We recently celebrated the 76th year of Indian independence. Our freedom fighters fought for independence with dreams of building a democratic and secular nation. Women played heroic roles sacrificing their lives for a country where women would be free of hunger, unemployment and violence. Women raised the demand for equal rights along with all other demands of the independence struggle. But the aspirations of the people, especially women have been crushed to the ground. The Prime Minister’s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort did not reflect any of the concerns of the citizens of India.

Food Security Compromised

India has the largest number of hungry people in the world. Yet the central government support for PDS has come down by more than 40 percent in the last 5 years. The opening up of food markets is leading to price rise; food inflation is to the tune of 7 percent; and LPG prices have gone up by more than 140 percent since 2014. The government started giving 5 kg free grains during the pandemic. But it has stopped the distribution of subsidized grains under the PDS system. More than 4 crore ration cards have been cancelled between 2013 and 2021. This is leading to an increase in malnutrition and starvation. The Modi government in its attempt to hide this fact has decided to stop giving anaemia figures in the National Family Health Survey. 

Instead, it has announced that poor families would be given rice fortified with iron and vitamins through the public distribution system (PDS), the school midday meals scheme and other government programmes to reduce malnutrition and anaemia. The investigative articles of the Reporters Collective showed that the scheme that was going to affect about 80 crore Indians was started without evidence and preparation. There is lack of evidence that fortified rice will iron out anaemia and malnutrition. A cartel of six companies will have a bonanza of Rs 1,800 crore annual business due to this decision.

MGNREGA in Doldrums

The Central government has decided to kill MGNREGA with drastic cuts in the budgetary allocation for the scheme even though demand is going up. The Centre owes 18 states more than Rs 6000 crore for pending wages, and 30 states another Rs 6000 crores as material costs. This has adversely impacted the implementation of the scheme in the states. Majority of the MGNREGA workers are women who are not getting work; they do not get wages on time and the online attendance system works to their disadvantage.

MGNREGA is a lifeline for crores of households despite the low wages and insufficient number of days of work. The meagre earnings are precious because there are hardly any job opportunities in the country. Shrinking livelihood opportunities are pushing women into the most insecure and exploitative jobs. Cases of forced labour and human trafficking have also increased.

Increasing loss of livelihoods and rising cost of living have forced women into taking high interest loans from MFIs, whose malpractices are going unpunished. Many of the Central Government schemes that require the formation of SHGs have been penetrated by private finance banks and micro-finance companies. The policy changes brought about by the RBI have only facilitated this. Rising debts and inability to repay loans is leading to suicides. This is the new system of loot sanctioned by the BJP-RSS regime.

Increasing Violence and Discrimination against Women

The insensitive and arrogant BJP-RSS government has created an extremely insecure atmosphere for women in the country. The politics of hatred has resulted in increasing brutality and violence against minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and women. Crimes and instances of violence against women have reached alarming proportions since the advent of the Modi government. 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. According the NCRB, a crime against women is committed every three minutes. Women are raped every 29 minutes and dowry death occurs every 77 minutes. In every 10 rape cases, 6 are girls under 18. The accused go unpunished. The deafening silence of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi during the Manipur atrocities and many others is tacit support for the criminals. There is no improvement in the schemes addressing violence such as the Nirabhaya Scheme and the One Stop Crisis Centres for rape victims. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao slogan has remained just a ‘jumla’.

Demonising the minorities and unleashing brutal violence against them with impunity has become the order of the day. Ram Navami processions are used to provoke violence against the Muslims. Deliberately destroying the economic resources of the Muslims, bulldozing their houses, killing young Muslim boys at the slightest pretext has created fear and tremendous insecurity in the hearts of Muslim citizens. Self-appointed vigilante groups are having a free rein and roaming scot-free after killing, lynching, murdering and looting people. They have taken the law into their hands with tacit support from the Sangh Parivar.

The brazenness with which the leaders of the ruling regime propagate the anti-women ‘Manusmriti’ has strengthened the hands of the communal and castiest forces. This has led to a severe setback for the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Unite to Defend Secular and Democratic India

We are at the threshold where all Indians, especially women have a lot at stake. Attempts to change our secular, democratic republic into a Hindutva Rashtra by the ruling BJP-RSS combine is a dangerous portent. The attempts to replace our Constitution by the Manusmriti must be resisted. The authoritarian Modi government’s use of religion and hate politics to polarize the citizens must be unitedly opposed. Dalits are in a very vulnerable state with increase in caste atrocities. We have to stand in defense of the minorities and backward castes.

A Hindu Rashtra is based on hierarchies and exclusion. It strengthens upper caste hegemony and patriarchy. As Bharatratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar stated, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country”, and warned that “It (Hindu Raj) is incompatible with democracy”. 

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) calls upon women to participate in thousands in the National Chalo Delhi Rally on 5 October 2023 to strengthening our struggle in defense of our rights and the Constitution of India.