27, Oct 2020 | Roma Malik
A discussion on the intersectionality of caste, communalism and patriarchy is being organised on October 27, 2020 by the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and the Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG) as a tribute and to senior leader and activist, late Bharati Roy Choudhary.
We wish to commemorate Bharati Didi – a doyen for feminists, forest workers, Adivasis, unorganised and organised workers – by recounting the last nine years spent on studying women’s liberation from exploitation and inequality in relation to the land and forest rights struggle of the movement as well.
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.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the basic struggle for freedom can only be achieved with a decisive end to patriarchy. However, this end can only be attained after persevering struggles, and empowering resource and land ownership by and for women.” Further, she stresses the need to understand the political and social aspects of patriarchy, where women from the most marginalised sections will be central to the struggle. “Such women will lead this struggle, while other progressive men and young men and women from different sections may also become part of the movement.
Years of studies and discussion have made it clear that unless women have ownership over production and means like land, forests and natural resources, they cannot be free of patriarchy. Adivasi cultural activist Rajkumari Bhuiyan says, “I’m a mother, so is the earth. So where did patriarchy come from?” (Mai bhi maai, ye dharti bhi maai, toh pitrusatta kahan se aayi?) This is the feminist philosophy of women associated with the forest right’s movement because for the last two decades, they worked to reclaim the ancestral land of their fathers from feudal lords, forest department and capitalists. During this time, they realised that women will only be free of servitude and exploitation once they truly attain their forest rights.
Moreover, women also understand that the entire marriage institution exists solely to hand over the monopoly of production resources to men, thus effectively making land, animals, women, children and Dalits become either virtual slaves or property of men. Even Manusmriti that first introduced the varna system to Indian society says that “dhol, animals, Shudras, women, all deserve a good beating.”
Similarly, philosopher Friedrich Engels mentioned in his ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ article that ‘family’ means “a gathering of slaves.” Thus, patriarchy aims to monopolise the capital of the entire world. It is important to understand and address the notion of women’s enslavement within the family structure because it is extremely difficult for women to rid themselves off these dividing chains created by the varna system and religion.
AIUFWP also raises the question of how and who would challenge patriarchy. This because women’s struggle is also a class struggle. Thus, only that society whose women have suffered gender discrimination along with caste violence, communal discrimination and violence, power of state power will prove ideal for overthrowing patriarchy. This is one of the reasons why the upper-class, upper-caste society cannot fathom an educated Dalit woman breaking free of feudal slavery; a Muslim woman stepping onto the street to decry the Citizenship Amendment Act; a Dalit Adivasi woman challenging state power to assert her water, forest and land rights.
Women are subjected to various atrocities to maintain the status quo. A testament to this is the recent Hathras case wherein a young Dalit woman was allegedly sexually-assaulted and murdered by a group of upper-caste men. This was a planned attack against Dalits and working people. Land ownership is one of the prime reasons for the pile-up of cases of Dalit-related atrocities in court houses. Even in Hathras, the victim’s family had waged a long-battle for land ownership against the Thakur family. The incident occurred right after the victim’s family won the ownership case.
The perpetrators were allegedly emboldened to carry out such a crime by the state government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that keeps upper-caste morale high. The incident also proved that patriarchy is inherent in state power.
All of this goes to show that a multi-level war against patriarchy is impossible without class consciousness. Accordingly, it is presumed that this class struggle will be brought about by a radical change in the institution of family. There is no written procedure as to how this change will happen or what shape it will take but it is envisioned that it will be brought about by matriarchy.
This struggle will bring about an equality within the family, add social and cultural values in child-rearing and provide resources like land, water and forest for societal and environmental benefit rather than marketisation or privatisation. It will create an environment where a woman’s body and reproduction are in her control and where sexual abuse or any such crime is unimaginable.
Women from the privileged classes may not support this struggle because their indoctrinated minds will want to maintain the status-quo and enjoy the services they have received in a patriarchal society. However, progressive women from the middle-classes and today’s youth and young women will surely join in with this struggle.
For this struggle to gain momentum, a special class of women will have to prepare themselves for a decisive battle. A world rid of patriarchy benefits all, be it upper-class, feudal class or capitalist class. So, the focal task of the organisation should be to unite the oppressed sections of society.
Over the last few decades, women have developed a political consciousness of their own exploitation. Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim women are out on the streets to demand their rights. In hindsight, women have always played a crucial role in all civil rights movements across the world. Yet, their own issue of exploitation remains unsolved while patriarchy promptly imprisons them in the family prison.
Correcting this error, she recollected how women Adivasi members of her organisation visited Muslim women agitating against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh twice in 2020. Muslim women also promised to support Adivasi women in their struggle for forest rights. However, their plans were foiled due to the coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown. Nonetheless, the wheels have been set in motion and the ongoing dialogue between the two sections will play a major role in uniting the oppressed section of society.
This is why, if women want to be free of casteism, communalism and patriarchy, they have to take the lead and create a society where rapists are not born of the womb. Nowadays, the fight for production resources, especially land, is being fought under the leadership of Dalit and Adivasi women. Progressive forces must come together and accept their leadership to help cure society from the poison of patriarchy, caste and communalism.