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Reflections on the ‘Chalo Nagpur’ Campaign

Abhinaya Ramesh (abhira@live.com) is a British Chevening human rights scholar, political scientist and feminist theorist based in Mumbai.

The ‘Chalo Nagpur’ campaign mobilised thousands of women marchers and drew attention to not only the exploitation and violence suffered by women from the lower castes, classes and marginalised sections but also their efforts to build connections with women engaged in similar aims across the world.

The city of Nagpur in Maharashtra has a special significance in the Ambedkarite social consciousness—it is the site of the mass historic struggle for reclaiming the Buddhist tradition, symbolised by Deeksha Bhoomi. Nagpur also symbolises both the wound of a massacre (the brutal, collective murders of four members of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji) and the mass resistance against it. So when women rooted in the Phule–Ambedkarite ideology decided to take out a march on the 110th death anniversary of the pioneering reformer Savitribai Phule on 10 March 2017, Nagpur was the chosen destination. Thousands marched to protest the increasing violence against women from marginalised sections. Violence that is invariably an outcome of the ideologies of Brahminism, Manuwad and Hindutva, all of which have provided the legitimating force to hierarchies, subordination, discrimination and subjugation of women as the “ideal” form of social order.

The women marchers commemorated and saluted the contribution of Savitribai and Fatima Sheikh (a teacher and supporter of the Phules) towards women’s emancipation. The “Chalo Nagpur” campaign signified that the struggle against gender oppression was simultaneously a struggle against caste discrimination and class exploitation, as well as a struggle against subjugation/erosion of democratic voices. Moreover, this was a struggle against the commoditisation of women, the physical and sexual abuse they encountered, and the multiple forms of enslavement they confronted.

Preparations and Discussions

An event of such a magnitude would not have been possible without a lot of groundwork and prolonged exchange of ideas, as well as debates within the women’s groups involved in organising it. The deliberations went on for over six months, and involved debates over a number of issues: articulation of common concerns, and symbols of struggle; the ways of addressing gender question; the perspective from which to oppose Brahminical culture and politics, the perception about the nature of oppression, subordination and violence that women suffer and the nature of their struggle. Furthermore, since the notion of “difference” and the diversity of approaches to address the gender question are firmly rooted in the gender discourse, any collective action was bound to reflect this heterogeneity.

Some of us who draw on the Phule–Ambedkarite perspective are firmly rooted in understanding the intersectional character of women’s subordination and the violence they suffer. We are aware of the interlinks of caste and gender subordination, exploitation, subjugation, and the vulnerabilities and violence women encounter at the intersections of caste and class. For us, the question of violence, subordination, and exploitation against women is not just a gender concern, but a caste and class question. Hence, the issues we were addressing and our attempts aimed at challenging the multiple forms and intersectional character of vulnerabilities that women confront.

Gender Politics as a Quest

We view gender politics as a quest in which visibility and representation are “necessary” aspects of politics (vis-à-vis the question of omission and silencing). Yet there is a need to consciously move beyond these aspects to address the structural and intersectional nature of the violence and suppression women experience and fight. We believe that there is a need to effectively struggle against violence, and build consciousness about the systemic, institutional character of multiple forms and dimensions of violence, abuse, and vulnerability, as opposed to addressing the question of justice and dignity by living under and remaining within the boundaries of structures and orders of injustice.

The quest for justice cannot be addressed without questioning the systems that breed indignity. We cannot achieve justice by remaining within and becoming visible through the structural boundaries which create injustice and indignity. It is the very structure of social, material and cultural enslavement that needs to be challenged and destroyed to genuinely address the question of freedom and emancipation.

Trafficking and ‘Criminalising’ Victims

This understanding informed our views on trafficking and the worst forms of exploitation and brutal violence against women from the lower castes, lower classes, Adivasi communities and other vulnerable sections.

This perspective made us consider violence and abuse against women, including prostitution, as a systemic, structural and institutional form of violence, which in our society intersects with caste, class, and ethnicity as with other forms and systems of oppression of underprivileged persons. We believe that women cannot achieve the goal of freedom and emancipation by remaining within the bounds of this structural violence and by attempting to gain visibility and dignity within the very structures and institutions that are rooted and thrive on their exploitation and abuse. We also wish to assert that the struggle against prostitution must be strengthened as it is rooted in brutal exploitation which is simultaneously based on violence and enslavement involving gender, caste and class.

Women from the oppressed and exploited sections do not enter into prostitution willingly, or as a matter of choice but are forced into it due to social and economic vulnerabilities. Women and children should not be forced to live with prostitution. We, Phule–Ambedkarite women/men firmly reject the systems of violence and exploitation. When we resolutely challenge the systems and structures of oppression we do not seek to criminalise or exclude victims of violence and exploitation. Rather we seek to work towards collective consciousness against such systems. Those who contribute to the politics of visibility or in reality induce women from the oppressed sections to live with their exploitation and abuse, are actually agents of violence against them. Those who justify prostitution do not live and experience the violence and abuse. It is through these agents of exploitation and violence that abuse and oppression become normal and natural conditions of existence.

