ML Update 52 / 2013

MLUpdate

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol. 16, No. 52, 17 – 23 DECEMBER 2013

The Winds of Change for Fearless Freedom Won’t Be Stopped by the Wall of Reaction

"What has changed since last December?” is the question everyone is asking a year after the brutal gangrape and murder that sparked off a massive movement. After all, the number of rapes and sexual assaults are higher than ever, and women certainly don’t feel safer.

In fact, the changes are enormously significant and precious. The winds of change that made last year’s slogans of fearless freedom possible, continue to blow strong, in spite of the many obstacles.

Last year, many had wondered why only a handful of the most brutal of gangrapes where slumdwellers were perpetrators, made it to headlines, while the everyday sexual degradation faced by women, or sexual violence by powerful men passed unnoticed. A year later, 16th December saw sexual harassment by a retired Supreme Court judge making it to the headlines and editorials. The fact that sexual harassment and violence faced by women at the workplace, and the need to end the impunity of the more privileged perpetrators, has emerged as a matter of public concern is an important and welcome change.

In the past year, many women have spoken of how the protests made them feel more empowered to raise their voice against sexual harassment and violence. The lawyer who wrote of the harassment at the hands of Justice Ganguly has spoken of how the protests of last December might have helped her to go public. “What has changed,” she said, “is that women …feel there is a small group, a small segment of society that will stand by them. Of course, that number is still very small, but for those who have been at the receiving end, it means a great deal.” The journalist in the Tejpal case could talk of the violence she faced to her male colleagues – confident of their understanding, support and solidarity, and they stood staunchly by her. Soni Sori, the fighter against custodial rape by Chhattisgarh cops, was greeted with long applause this year at a Delhi gathering of last year’s protestors, as she told them, “I got strength from the movement you have sustained since last December. The torture had demoralized and shattered me physically. In jail, I realized there are women in worse conditions than me. I reached out to you and you responded. The movement you launched and the strength I got from it kept me going.” The fight against sexual violence is still long and hard – but it is significantly less lonely, and the ranks of the fighters have swelled.

The other immensely significant change can be witnessed in the spontaneous outburst of outraged protest against the Supreme Court’s Section 377 verdict re-criminalising homosexuality. In another day and age, a Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals are criminals would have further isolated and demoralised an already marginalised group of gay rights activists, who could not count on support even from some of the largest women’s organisations. This year, days before December 16 2013, enormous street protests declared that the Supreme Court ruling bends shamefully to religious reactionaries and fails to protect the rights of homosexuals. Public opinion has forced even most ruling class political parties to break their silence and at least say the right thing. Some prominent supporters of the BJP among young celebrities, who had been touting Modi as the leader of ‘modern, young India’, have been embarrassed by the BJP’s retrograde support for Section 377 and BJP leaders’ homophobic utterances. Even in the mainstream media, the dominant opinion is that Section 377, that declares homosexuality to be ‘unnatural’, is a relic of a patriarchal, unscientific, and discriminatory colonial order. Such a law had no place in India prior to colonial rule, and should certainly have no place in modern democratic India. In a world where even the Pope is having to modify the Catholic Church’s homophobic stances, personal freedoms and constitutional liberties cannot be violated to defer to the opinion of a handful of religious leaders and godmen. A significant section of India’s vocal younger generation finds it troubling that the Supreme Court, which chooses to be vocal about red lights on cars, should be ‘recuse itself’ from protecting people from an unconstitutional law.

Doubtless, the forces of patriarchal reaction too are gathering their forces. The communal rapists of Muzaffarnagar are yet to be arrested even after an FIR has been registered. Communal and casteist forces still seek to curb women’s freedoms and unleash violence on minorities and oppressed castes in the name of ‘protecting women.’ Dalit and adivasi women battling rape continue to struggle for justice. Rapes by Armed Forces continue to be shielded by the AFSPA – the AFSPA that is imposed not only in Kashmir and Manipur but has also recently been given an extension in CPIM-ruled Tripura. Stalking by the Gujarat Government and its ‘Saheb’ is being justified in the name of ‘protecting’ the victim from her male friends. The Chairperson of the NCW, herself a leader of the Congress, echoes the sentiment of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat when she blames rapes on urbanisation and advises women to keep themselves safe by adhering to ‘Indian culture.’ Justice Ganguly sticks to his post as West Bengal Human Rights Commission Chairperson in the face of sexual harassment charges that have been upheld by a Supreme Court panel – and a former Speaker and a former Chief Justice are part of his team of defenders. A Central Minister and senior judges alike warn that if women complain against sexual harassment, they won’t get jobs.

