Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Growth of Contemporary Women’s movement in India by Prof. Vibhuti Patel

Subject:Adult Education Paper: Women Studies
Genesis of the contemporary women's movement (WM) lay in the radicalization of Indian politics in the late sixties. Rebellious mood of the youth, poor peasants, marginal farmers, educated dalit and tribal men and women, industrial working classes found its expression in the formation of innumerable special interest groups addressing themselves to the needs and demands of the local masses. Macro political processes were also finding major shifts in their rhetoric as the protest movements of the subaltern masses had taken militant paths guided by different political ideologies. The Indian state faced major political challenge in the form of the Naxalbari movement in Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab. Middle class mass upheaval in Gujarat (popularly known as Navnirman movement) against corruption, price rise, unemployment, speculation, hoarding and black-marketing in 1974 was replicated in Bihar in the name of Sampoorna Kranti Movement under the leadership of a Gandhian leader, Jay Prakash Narayan. Unprecedented strike of the railway workers gave a proof of the political power of collective strength of the working class. Tribal people's struggles against destructive development which served the interests of the kulaks, moneylenders, contractors, bootleggers and indigenous industrialists thriving on the barbaric means of surplus extraction developed in Chhatisgarh, Singhbhoom, Bhojpur, Srikatulam, Chandrapur, Dhulia and in the pockets of the North Eastern states. In response to the 1974 drought paralysing normal agricultural activities, the tribal masses in Dhule region of Maharashtra demanded Employment Guarantee Scheme. This historic demand has revolutionised the thinking of the development workers about responsibility of the state at the time of economic crisis. (Desai and Patel, 1985)

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Comment by Prof. Vibhuti Patel on May 21, 2018 at 19:56

In the Himalayan valleys, under the leadership of Gandhian community workers the struggle against arbitrary felling of the trees which led to deforestation and massive scarcity of fuel, fodder, water and seasonal fruits, landslides devastating villages after villages began. Women evolved creative method to protect the trees from the axes of contractors' henchmen. This movement was popularly known as Chipko because women hugged the trees when their adversaries made ferocious efforts at felling the trees. In Maharashtra, women activists and women intellectuals involved in progressive movements took initiative in forming a united front called Anti-price rise Women's Committee and organised direct action against the culprits who created man-made scarcity of essential goods. Thousands of poor and lower middle class women joined the struggle under the leadership of seasoned and able women from the left and socialist background. Mrinal Gore, Ahalya Ranganekar, Manju Gandhi and Tara Reddy made their special mark in the eyes of the masses as a result of their unique ability to reach out to the women of different class backgrounds. Their intellectual self-sufficiency, ability to relate micro issues to macro political reality, simple lifestyle and non-bossy nature provided role models to the younger generation of women's liberation activists of all political hues. Around the same time a conference of Women's Liberation Movement Coordination Committee was organised in Pune. This had even larger socio-political and cultural base as right from young educated women, professionals, writers, teachers, industrial working class women, unorganised sector women workers, temple prostitutes and tribal women participated in the deliberations and highlighted their demands. Stree Mukti Sangathana in Bombay and Progressive Organisation of Women in Hyderabad were formed in 1974. In Delhi, new leadership among women evolved from the radical students' movement and the democratic rights movement. Individual women in different political groupings all over India were feeling discontented about patriarchal biases in their organisations but they came out openly against it only after the emergency rule got over. These were independent, self-determining and democratic movements, which questioned all hierarchical structures. In India, young people of that period had not participated in the dreams of the nationalist movement. Faced with multiple crises- economic, social and political, along with corruption, drought, inflation, unemployment, pauperization of the rural poor - the disenchanted youth responded with protest. Widespread, open discontent was expressed in action and consolidation of the action developed into powerful organisations throughout the country. These movements raised a number of diverse issues-land-rights, wages, employment, security at work-place, water availability, destruction of nature, oppression and exploitation of the Dalits (the untouchables) and the working masses. Many women participated in these struggles with enthusiasm, responsibility and creativity (Patel, 2002).
The UN Declaration of 1975 as an International Women's Year coincided with the Emergency Rule in India. By the time the Emergency was lifted in 1977, several women's groups had developed around democratic rights issues. The press swung into "action" after the imposed silence of nearly two years. Atrocities committed against women during the Emergency were openly documented and reported in the press. These atrocities struck a chord in most women's own experience of life in the family, in the streets, in the workplace and in political groups.

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