To take another poignant example, people engaged in manual scavenging too are forced to do so in order to earn for their own and their families’ survival, but that does not, therefore, make manual scavenging normal. Those who demand dignity for the manual scavengers even as they continue to do the scavenging are actually agents of violence. Likewise, the struggle for women’s right to dignity and justice has to be rooted in a firm denial and rejection of the system of oppression.

An Egalitarian Universe

The “Chalo Nagpur” campaign was a historic attempt that represented women from all over India who are attempting to forge a collective struggle ahead towards building interactions, connections and to dialogue with women across the world for an egalitarian universe.

We submitted this resolution at the conclusion of the campaign:

(i) We, the women of India, have come together to fight the repressive ideologies of Brahmanwad, Manuvad, Hindutva, and the social orders of power and domination that they constitute and control.

(ii) We profoundly recognise and salute the efforts of Savitribai Phule, Jyotiba Phule, and Babasaheb Ambedkar for their efforts to emancipate all deprived sections of India, in general and women, in particular.

(iii) We also salute those who have selflessly fought and continue fighting for the cause of the larger humanity both in the past and present context—the mothers who have lost their children due to the ideologies of Brahmanwad, Manuvad and Hindutva. We salute the struggle waged by Irom Sharmila in centring the issue of women’ rights.

(iv) Together we resolve to fight against the Brahminical ideology which has victimised Dalit women on account of caste-based public patriarchy and has made them face brutal violence and oppression at the hands of upper caste patriarchy. It is necessary to note that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, from 2000 to 2015, the “reported” cases of rape against Dalit women in India stood at 20,300; and these women continue to be deprived of justice.

(v) Many educated women have become victims of domestic violence, shaped by Brahminical and Manuvadi ideology; the legal mechanism in this regard, has favoured men—the perpetrators—who are also victims of Brahminical and Manuvadi ideology. We resolve to work towards ending this violence.

(vi) We condemn all ill practices and structures—social, political, economic and cultural—such as forced prostitution, manual scavenging, demanding dowry, religiously sanctioned sexual violence as seen in the Devadasi system, witch-hunting, etc, which have enslaved women for ages and are the outcome of Brahmanvad and Manuvad. We resolve to fight against those who trap women confronting multiple vulnerabilities into prostitution as well as those who ignore the structural and institutional forms of enslavement, including caste, class, and gender, which make these women vulnerable; as well as those who work in inculcating a sense of indifference towards their conditions—exploitation and brutal oppression of the women victimised by the above-mentioned ideologies and order. Instead of making these women conscious of their slavery, they are being made to speak the language of willing prostitution. We condemn this as a form of violence against women and resolve to work against those who make the oppressed seemingly live “happily” with the violence and subordination in their lives.

(vii) We consider it necessary to collectively combat against all forms of slavery against women by all ideologies of domination and power, and we would wish to accord priorities in arresting atrocities attempted on those who are the most vulnerable. We hope to carve out the existing legal system in such a way that no woman will face subjugation and imposition.

(viii) While we have an effective legislation against rape, this legal measure will need to provide special attention to Dalit women’s victimisation and multiple vulnerabilities, with special punitive actions. Similarly, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 will also note the priority and specificity of the Dalit woman as the most vulnerable among vulnerable and will have stringent punitive action. We will also work towards the strict implementation of all laws created for ensuring justice for women by going beyond the rhetoric of mere pronouncements.

(ix) We support the principle of “difference” as a feminist practice so that women from all castes, tribes, religions, ethnicities, genders and sexualities may express themselves freely as citizens of this land and will become “autonomous beings.”

(x) We, as the collective voice of all women of India, will forge ahead to end all ideologies, structures, and contexts of enslavement in Indian society in the near future, and that each and everyone will fight to end slavery encountered by everybody.

(xi) We value the principle of representation and the policy of 33% reservation. We demand that it should be raised to 50% as women comprise half of the total population. In this too, we assert, priority will be accorded to women from the most victimised/socially, economically and culturally deprived sections in India.

(xii) We appreciate the fact that women of the deprived sections, that is, Dalit, Adivasi, Other Backward Classes and minorities, have selflessly participated in and have helped the struggle for women’s liberation in India by making women’s protest visible, and heard, in the public domain. We observe that so far women from the deprived sections were/are considered to be in the “add-ons” category by relatively less-deprived women. We resolve to end such “patron- client” categories and relationships in the process of emancipatory struggles.

(xiii) We stress that the ideals and values of justice, freedom, and dignity as claims of all women and men will be enshrined in social and institutional practices, part of family upbringing and educational institutions, and a part of public domains, such that a discriminatory, iniquitous and hierarchical society is arrested and healthy human society is nurtured in its place.

(xiv)  This “Chalo Nagpur” initiative by women on 10 March 2017 marks an effort on part of women to commemorate the 120th death anniversary of Savitribai Phule, the first trained woman teacher, who dared to liberate all women from the bonds of enslavement by educating them; we recognise and salute all women from international communities, as well as men—“male feminists”—who support and participate in this emancipatory project. Let us work towards a “transversal politics” to combat all enslavements against all women in the world.

Updated On : 30th May, 2017

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