India’s civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), in a statement on the occasion of well-known gender rights leader Savitribai Phule’s 124th death anniversary, being observed as part of the Feminist Week of Resistance and Reflections (March 7 to 14) on the occasion of the International Women’s Day , has said “Even more than seven decades post-independence, Dalit, Bahujan, Vimukta, Adivasi and minority women continue to face caste-based sexual violence, atrocities and backlash for every demand for justice.”
Taking particular exception to provide legal sanction against conversion, NAPM said, “Consensual relationships, both inter-caste and inter-religious, continue to face severe threats from the right-wing and regressive forces, and in each such instance, women and gender non-conforming persons face particular vulnerabilities.”
Day 3 of the Feminist Week of Resistance and Reflections is dedicated to social and ecological justice. It is also the day we commemorate Savitribai Phule’s 124th death anniversary, and draw strength from her commitment to social reform, including through her pioneering work in education and her emphasis on the struggle for women’s rights. We also remember Annai Maniammai, a revolutionary leader of the Dravidian movement, fiery thinker, anti-caste and social justice leader.
Even more than seven decades post-independence, Dalit, Bahujan, Vimukta, Adivasi and minority women continue to face caste-based sexual violence, atrocities and backlash for every demand for justice. The number of Dalit and Adivasi women facing sexual violence has only increased during the period of the pandemic. While Hathras, Kathua, Unnao are glaring examples, the scale of gendered violence has been soaring, but often unreported. Social activists belonging to these communities are persecuted by the state and dominant castes, suffer violence in police custody; redressal mechanisms against injustice are notoriously slow, if they work at all. The recent arrests of Dalit trade union activist Nodeep Kaur and Adivasi acitivist Hidme Markam in Chhattisgarh speak to this reality. Braving the caste dominance and state repression, Dalit and Adivasi women from Una to Bastar and elsewhere stand before us as stellar symbols of resistance.
In the past decade, in particular, we have also witnessed a steep erosion in constitutional values and rights and a steady rise in regressive views centred around the Manusmriti. This has only complicated further the struggles for annihilation of caste and patriarchy, as the Hindu Rashtra deems all women to be controlled by a misogynistic and paternalistic pattern of protection and violence.
Women, trans* persons and other people marginalized on grounds of gender and sexuality face persecution and severe forms of state violence. Many persons within the transgender community fought hard to retain the spirit of the relatively progressive NALSA judgement through the multiple iterations leading up to the Transgender Law, 2019 and Rules, 2020. But the Modi government only made matters worse by striking a blow to the right of gender self-identification, infantilizing trans people, denying reservations, compromising on anti-discrimination and welfare measures and bringing in a National Council which many within the community feel reflects the ideological leanings of the Govt. Amidst all this, the community self-organized during the lockdown, despite minimal support from the State and ensured trans* people did not have to go hungry.
The criminalization of NT-DNT communities and neglect of their socio-economic conditions continues as ever. Lack of access to resources and constitutionally guaranteed rights increasingly places them as well as Adivasi and indigenous peoples in precarious conditions of living. They continue to be discriminated against and targeted by police.
Sex workers as well have been facing criminalization and backlash and they continue to unionize against many odds, braving the pandemic losses. Their demands for recognition as informal workers are under attack from both state and non-state actors. The State and vested interests continue to deny their agency as well as their contribution, under the guise of ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ and in the process fail to prevent actual instances of trafficking, which sex workers themselves are keen to address.
Thousands of sanitation workers, almost entirely from the Valmiki community, including women are forced to work in precarious and often lethal conditions, in violation of their fundamental rights and protections as per the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act, 1993. The institutional oppression of students from marginalized backgrounds has never stopped. It has in fact increased with the brazen privatization and centralization of education, and the rise of the BJP-RSS 2014, affecting especially students who are assertive or politically articulate. This has been both a cause of extreme concern and fierce resistance. From Rohith Vemula to Dr Payal Tadvi to Dr Anitha to Najeeb and beyond, the institutional murders or disappearance of each of these students has given rise to a social justice movement, led by leaders like Radhika Vemula, Fathima Nafees, Abida Tadvi etc.
It is inspiring to witness a growing movement of the nature-worshipping Adivasis in the country asking for implementation of the Sarna Code and independent recognition within the census, rather than being clubbed as ‘Hindus’, a demand supported by the CM, Jharkhand as well. However, there remains a huge concern about the well-knit and decades old violent project of the RSS to ‘Hinduize’ Adivasis. Fighting for their jal-jangal-zameen on the one hand and leading self-rule movements like Pathalgadi, Adivasi women are also at the forefront of asserting their autonomous identity, beyond multiple attempts to proselytize them.
