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
The All India Revolutionary Women's Organisation (AIRWO) is pleased to invite you to the International Seminar on Theory of Liberation of Women to be held in Bangalore (Spoorthidhama) on December 2, 3 and 4, 2018.
This seminar is an initiative of the World Women's Conference, an international coordination of rank and file women working to build a global solidarity of struggling women, and will be hosted by AIRWO in India.
The three-day seminar will have participants from countries of Asia, West Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Women from across the world will speak and interact on the problems confronting women's liberation, possible strategies to overcome the same and efforts to build a just and egalitarian society. The emphasis of the seminar will be on exchange and interaction rather than one-way deliberations.
AIRWO wishes to invite you/your organisation to participate in this international seminar and contribute towards a deeper theoretical understanding of the women's question with a view to winning the war against inequality, injustice and exploitation.
With militant greetings,