a resolution condemning caste discrimination.
An outstandingly courageous woman who hit out unceasingly at caste barriers, Dakshayani Velayudhan played a pioneering role in charting the course of independent India. She died in July 1978.
In very recent times, when the compulsion to appear pro-Dalit and pro-women had become quite overwhelming, the Kerala government constituted the ‘Dakshayani Velayudhan Award’ to be given to women who contributed in empowering other women in the state. The budget earmarked Rs 2 crore for the award. This was announced by the Kerala Finance Minister Dr. Thomas Isaac during the presentation of Kerala Budget 2019 in the Legislative Assembly on 31st January 2019. However, in the greatest possible mockery and disrespect to the memory of Dakshayani Velayudhan, it is this very Kerala govt that is siding with regressive Brahmanical forces in the Sabarimala issue and putting paid to the ideals Narayana Guru and Dakshayani Velayudhan fought for