There is also a multi-pronged attack on and denial of reservations, as a matter of constitutional right and justice. On the one hand, the relentless privatization across sectors and higher education has meant reduced employment opportunities as well as financial and institutional support to SC, ST and OBC students. The dubious ‘merit’ agenda is always brought up to deny reservations to students from historically oppressed backgrounds. At a very different level, even 70 years after independence, Dalits who convert into Islam and Christianity are denied reservations, due to the ‘Presidential Order of 1950’, thereby arbitrarily erasing the societal caste discrimination they face even post-conversion and also imposing an unconstitutional rider on their fundamental right to profess and practice any religion of their choice.
The Modi government has made matters worse by striking a blow to the right of gender self-identificationThe institutionalization of hate, discrimination and Islamophobia is now happening in the most brazen manner, as we witness in the multiple ‘anti-conversion’ ordinances as well in the selective criminalization of muslim men in the Triple Talaq law. Between 2014 and 2021, numerous Muslims and at places Christians and Adivasis were attacked, many brutally lynched for cow-related incidents or in the garb of ‘hurting Hindu sentiments’. Consensual relationships, both inter-caste and inter-religious, continue to face severe threats from the right-wing and regressive forces, and in each such instance, women and gender non-conforming persons face particular vulnerabilities.
While the situation on the social front presents a grim picture, the reality on the ecological side is not promising either, what with the State playing second fiddle to mega corporates who are eyeing natural resources and cheap labour and pushing for tweaking environmental legislations with an intent to further weaken state regulation. It is pertinent to note here that ecological injustice is deeply interlinked with social justice and it is the women at the frontlines, from working class, oppressed, indigenous, forest, coastal and other marginalised communities that face most of the adverse consequences.
‘Development’ planning and financial allocations only address these gaps in name, catering in fact to corporate interests, at the cost of the marginalized and of environmental sustainability. The past many years present before us a pattern where both for the social and ecological sectors, budgetary allocations have been abysmal and deliberately fail to account for the needs of the marginalized millions as well as safeguard the environment.
Regressive legislative changes (such as draft Environment Impact Assessment, 2020) seek to further dilute the already watered down enviro-legal frameworks, at the behest of corporate interests. The impunity guaranteed to state agencies and all those who clamp down on the working class, marginalized community people’s dissent and protests are geared towards further social injustice.
In 2020, we have also seen industrial accidents, oil blowouts, massive coal block allocations in the central Indian forested states and attempts to further weaken the National Green Tribunal (NGT). On one hand, public participation is minimized when it comes to “development” projects that grab their land, natural resources and erase their culture; on the other hand is the constant silencing of the activists that raise their voice against this injustice. Not only the people who are directly affected by these issues, the state has gone after other activists who stand in solidarity too. The takedown of websites that mobilised voices to withdraw the draft EIA Notification 2020, the arrest and demonizing of young environmental activists, many women, only goes to show that if people raise their voice in an intersectional way, the state will not tolerate it.
At many other places, women and gender non-conforming (GNC) people have been at the forefront of these struggles and have also borne the brunt of state excesses. From Bhopal to Thoothukudi to Singhu-Tikri, we salute all women for their heroic struggles to hold corporates accountable, even at great cost to their lives and safety. We also acknowledge the foresight that thousands of women farmers are bringing into the ongoing movement resisting agri-businesses that would have deleterious impacts on land, livelihoods and ecology.
While the climate crisis and its gendered impact is being spoken about more these days, the past few years have also seen intense struggles to safeguard the local environment from destructive projects including large dams, mining, coal block allocations, thermal and nuclear power plants, mega infrastructure etc. The state has often tried to greenwash their acts of ecological injustice by introducing technocratic and exclusionary solutions like windmill farms, solar parks that grab the land of the marginalised people. Online public hearings make the participation process even more inaccessible, especially to women from marginalized backgrounds. While promising to the world that our dependency on non-renewables will be minimized, close to 40 forest blocks have been opened to commercial mining last year, a decision severely opposed by Adivasis, local communities and unions in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra etc.
Women, people who identify as gender-nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, trans* persons and all those continuously marginalized on grounds of gender and sexuality have been part of struggles and movements across issues, through local action, cultural practice and advocacy, research and through constant physical and emotional labour, even as often the space to emphasize their specific forms of oppression needs to be fought for.
NAPM’s commitment is to center all these voices across struggles and movements, and come together in solidarity with their demands for justice, from the level of individual human rights, to the community support, sustainable living and ecological justice. We affirm our support to all struggles for social and environmental justice that are braving state repression, corporate excesses and dominant social forces.