Still, these forces of reaction are forced to shout louder – because they know they have to work harder to be heard above the slogans of ‘bekhauf azaadi.’ The battle for fearless freedom is a long one, by no means easy – but the fighters’ ranks have swelled, their voices have grown more confident, and their spirits are high. The winds of change won’t be stopped by the wall of reaction.

Construction Workers’ Rally in Kolkata

In India, an overwhelming number of people seek employment in the construction sector, second only to agriculture. In fact according to the last NSSO survey, close to 4.5 crore (45 million) people in India are construction workers. In spite of a 1996 legislation meant especially for construction workers, little has changed for them in real terms. Wages are abysmally poor, far below the stipulated minimum wage. There are wide discrepancies in minimum wages across states. Interstate migration laws are never adhered to. Women workers face wage and gender discrimination, and no benefits that they are entitled to as per provision. Social security measures exist on paper and various state governments have collected Rs.11,127 crores of cess tax for this purpose but spent only 1,448 crores on workers’ social security so far!

In West Bengal the situation is no different. Most of the big projects surveyed by AICCTU pay less than the minimum wage, including govt projects! The Construction Workers’ and Employees’ union of West Bengal (affiliated to AICCTU) which is 4 years old, has functioning committees in 10 districts with close to 10,000 membership so far. The union held its maiden State-level rally on 11th December where workers gathered together to voice their demands at Esplanade, the heart of Kolkata, and sent a deputation to the labour ministry. The rally saw an enthusiastic assembly of close to 2500 workers who marched to the venue, carrying red flags, banners and placards, in two processions starting from Sealdah and Howrah stations respectively. Participation of women workers was conspicuous. The rally was addressed by comrades Atanu Chakrabarty, Kishore Sarkar, Basudeb Bose, Partha Ghosh and Dwaipayan. Prabir Das conducted the proceedings.

December 16th: 1st Anniversary of Nirbhaya Case

Demonstrations in West Bengal: Women and student-youth activists of AISA, AIPWA and RYA held a day-long protest-demonstration at College Street on December 16, marking the anniversary of the spark that lit a prairie fire of movements against gender violence in the country. A stretch of the busy street, facing the legendary Coffee House, was lined with posters decrying the Supreme Court verdict on article 377, calling for justice for countless rape victims of the State, demanding Justice Ashok Ganguly’s resignation as chairperson of the WBHRC, and calling for a CBI inquiry into the Chit-fund scam that robbed the poorest toiling masses of Bengal by a nexus patronised overtly by the TMC Govt. The protest was addressed by Comrades Bhuvana, Partha Ghosh, student activist Debmalya, women activists Shukla Sen, Chandrasmita, Kasturi, Krishna Bandyopadhyay, LGBT activist Anurag and many others. Several songs were sung as passers-by stopped over and joined with their voices. A street play was also performed. Protests were held at Hooghly and other places in the State.

(Below we carry two reports published in the ToI of 17th December 2013, Delhi edition, with minor changes)

Nirbhaya case: At JNU, the cause has grown wider

NEW DELHI: Students of JNU have kept alive the flames of protest they sparked a year ago after city girl Nirbhaya was gang-raped and brutalized on December 16, 2012. On Sunday they held a night vigil where through soul-stirring performances and inspiring speeches they extended their movement to encompass issues such as marital rape, the Armed Forces (Special powers) Act and the draconian Section 377.

On Monday, they kept their solidarity show going. Joining hands with students from Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University, gay rights activists and professors, they marched with candles from Ganga Dhaba in JNU to Munirka bus stop where Nirbhaya and her friend boarded the bus that winter night.

Sunday evening started with a five-minute short film – "In the Body of Justice" by Eve Ensler, author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’. Prof Nivedita Menon of JNU delivered a moving lecture on how the common man must "take back the republic".

She called for a new sexual assault law. "We need a freshly-designed law that will reflect gender neutrality." This legislation, she said, should take into account mass violence during communal riots, violence on women in caste situations where dalit women are raped. "We need a law that reflects the realities of our society."

Actor Maya Rao presented a skit called "Walk" developed against the backdrop of the Nirbhaya incident. Her message: "The battle got much bigger since 2012". Freedom, not protection, is what this battle is about, she said.

The longest applause was for Soni Sori, a suspected Dantewada Maoist, who was allegedly tortured and raped brutally by policemen. "I got strength from the movement you have sustained since last December. The torture had demoralized and shattered me physically. In jail, I realized there are women in worse conditions than me. I reached out to you and you responded. The movement you launched and the strength I got from it kept me going," she said.

On Monday nearly 800 students marched to Munirka where Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and gay right activist Gautam Bhan addressed the gathering with Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy. Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover addressed the students before the march began.

