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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 12 New Delhi March 10, 2018

{International Women’s Day: Challenge before Indian Women

Monday 12 March 2018, by Gargi Chakravartty


March Eight, the International Women’s Day, reminds us of the struggle of the working women, particularly of the garment workers on the streets of Chicago on March 8, 1908. It also reminds us of the 1911 strike on the same day in a textile factory in New York in which a group of women workers had died in a fire as they were locked up thereby preventing them from leaving before the working hour was over. This was the famous shirtwaist factory fire. At the Second International Conference of Socialist Women at Copenhagen on August 27, 2010, Clara Zetkin resolved to observe March 8 as the Inernational Women’s Day the world over. The Day received official recognition when the United Nations adopted a resolution in 1975 to declare it as the International Women’s Day.

Communist women had been observing the Day since the early forties in many parts of our country much before the UN declaration. It has been and still is a day to express solidarity with all the struggling women of the world, fighting for justice and equality. It has become a day to protest against social oppression, economic exploitation and patriarchal domination. It is a day to campaign for the rights of women of all sections and classes.

At a time when India is passing through a critical phase of rising religious fundamentalism, March 8 needs to be taken up by women activists as a day of challenge to fight against the ideology of Hindutva, a cult of hatred and intolerance towards other religious communities. The RSS/BJP and their affiliates have virtually made themselves the spokespersons of the entire Hindu population without realising that the Hindus do not constitute a monolith and diversity is the hallmark of Hinduism, for example, the philosophy of Charvak is based on atheist ideas. There are a vast number of Hindus not following any religious practice in their day-to-day life or not subscribing to the Hindutvavadi views while practising Hindu religious rituals. And there are a vast number of Hindu Dalits who are ostracised on caste basis and debarred from temple entry.

Religiosity is not a problem per se as religion is a part of the life of the common people; but religious fundamentalism and obscurantism are. And there lies the danger from the Hindutvavadis who are hoodwinking the masses by projecting this cult as an ‘Indian way of life’. It is actually their hidden political agenda to create a Hindu Rashtra to isolate and target the Muslims and Christians. Due to a sense of insecurity women are often found to be gullible to the hypnotic sermons of Babas, Gurus, Maulvis and clergymen. The RSS/BJP have for a long time been whipping up the religious passion and sentiments and polarising our society on communal lines, often being expressed as ‘we’ and ’they’, and determinedly destroying the diverse culture of our country with slogans like ‘Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan’.

The phenomenal rise of the Rashtriya Swayamseviksas, the women of the RSS, and Durga Vahini, an affiliate of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), in the last four years has posed a serious challenge to a large section of Indian women, who already suffer from monumental inequa-lities of caste and class with barely any access to education and employment, while being deprived of food and health security. The ideology of the RSS/BJP is retrogressive as it has been injecting feudal values in the garb of sanskar or traditional norms. Apart from their violent campaign for ghar wapsi, love-jihad and attacks on inter-caste or inter-religious marriages, their narrative of our freedom struggle strikes at the root of our secular ethos and composite culture. These women are carried away by obscurantist ideas, unleashed by the ruling dispensation.

A few examples will explain this trend. Arogya Bharati, the RSS’ health wing subsidiary, has initiated a garva sanskar scheme to produce fair and tall babies, a project similar to the racist culture of Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn project. Their aim is to set up Garva Vigyan Anusandhan Kendras (facilitation centres) in every State by 2020. The entire process from pre-conception to post-delivery for an Uttam Santati or “ideal progeny” who is “strong, happy, healthy, courageous, genius and good-looking” costs the couple Rs 50,000 per child. The whole idea is extremely mysogynistic and racist. Similarly the recommendation of the Union Ministry of Ayush for the would-be mothers to avoid non-vegetarian food has further compounded the problem of average women whose life-styles are already controlled by men in a patriarchal society. A booklet, titled Mother and Child Care, brought out by the Ministry of Ayush, has ignored the nutritional needs of the would-be mothers. What is the rationale to deny these women of the little protein they get from a diet of egg, fish or meat? In a country where 74 per cent of pregnant mothers do not go for any check-up to any health centre, such expenditure of the Ayush Ministry to campaign for vegetarian food is a wastage of our taxpayers’ money.

It is an irony that the Rashtriya Swayamsevikas and women’s wing of the BJP also celebrate March 8 as the International Women’s Day without knowing the history and legacy of struggle behind the observance of the day. These women, steeped in the Hindutva philosophy and religious obscurantism, are also in the forefront of electoral battles from panchayat to Parliament. It is high time to campaign among the toiling masses of women to differentiate between Hinduism and Hindutva, to differentiate between spiritualism and, in the words of Tagore, ‘fake’ religion, to distinguish between true nationalism and national chauvinism of the RSS brand, between ‘Ram’ of Rambhakts of the Ram Mandir movement of Ayodhya and the omnipresent ‘Ram’ of Mahatma Gandhi.

It is a great challenge for those Indian women, who have been carrying the legacy of Clara Zetkin, to combat the Hindutvavadi religious frenzy, devoid of even an iota of spiritualism, deliberately whipped up by the RSS network to destroy national unity, pluralism and the secular fabric of our country. 

The author is a Vice-President of the National Federation of Indian Women.

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