BY MARGARET GLEESON
NEW DELHI — The third national conference of the All-India Progressive Women's Association held in Patna, Bihar state, on March 17-18 resolved to put up the strongest opposition to globalisation, and to forge ties with democratic women's groups in India and all over the world.
More than 1000 women — young, old, factory and mining workers, agricultural labourers, students and intellectuals — rallied in a downtown park and proceeded to the conference venue. The noisy, militant march through the central business district of Patna brought the usually chaotic traffic to a standstill.
The conference was preceded by a public meeting of more than 1000 participants. Speakers included Bihar AIPWA committee president Bharti Kumer, Musim women's organisation Shalida Hasan, journalist Niredita Sen, All-India Students Association president Karita Krishna, and Bihar AIPWA secretary Uttar Pradesh Ajanta Lohit. Solidarity greetings were also given by Kalpana Wilson from the London-based Southern Asian Solidarity Group, and Margaret Gleeson from the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia.
Five hundred conference delegates received and discussed the report presented by AIPWA general secretary Kumudini Pati. The report detailed the various local campaigns which had been undertaken by grass roots units since the last national conference four years ago. The discussion was wide-ranging. Issues which provoked most attention were the question of whether or not to support the creation of a sex workers' union, registration of AIPWA (which would give the organisation access to government funding for projects), participation in women's commissions established by government, capital punishment for rape, and the relationship of AIPWA with so-called non-government organisations.
The unifying theme of the conference pointed to the challenges for the Indian women's liberation movement in the face of the onslaught of neo-liberal globalisation and communal fanaticism. The conference resolved to join and strengthen the broader anti-globalisation movement in India. Targets were also set to strengthen the AIPWA organisationally by reactivating former members and recruiting new women.
The conference concluded with the election of a new 63-member national committee, followed by an outstanding program of cultural activities which dramatically highlighted the domestic violence faced daily by Indian women. Outgoing AIPWA president Srilata Swaminaathan and general secretary Kumudini Pati were re-elected.
"The conference was a tremendous morale boost", Swaminaathan told Green Left Weekly. "The strength and commitment of women from so many different backgrounds and ethnic groups, ranging from 18 to 80 years. Women who had never travelled beyond their villages, and who may not have even had food in their homes, travelled days at their own expense to attend the Conference in Patna.
"The other impressive aspect was the unity of thought and action that permeated the conference. We can thank globalisation for that. For many of the women at the conference globalisation is not an academic issue. It's a matter of life or death for them. For example in Bihar state right now it is the beginning of the harvest. But hundreds of our members who are agricultural workers leading the struggle are now faced with long term unemployment because landlords have unloaded shipments of combine harvesters to replace them."
"In a strange way", she added, "globalisation has performed a service for the women's movement by forcing this new unity. Even middle-class lawyers and doctors are seeing the need to unite with women working in the rural sector. I think that this strong and united women's movement is the way forward for the people's movement and that victory will be ours."