It is a striking fact that on International Women’s Day, which is on 8th March, lakhs of women in our country are boldly protesting against discrimination, inequality and injustice. They were out on the streets all over the country.
Many myths have been shattered. Many stereotypes and old beliefs about women have been thoroughly shaken. For instance, the belief that Indian women are too shy to speak out in public has been shown to be completely false. The idea that Muslim women do not dare to come out of their homes has been proven to be untrue.
Women and youth are carrying on with their protests, in spite of being condemned as anti-national trouble makers by the central authorities. They have succeeded in protecting the peaceful character of their protests from numerous attempts to incite violence so as to discredit their struggle.
The spokesmen of the Government of India keep saying that those opposing CAA are being misled by opposition parties. The Home Minister talks as if those who are sitting in protest do not even understand the aim and content of CAA. However, if you talk to the women who are protesting, they are very clear about what they are protesting against. They are also clear and determined about what they are demanding.
Women are protesting against legally linking a person’s citizenship with his or her religious belief. They are protesting against the fact that the CAA excludes Muslims from those immigrants who can apply for Indian citizenship on account of having been persecuted. They are protesting against declaring lakhs of people, especially Muslims, as non-citizens and herding them into detention camps, to live a life worse than animals.
If those in power really think that people are protesting because they do not understand a new law, and are being misled, they are wrong. The women are clear that the explanation given by the government doesn’t hold water.
The Home Minister declared that he was open to talk to the protesting women of Shaheen Bagh. However, when a group of those women tried to meet him, they were stopped by the police. Only a couple of lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court have gone to Shaheen Bagh to talk to the people there.
The Prime Minister claims to be committed to win the trust of all, expressed in the slogan “sab ka vishwaas”! Are women who are holding indefinite protests in many parts of the country not part of the “all” whose trust must be won?
Far from trying to reach out to the protesting people, leading personalities of BJP used the occasion of the recent Delhi assembly elections to spew poison and hatred against Muslims and all those who are opposed to the CAA and NRC. BJP candidates called the protesting women of Shaheen Bagh national traitors and “tukde tukde gang”, who allegedly deserve to be shot dead.
Whether one supports or opposes the CAA and NRC, one cannot accept the blatantly undemocratic conduct of the Central Government with respect to the women who are engaged in an indefinite protest.
What kind of democracy is this, when women and youth who demand that the State should protect the rights of all, without any discrimination, are treated like criminals?
We must not forget that Indian society did not go through any kind of revolution when British colonial rule came to an end. There was not even a bourgeois democratic revolution. What took place was an imperialist plot, involving the communal partitioning of Hindustan into India and Pakistan, and the midnight transfer of power from London to Delhi and Karachi. The vast majority of people were completely excluded from the decision-making process. Many crores of them were busy saving their lives in the midst of the large scale communal violence that accompanied the Partition.
Words like freedom and equality were inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution to create the impression that India is a democratic society. The reality, however, is that it is a society which is rampant with discrimination and oppression on the basis of gender, caste, class and race or ethnic origin. Absence of revolution has meant the persistence of all kinds of backwardness.
Women are demanding that they must have a say in decisions that affect their lives. They are demanding that people must have the right to reject a law that is completely against their interests and has dangerous consequences. They are expressing the demand for people’s empowerment.
Women need political power in order to put an end to their oppression and ensure that their rights are guaranteed. We, the people, need political power to put an end to class exploitation and caste discrimination, as well as to hunger and poverty.
What is urgently needed is a serious discussion among women and among all the working people and the youth about the Constitution and the system of democracy it defends. There is need to identify the changes that need to take place in the political system so as to make it possible for the people to wield decision-making power. There is a need to reject the false propaganda of the ruling establishment and attempts to muzzle protests through force. There is ultimately a need to strengthen the movement for people’s empowerment, Lok Raj.
By S Udayan