Nirbhaya fire burns bright, heat on ex-judge

NEW DELHI: A year after the Nirbhaya case, activists and protesters find women’s liberty a far cry. They came together once again at Jantar Mantar on Monday to assess the changes brought by the yearlong campaign that catapulted the issue to the forefront of Delhiites’ consciousness.

Topping their list of demands was removal of Justice A K Ganguly as the chairman of West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Women who had experienced sexual assault also came forward to share their stories. At a protest organized by All India Democratic Women’s Associaton ( AIDWA), All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) and several others, activists presented a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister, demanding the removal of former Supreme Court judge Justice Ganguly besides taking steps for the creation of committees against sexual harassment at every workplace.

"When people were protesting against Nirbhaya’s gangrape here on December 24, Justice Ganguly, in a five-star hotel nearby, was sexually harassing this law intern. The PM has to assure us that whether it is a man from jhuggis, a high-profile journalist, or a Supreme Court judge, no one will escape punishment," said human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover as protesters shouted slogans.

Aruna Kumar, senior private assistant to the principal of ARSD college in DU, spoke about how her position had not been restored even after a chargesheet was filed on her complaint of a sexual assault by the former principal. "My room at the college office has been closed. I have not been given any work since I filed the complaint and am still being discriminated against. Many such harassment cases in DU are now coming out," she said.

Tribal schoolteacher from Chhattisgarh, Soni Sori, attended the protest but did not address the gathering. She sat quietly as other activists described how she was allegedly stripped naked and faced brutal sexual abuse in custody.

Revati Laul, journalist and a friend of the Tehelka journalist allegedly sexually assaulted by editor Tarun Tejpal, said she and the victim had been covering Nirbhaya’s case extensively and couldn’t imagine that their editor would assault somebody. "If there was a sexual harassment committee at work, my friend would have had the option to see her case pursued systematically."

Salma (name changed), who used to be the national programming head with a radio channel, recollected the trauma after she was allegedly assaulted by the CEO of the company. "I have been fighting the case for three years but have got no support," she said.

Gourab Ghosh, a JNU student leader, had come with many other students. "Every institution should have a gender sensitization committee against sexual harassment like that in JNU."

Kavita Krishnan, secretary, AIPWA stressed that the government should immediately start a public education campaign on women’s rights and freedoms.

Assertion of AISA in the Academic Space of Madurai

The 47 year old Madurai University faces for the first time indefinite closure from 10th December. The struggle started on 4th, continued for 8 days, till the police evacuated students, demanding revoking of dismissal of AISA leaders comrades Arun and Pandiyarajan and redressal of demands raised by AISA.

It all started in January, 2013, just 11 months ago when AISA Madurai, decided to intervene in the happenings of Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU). The universities in Tamilnadu have become fiefdom of the ruling party of the State and are being looted. The education system is collapsing due to semi-privatization, corruption and suppression of dissent.

The present Vice- Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) is a family member of an AIADMK leader (late). She started to fill all the legal bodies (Senate, Syndicate) with her loyalists and the Registrar was frequently changed to suit her needs. The new VC created self financed courses of her liking without any infrastructure and funding from UGC or any relevant agency and closed a girls’ hostel to create space for a theatre. She took little interest in providing atmosphere for teaching-learning, for example fellowship to the research scholars has not been paid for the last 10 to 12 months. She had taken no effort to spend Rs 2 Crore, which the University has to spend this academic year out of 10 Crore transferred by the UGC towards scholarship for M.Phil and PhD students. However the VC is now listing out that she had added Wi-Fi, solar energy and so on, for reasons well known. However, no Wi-Fi or washing machine or refrigerator or inverter is found in hostels (as per UPE standard) as mentioned in the Self Assessment Report by the university for NAAC.

AISA tried to resist VC’s move to disintegrate the integrated education institute. It organized several protests in various forms this academic year. On the Convocation Day (23rd October) Comrades Arun and Pandiyarajan tried to meet the Vice Chairman of UGC demanding early release of fellowship. However the MKU administration used police to prevent the leaders and students from meeting him. The students turned towards the collector office, which is 15 KM away and presented the petition to him. It was widely covered in the local media.

The MKU management has tried to browbeat the movement and the students, however, we have resisted them at every step. After trying several ways for silencing and threatening the AISA leaders, on 3rd December the Syndicate decided to rusticate Arun and Pandiyarajan. The Syndicate decision to suspend a worker who is also SC/ST Union leader, who fought for reservations in employment, demotion of a reputed professor to non-academic post and sending out PDF scholar who is differently abled single woman and also an associate of the demoted professor infuriated the entire campus.

