The time is here and now to build and strengthen peoples’ committees to ensure our security. Public conference held on 27th January. Glimpses from the event.
Hundreds of students and women, young and old, workers and intellectuals came to the public discussion organised by Lok Raj Sangathan, Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Sikh Forum, Subhash Yuva Manch, Popular Front of India, and others on January 27 at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi. The subject of the discussion found resonance with a lot of people in the aftermath of the gruesome rape and assault of a young girl on a running bus in December last year. Many people have been angry with the way the government used some miscreants to try to discredit the movement, imposed Section 144 and forced the masses of youth and other concerned people out of the Raj Path. People fear that despite government claiming to be bringing changes, status quo will be maintained. They are actively thinking how to advance their movement forward to create a society where women don’t live in fear of molestation and rape; where people’s safety and security as well as other rights are guaranteed.
The organisers of this meeting have brought in focus an important next step to advance the movement, namely, people getting organised in their areas, mohallas and campuses to become an effective force for change to solve the problems faced by people. Many people who were out on the streets in the movement were present in the meeting. In the many speeches and interventions, dozens of people supported the idea of people’s samitis (committees) as well as put forward their ideas about how the existing system tries to keep the people divided so that they do not emerge as a powerful force.
The presidium of the meeting consisted of the leaders of the organisations that had taken the initiative. Shri Raghavan, President of LRS initiated the meeting with a call for all participants to actively participate in the meeting. He pointed out that during major attacks on the people on the basis of their religion or caste, such as in 1984, 1992 and 2002, it was the various state agencies that shielded the perpetrators of rape and other heinous crimes and some even directly participated in the crimes.
Shri Prakash Rao, Convener, LRS explained how rape was part of the standard operating procedure of the armed forces in India and was used as a weapon to terrorise and cow down the people. He said that people had no faith in the institutions of the existing state and emphasised that only a conscious movement that aimed to vest more decision making power in the hands of the people was capable of addressing the concerns of the majority of the people.
Sucharita from Purogami Mahila Sangathan (PMS) said that the government is talking about the change of mindset of men, whereas it is clear that atrocities against women take place with full knowledge of police and the state. “Why do they condone mass rapes in Kashmir on the pretext of trying to capture terrorists?” she asked.
Shri Sirohi, a veteran trade union leader from Ghaziabad said that most of the leaders of political parties were not political in the true sense of the word. He urged the youth to become political so as to lead the movement.
Shri Anurag Kejriwal from the Lok Satta Party said that various organisations and small parties should join hands in the coming Delhi Assembly elections and field candidates from all 70 constituencies to defeat the parties of the status quo.
Shri Satyendra Yadav of Subhash Yuva Manch, Ghaziabad criticised the existing political system in which parties can stop listening to the electorate after they get elected. Shri Swain of Popular Front of India reminded the participants of how the Nazis isolated different people and attacked them without an outcry from the others and laid emphasis on unity of the people to resist attacks on any section of the people.
Ms. Renu of PMS talked about the experience of organising women in local samitis. She said that people’s organisations must have the right to select candidates for elections and not political parties. Similarly, the elected members must be accountable to the people through their local samitis.
A young doctor who recently graduated from AIIMS pointed out that the system did not work for us and was only a burden for us. We have to fight for even our basic rights like electricity and water. He said that the system has to be radically changed but that the change will come from womb of the existing system. He said that just as you have to prepare to perform a surgery, we need to prepare to bring in the social transformation and it is only people, organised in their committees that could be the seed for such a social transformation.
Wing Commander Chatwal of the Sikh Forum urged people to get rid of various social manifestations of the inequality faced by women in the existing system. He said that electoral system needed many reforms to eliminate the skew in favour of money power.
Shri Kailash from the Delhi Shramik Sangh talked about how the majority of the population in Delhi belongs to the working class, yet children from this class background were being denied decent education. He also said that it was necessary to support the targeted people and not see them as Dalits or non-Dalits, rich or poor, men or women, permanent and temporary employees and so on.
Shri Hanuman Prasad Sharma from Hanumagarh, Rajasthan said that the Constitution of India does not represent the spirit of India and that it provides democracy only for the classes which were involved in drafting it.
Ms. Poonam, activist of LRS and PMS spoke next and questioned what was the use of such a democracy when people’s right to security and to life itself was not guaranteed. She talked how local samitis helped them to discuss the present system and what kind of laws will help the people to have their rights guaranteed.
Ms. Nirmala, a young professional, exposed the attitude of the Delhi government which has deputed increased security in Metro trains but these security men are harassing young men by forcing them to get off the train for talking to women and then making them pay money before they are allowed to go.
Ms. Nikita, a young advocate, said that the youth was coming out in a big way and that by rising above narrow divisions, we have to enable ourselves to be able to help others.
Shri Sohan Kumar said that 97% of our people are honest and don’t have ill-will for others. However, they don’t count as they are not active. The 3% who are active, carry on crimes against the people. It is time that the 97% woke up and organised themselves.
Ms. Binalaxmi an activist from Manipur said that it was impossible to live in Manipur with 60 battalions of army stationed there. She gave several examples where young women from the Northeast were raped, when the propaganda treated the victims as if they were not Indians. She called on all to stand together as Indians in support of any other victimised Indian.
Shri Pradip, member of a LRS samiti, talked about the necessity of organising local samitis, which meet regularly and conduct their discussions in an orderly fashion with elected Secretary.
Shri Jarnail Singh, a well-known journalist, talked about the bias of the media. He said that all movement of the people for their rights are depicted as law and order problems by the government and the media in order to brutally suppress them.
An important point that came out in the discussion was that those in power always tried to split the victims. If the victim was a woman, then the question is raised if she was from the rich or the poor as if solidarity with the victim was in any way connected with such facts. Or, it is suggested that it is only an issue for women and not for men. Similarly, they try to keep the victim from the Northeast or Kashmir or Koodankulum isolated from the rest of the people as if an atrocity against any of these is only an issue for them alone and not for the rest of the people of India. The aim of the propaganda is to ensure that the people don’t unite and fight with the spirit of “an attack on one is an attack on all!”.
In his concluding remarks, Raghavan reiterated the main conclusions that emerged from the interventions and discussion. He said that the solution will not come from new harder laws, when the existing laws are sufficient to punish the guilty. The solution can only come through the strengthening of people’s samitis and the empowerment of the people. We have to demand a thorough-going change in the present political and electoral process.
The meeting ended with a resolve among the participants to stand together against attacks and violation of rights of all.