8th MARCH 1997

Newsletter March 1997

8th of March, International Women’s Day, is symbolic of the struggles of millions of women all over the world striving for a society free of exploitation and oppression of women. Despite 50 years of Independence, how independent are the women of India today? Although the Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to equality and liberty, women are far from attaining these ideals. Half a century ago, India was declared a secular democracy. But today, women are facing increasing religious fundamentalism. As the country gears up to enter the 21st century, women’s rights are being threatened in a very basic way.

Across the globe, communal and fundamentalist forces are assuming state power. Women are being pushed back into the confines of their homes and conform to notions of societal tradition and custom. But it is not only the Taliban in Afghanistan who, as their very first move, ordered the closure of girls’ schools, forbade women from holding jobs and forced women to wear purdah. It is also Hindu fundamentalists in India who are asserting the ideas of purity and chastity by glorifying the practice and worship of ‘Sati’. The accused in the Roop Kanwar sati case were acquitted because of ‘lack of witnesses’ to an event attended by hundreds of people in Deorala in 1987. The boost fundamentalist forces received was obvious in the way they brazenly held large scale and lavish Sati Mata puja celebrations in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan and Daryaganj in Delhi. The local administration, by their refusal to take action, were party to these events which are in violation of the Sati Prevention Act. Such State sanction of religious fundamentalist forces also needs to be confronted in the interest of women’s lives and dignity.

The core of these problems lies in the role of institutionalised religion in this male dominated society. The notion of the ‘ideal’ woman as put forth by religious fundamentalists negates women’s potential and promotes the idea of a woman’s place as being only the family and home. The age old personal laws that still govern women’s lives are based on religious laws. All these laws reinforce women’s secondary status in the family and society. None of them accord any equality to women in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children, guardianship or adoption. Neither do they recognise the contribution of women in the family and household.

Fundamentalists and politicians working hand-in-glove have communalised the issue of women’s demand for equal laws. The Supreme Court has recently declared that no changes in personal laws will be made through the courts, as this is the responsibility of the legislature. However, the United Front government has already stated that it will not make any changes in these laws unless the demand comes from the communities themselves. But as we all know from experience, communities are controlled by male interest and have little concern for women’s rights. Thus it is imperative that women across religious community, caste and class, come together in the common struggle for equal rights.

Each of us can begin this big battle by bringing about some small changes in our day-to-day lives:

    • Encourage the practice of putting the woman’s name on ration card, gas connection, bank deposits, land or houses - if you have any of these assets.

    • Give daughters an equal share in property.

    • Enter the mother’s name on birth certificates, school and other certificates. There is NO law which requires that women should take on their husband’s surname after marriage, or that children can take on only the father’s name.

    • Make yourself and your daughters independent and economically self sufficient.

    • Ensure that household work and child rearing are not the woman’s responsibility alone.

    • Say NO to dowry - for yourself, your daughters and your sons.


Let Us Assert Our Political Solidarity In The Struggle For Women’s Rights.

Let Us Work Towards An Egalitarian Civil Code!