The 7th AIPWA National Conference was held in Patna on 13-14 November 2016, at the Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir. The Conference called for women’s resistance to patriarchy and the growing fascist threat and intensified struggles to defend democracy and assert women’s freedom.
The Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir complex was named after Rama Gairola for the occasion in memory of departed young AIPWA leader Rama Gairola. The hall was named after noted writer and activist, the late Mahashweta Devi and the stage was named after AIPWA Founding President the late Comrade Geeta Das.
On 13th November, the conference started with the hoisting of the AIPWA flag by veteran AIPWA leader Arti Devi, and tributes to martyrs and departed leaders of the revolutionary women’s movement. Tributes were paid to the Naxalbari martyrs, those killed in the Bathani Tola and other massacres, Kamleshwari Kunwar, noted activist of the revolutionary Bhojpur struggle and life partner of Comrade Jagdish Master, Rama Gairola, Mahashweta Devi, Geeta Das, Chinta Singh, Jeeta Kaur, Ajanta Lohit, Aparna Tyagi, Siyamani Mukhiya, Manju Devi, Agni, Sheela, Lahri and others.
This was followed by the inaugural session of the Conference, which began with the rendering of songs by women’s cultural teams Chorus (of Bihar) and Prerna (Jharkhand).
A reception committee headed by Prof. Bharti S Kumar welcomed all the guests and presented mementoes to noted activists of the women’s movement, including senior academic and AIPWA mentor since its founding days Maya Bhattacharya, Neelam Katara who is an activist against honour crimes; Kashmiri writer and activist Natasha Rather, Nirjhari Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch, Gujarat, Vidya Dinker, activist from Mangaluru; Advocate Asha from Kerala, Sanjeela Ghising, leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Women’s Federation, Darjeeling; and veteran activist of the revolutionary communist movement Comrade Meera.
At the inaugural session, Neelam Katara spoke about her struggle for justice for her son Nitish Katara who was killed on the pretext of ‘honour’, and the struggle for women’s right to choice in matters of relationships. Natasha Rather, co-author of the book Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora spoke about her perspective as a Kashmiri on the struggle for self determination in Kashmir, and about the struggle of the rape survivors of Kunan Poshpora for justice. Nirjhari Sinha, founder of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, Gujarat, spoke about the struggle for justice for victims of the 2002 state sponsored Gujarat riots and for fake encounter victims Ishrat Jahan, Kausar Bi, Sohrabuddin and others. Vidya Dinker, an activist from Mangaluru, spoke about the way in which fertile land is being grabbed and environment destroyed in the name of ‘economic corridors.’ She spoke about the ways in which RSS outfits morally police women in Mangaluru, and called upon women to wage a jehad of love to uphold inter-caste and inter-faith love, as well as love for farms, environment and natural resources.
The inaugural session was addressed by AIPWA General Secretary Comrade Meena Tiwari. The inaugural session was conducted by AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan.
The delegate session of the Conference began with the delegates listening to a recording of a song composed and sung by the outgoing AIPWA National President Srilata Swaminathan. Comrade Srilata, who could not attend the conference because of ill health, was sorely missed by all, and her song was a celebration of AIPWA as a source of hope and strength for women.
AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari presented AIPWA’s work report and a note on the social and political situation in India and the world. The note observed that BJP and RSS forces are working to push back progressive shifts in consciousness that had been achieved by movements. They are poisoning the social and political discourse and trying to establish divisive, hate-filled and regressive ideas as ‘normal’ and even ‘nationalist.’
On the night of 13th November, Chorus presented a play, ‘Paro’, followed by a traditional Jharkhandi dance by the Prerna team and cultural performances by several other activists.
On 14th November, delegates from all over the country discussed the issues facing the women’s movement and shared experiences of their struggles. The note was adopted unanimously after discussion in the house.
The delegates then elected the new AIPWA leadership, including a 101-member National Council. Comrade Meena Tiwari was reelected National General Secretary, Comrade E Rati Rao was elected National President; Prof Bharti S Kumar, Tahira Hasan, Farhat Bano, Iqbal Udasi, Pratima Engheepi, Krishna Adhikari, Raju Barua and Saroj Chaubey were elected Vice Presidents; and Prof Sudha Choudhary, Indrani Dutta, R Nagamani, Geeta Mandal, Shashi Yadav and Kavita Krishnan were elected National Secretaries.
Addressing the delegates at the end of the Conference, newly elected AIPWA President Rati Rao said that just as Dalits were refusing to perform caste-based labour, it was high time women also refuse to do our gender based traditional work. She stressed the need to uphold a Marxist perspective on the women’s movement and also draw strength and insights from the writings of Dr Ambedkar, Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule, Periyar and Bhagat Singh as we address class, caste and gender issues together and confront fascist Hindutva forces.