|Manjula Pradeep addressing media|
In an usual move, tens of senior women’s rights activists have got together to hold a feminist rally in Nagpur, Maharashtra, on March 10 to “oppose” Manuvad, the ancient theory which supported oppression of the so-called untouchables, and the "advent" of Hindutva and fascism, which they believe are seeking sharply undermine gender equality.
Talking with newspersons, Dalit women’s rights leader Manjula Pradeep, one of the organizers of the “Chalo Nagpur” call to women, said that Gujarat’s women activists, who will be participating in the movement, strongly feel that even mass movements in Gujarat involving oppressed communities, including Dalits, have “neglected women’s cause.”
Offering instances of how this happened during the powerful Dalit movement which engulfed Gujarat last year in the wake of the flogging of four Dalit boys in Una town in July 2016, Pradeep, who recently resigned as executive director of Gujarat’s premier Dalit rights organization, Navsarjan Trust, said, “It was all a male affair.”
“If in Una the mother of the boys who were thrashed was also beat up by the cow vigilantes, on September 25, during the Una movement, a pregnant Dalit woman of Karja village in Banaskantha district was badly thrashed because she refused to dispose of a cow carcass. However, nobody seems to have raised voice in their favour”, Pradeep alleged.
“More recently”, Pradeep said, “Facts have come to light about young adivasi girls being sold in South Gujarat. As a member of a Gujarat High Court-appointed committee, I visited the protection homes in Odhav in Gujarat and in Kutch, and found that girls as young as 10 victims of the racket. They live in jail type atmosphere, yet few seem to notice this oppression.”
Criticizing the Gujarat government for being indifferent to women of the oppressed communities, Pradeep said, “An 18-year-old Dalit girl of Vadali village in Amreli district was gangraped two years ago. Her family was forced to leave the village, and ever since it has been living in a make-shift tent in front of the district collector’s office seeking justice, but nobody cares.”
Added Noorjahan Diwan, representing well-known Delhi-based human rights organization Anhad, “The saddest part is that, women are oppressed in the name of religion. Thus, who is someone from a Hindu of a Muslim religious group to govern our lives? Women should be free to decide their choice.”
A “Chalo Nagpur” communiqué said, for the first time in many years, “Dalit, Muslim, adivasi, bahujan, minority, disabled, and queer women, transgender people, sex workers, nomadic tribeswomen, students and many others discriminated on the basis of caste, class, religion, community, sexuality, gender, disability, occupation or age” have come together to raise their voices “against the forces of Brahmanical, feudal, casteist patriarchy.”
Pointing out that the date chosen, March 10, happens to be the 120th death anniversary of Savitri Bai Phule, “India’s first woman teacher, poet, writer and leading champion of women’s rights who sounded a clarion call against Brahmanical casteist patriarchy in the 19th century by educating shudras and women”, the communiqué said, around 5,000 women would be in Nagpur in “a massive show of solidarity against the forces of hatred, injustice and dominance.”
“With songs, dance, art, poetry and theatre we confront the inequality, intolerance and the efforts to silence us that are growing all around – in villages and urban centres, on university campuses and at workspaces, in homes and on the streets – we will rise to assert our voice, our rights, and the protections guaranteed to us by the Constitution”, the communiqué said.
Condemning the "countless cases of heinous gendered and sexual crimes" as a result of "aggressive Hindutva politics”, the communique said, Nagpur has been chosen because it is here that Dr BR Ambedkar “mobilized the largest ever conference of women under the banner of the Scheduled Caste Federation – 30,000 women who came together to challenge patriarchy in radical ways that continue to inspire our feminisms and activism today.”
Apart from Pradeep, those who are part of the top leadership for organizing the event include Nivedita Menon, Shabnam Hashmi, Sheba George, Syeda Hameed, Vimal Thorat, among others.