27, Oct 2020 | CJP Team
On October 27, 2020, the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and the Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG), came together for a webinar to pay tribute to activist Bharati Roy Choudhary on the occasion of her 67th birth anniversary.
Bharati Roy Chaudhary, who was affectionately called Bharati Didi was one of India’s most respected feminists and activists and had worked extensively to empower women, forest workers, Adivasis, famers as well as workers from both, organised and unorganised sectors.
The webinar saw participation from several grassroots activists associated with a multitude of movements related to forest rights, women’s rights, citizenship etc. who came together to discuss the intersectionality of caste, communalism and patriarchy.
Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Please support our efforts by donating here.
The webinar began with a rendition of “Le masaale nikal pade hain” by cultural activists Maharani Bhandari and Rampyari ji.This was followed by a traditional “shraddhanjali” by activist Munni Lal ji and a recital of a three-part poem titled Wajood (Existence) by poet Rajnish ji.
AIUFWP general secretary Roma Malik opened the discussion saying, “We have been studying the impact of patriarchy on land rights. When women get control of land, they are better able to defend themselves against exploitation and violence, both within and outside their homes. Thus, women and even children end up being treated like property!” Roma added, “We need to build synergies with women’s movements across India that affect women at different intersections of identities; Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim women.”
CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad elaborated on the need for building synergies saying, “Bharati Roy Chaudhary is a shining example of what the women’s movement can accomplish when we look at women from various socio-cultural intersections; caste, class, community and more. A majoritarian culture attempts to do away with rights of women, whether it comes to citizenship, control of land and forest resources, economic independence and much more.”
On the subject of sexual violence Setalvad said, “We cannot view sexual violence in isolation. Whether it is Hathras, Jajjhar and Khairlanji, all this is connected with an assertion of rights by oppressed communities. Successive governments and administrations have ignored this violence. Muslims have borne a brunt of targeted communal as well as sexual violence since the time of partition. Therefore, we need to build synergies across not only caste but also communal lines.”
Reminding how some of the most successful human rights movements have been led by women, Setalvad said, “After CAA was passed, it was women who have been at the forefront of protests. Let’s not forget the dadis of Shaheen Bagh and other peaceful protests led by women. The land rights movement by Dalit, Adivasi and forest-dwelling women are uniquely positioned to build synergies with other movements like the citizenship movement.”
Noted women’s rights activist Jagmati Sangwan who has worked extensively battling ‘honour killings’ in Haryana spoke next. “On a fundamental level, economic inequality is what is impeding progress of the movement for women’s rights. It also causes the further exploitation of women and violence against them. Within the family itself, especially when it comes to property rights, women are rarely given their due,” said Sangwan.
She also explained how taking away a woman’s right to choose her partner was a concerted strategy to preserve the hierarchical caste system saying, “In Haryana ‘Honour’ killings are a way to stop women from choosing who they marry. The victims are always women and ‘lower’ caste men. In UP they dub marriages of choice as ‘Love Jihad’ and run ‘anti-Romeo’ squads!” Sangwan concluded by saying, “When women support different human rights goals by coming together, only then can we overthrow patriarchy, casteism and communalism.”
Next speaker was Dalit rights activist Nicholas from Tamil Nadu who gave a recent example of widespread casteism in his state, “A Dalit Panthers leader had demanded Manusmriti be banned as it promotes patriarchy and inequality. Now right-wing activists are protesting this.” He added, “Only through empowering Dalit women in the villages can we have more equality and end casteism and patriarchy. Over 1,00,000 Dalit women are a part of the land-rights movement in North Tamil Nadu. Today at least 15,000 of them have been successful under the Panchami land scheme.”
AIUFWP’s Sokalo Gond, who is one of the strongest voices among women forest rights defenders in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh said, “This movement where women are demanding forest and land rights is aimed at dismantling patriarchy. We have to intensify our struggle. We have to use legal means to stop this culture of exploitation where they not only toy with our land and our rights, but also target our bodies!”
Jibin Robin, an Activist Sevaniya from Lakhimpur-Kheeri highlighted the difference between how children of different genders are raised with different values, saying, “From childhood girls are never told about their rights. Boys are told they will get property rights, while daughters are just raised to be married away!”
Kaneez Fatima, who was at the forefront of the Shaheen Bagh protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) also joined the discussion. “Jai Hind! I feel women must lead human rights movements to make India successful. Dalits, Adivasis, women, farmers, we must all come together to demand our rights and prevent exploitation,” she said, adding, “Women have responsibilities, not just toward their families, but also towards society. The women of Shaheen Bagh remember the support we received from Dalit-Adivasi women. They call you Naxalite. They call us Terrorist!”
Grassroots activists Rani ji and Rakhi ji also joined the discussion. Rani ji recounted the case of a recent gangrape of a minor Dalit girl in her village saying, “She was picked up and raped in the morning. When she did not come home, her parents went looking for her. They found her bound to a tree in the field, and took her to the police station where the policemen refused to file an FIR. The parents then scolded the girl who then died by suicide.” Rakhi ji said, “So far we have not faced any difficulty from the local administration. We follow the law to the letter. We must continue to follow the law and generate greater awareness to ensure we get our rights. We have to stay united.”
Activist Vijayan MJ reminded everyone about the targeting of activists. “Look at how the regime is targeting people like Father Stan. He was working for Adivasi rights. That’s what sacred the regime,” he said.
Maharani Bhandari from Action India weighed in on women’s agency over their bodies and how this impacted their access to healthcare saying, “Even today men make decisions about women’s bodies and decide if they should get critical medical attention. We have to end patriarchy.”
Activist Ashok Chaudhary said, “The resources that were available to Adivasis, forest-dwellers and farmers are being snatched away. Patriarchy empowers the oppressors and leads to greater exploitation of not only women, but also farmers and increases discrimination. Therefore, we need to unite to ensure we battle both patriarchy and other forms of oppression, especially when it comes to demanding land and forest rights.”