The women were aiming to express their solidarity on the occasion of International Women’s Day as well as to register their demands with the State.
Right from 2.00 pm onwards women started pouring into Azad Maidan, women from all along the bastis from Borivali to Churchgate as well as from the far off suburbs of Panvel, Mankhurd and Mulund. A particularly large contingent of 2500 women came from Andheri alone. When this contingent reached Azad maidan, they staged an impromptu rasta roko and squatted on the busy road outside VT station. The police and authorities were completely unprepared and did not know what to do with the huge crowd of angry women. One of the Police Officers tried to browbeat the demonstrators and in the scuffle pushed an old lady domestic worker to the ground. This infuriated the crowd of women and they threatened the police that for every one blow they would receive two chappals in return. The leader of the agitating women, Comrade Malan Sonawne, climbed on top of one of the cars that had been stopped and denounced the police violence. The women in the demonstration feeling the power in their unity and the helplessness of the authorities and the Police started dancing and singing their songs of struggles right in the middle of the street to the wonderment of the thousands of curious onlookers. Seeing that their violent tactics could get them nowhere, the police begged the agitating women to clear the road and quickly a meeting was fixed up with the Secretary of the Finance Minister who agreed to receive a delegation of women in Mantralaya. It was only then that the women broke the rasta roko and trooped into the Maidan to join the rest of their women comrades.
The delegation of representatives of the women met the secretary to the Finance Minister and presented their demands. Their demands included i) Scholarship for their children studying in school ii)Maternity Delivery Expenses for up to two children to be borne by the Govt. iii)BPL Ration cards for all women domestic workers iv)Houses to be built for them by the government for which a nominal rent could be charged v) Free medical treatment for women workers vi)Provident Fund, 4 days leave in a month vii) Minimum two months notice before termination of services viii)A Board to be constituted for Domestic Workers.
The secretary promised them that the Finance Minister himself would meet them on the 10th of March. But needless to say this was just to fool the angry women. By the time the meeting with the secretary was over it was well past 6 pm. The brave leaders of the organization returned to the assembled crowd waiting at Azad Maidan and explained to them what had transpired in the meeting with the Secretary to the Finance Minister. They then requested all the assembled women to go back to their homes. When all the women had left, and when the Police saw that only the leaders were remaining, they swooped on them, and arrested them including Malan Sonawne, Mary Kotian , Rehana Shaikh and Khatu Aapa Tasleem. They charged them with all sorts of trumped up charges and detained them at the Police Station till 11 pm. It was only when the Police came to know that the women who had come for the morcha were on their way back to demand the release of their arrested comrades that they quickly released all the leaders! The treachery of the authorities was further revealed when on the 10th of March when a delegation of leaders of the Union went to Mantralay for the appointed meeting with the Finance Minister, he was not available!
The women activists of Jagrut Ghar Kamgar Sangathan had been tirelessly working for one and a half months prior to March 8 to cover as many bastis as possible to mobilize the maximum number of women. They used to work till 11.30 –12.00 pm every day and even later and many times had to go to bed hungry. They ensured that in every basti at least two meetings were held to mobilize the women for the program. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar fully supports the just demands of the Domestic workers and Safai Kamgars and hails the brave initiative of the leaders and activists of their Union.