AISA’s organization is relatively new. However, it knew its strength is its drive for better academic atmosphere and aspiration of the academic community for democratic environment. We decided to go for what was required and started our protest on 4th December in which more than 100 students participated. Madurai Kamaraj University Faculty Association (MUFA), as it got another blow from the VC, joined the protest. In a matter of 2 or 3 days hundreds of students, defying authoritarian grip of VC through the Chair Persons, HoDs and others joined the struggle.

AISA joined hands with SFI and also initiated an idea of creating ‘Save MKU Coalition’. On 12th December students and professors were arrested. All the students sat in front of VC’s office demanding revoking of undemocratic decision of the Syndicate. The management invited the students and MUFA for discussion. The so-called peace committee constituted by the VC demanded unconditional apology from our leaders, our comrades staged walk out.

However no solution was possible as the peace committee was just a stooge of the VC and the academic community staged bigger mobilization with vigor. The management announced closure of all schools, departments and hostels of the university at dusk, throwing all the students including girls on the street. Unprecedented struggle in the history of MKU happened as girls and boys marched the roads of university and gheraoed the VC’s office at midnight. AISA and SFI leaders declared indefinite fast which emboldened the students. However, the intervention of RDO made it possible to open the hostels late at midnight.

The next day morning the management forced the students out by cutting electricity and water. In the early morning students walked to the main gate with their luggage and started to protest. The fast continued. As the hostels were closed, students organized community kitchen.

The RDO intervened again and the management came down to revoke the dismissal of scholars unconditionally. However, the students were not ready to conclude struggle without winning their demands. The struggle continued and the police damaged the community kitchen and warned the students to disperse. However, the students decided to court arrest. 400 students including 92 girls and 12 professors were evacuated to halls. Protest continued there too, demanding food and access to hostels and to provide accommodation to girls who cannot reach home safe. Later all of them were released and the MKU was compelled to open hostels to girls till morning.

The struggle has created new hope among academic community. MUTA (Association of teachers of 4 southern universities and affiliated colleges), UCC (Coordination committee of teachers associations) and TANFUFA (Tamilnadu Federation of University Faculty Associations) joined in the struggle and conducted agitations. The MKU students struggle gathered support from other universities of the State too.

AISA took initiative again and sat with SFI and formed AISA-SFI Coordination to sustain the struggle and the coordination has decided to organize signature campaign in affiliated colleges and bigger joint struggles and mobilisations.

Jan Adhikar Rally at Dharchula in Uttarakhand On the issue of Rehabilitation and State Repression

A large number of people participated in the 25 November rally at Dharchula in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand under the banner of CPI(ML) organised on the issue of rehabilitation and state repression. We are the only Party that mobilised people in such huge numbers on these issues after the disaster. The rally lambasted the Congress Govt of the State on the issue of rehabilitation and exposed the real intentions behind the repression unleashed on people in the name of fighting Maoism. Apart from sizeable participation from villages close to Dharchula, a significant participation of people from far-flung villages has influenced political discourse in this district bordering Nepal and Tibet.

The issues of disaster-affected people seems to have been forgotten by most other parties, therefore such a large mobilisation in our rally. Various sections of people joined the rally including ASHA workers, Aanganbadi workers, Bhojanmatas, Kisan Mahasabha, and most importantly the youth of the region. Most of the area falling under Dharchula is affected by June16 disaster. The BJP which has 32 legislators in the State Assembly is not raising its voice on the issue of disaster affected people.

Comrade Raja Bahuguna, Party’s CCM was the main speaker. He said that the claims of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the State after the disaster have failed. The meeting of reconstruction committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister is yet to take off. CPI(ML) has been raising the issues with due seriousness and its leaders as a result are being branded Maoist or being falsely accused under various charges and arrested.

The Congress Govt is also trying to eke-out political gains out of the sad situation. It had declared earlier that the electricity and water bill for the period June 2013 – March 2014 will be waived off in view of the difficulties brought on people about by the disaster. Now it says that it is meant only for the disaster affected. The disaster affected have already lost their houses where they could have the electricity and water connection.

Comrade Harish Dhami conducted the proceedingsof the rally while several leaders including District Secretary Jagat Martoliya, Govind Kafalia, Munsyari’s branch secretary Surendra Brijwal, AICCTU leader Deepa Pandey among others addressed the public meeting after the rally.

AISA’s Workshop in Uttarakhand

A two-day long State-level workshop of All India Students’ Association (AISA) was held at Srinagar in Garhwal on 19-20 November. The workshop discussed current students’ movements, AISA’s history, organisation building and current political situation.

Student leaders Om Prasad, Sandipan and others facilitated debate and discussion.

Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: mlupdate, website: www.cpiml.org

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