Resolution on Women’s Movement : Challenges and Tasks

1. In India today, women’s growing assertion and enhanced aspirations for equality, challenging entrenched patriarchy, can be seen and felt in virtually every sphere. In glaring contrast to this assertion and growing public participation of women, we in India are simultaneously witnessing unabated and intensified sexual and patriarchal violence on women; open and organized patriarchal offensives (both physical and ideological) on women’s hard-won rights and freedoms; and the worst instances of women’s malnutrition, hunger, and maternal mortality in the world. This contradiction or paradox has emerged as a defining characteristic of modern India.

2. It is true that capital, and state-institutions like panchayats, and a network of NGOs closely linked to both global capital and the Indian state, have increased their penetration in rural areas, bringing a sizeable section of women out of their homes, into the workforce, and into the political arena. But forces of class, caste and gender domination are coming together to arrest this assertion, using all, including the most barbaric, means; even as the state and capital, in the course of drawing women into the labour force, actually exploit, strengthen, and perpetuate existing patriarchal structures and ideologies responsible for women’s sexual and domestic servitude and social subordination. Indian women thus face the worst of both worlds – feudal oppression as well as modern capitalist exploitation and dehumanisation, especially because the neoliberal model of growth preserves, profits from and in some cases reproduces in modified forms many vestiges of feudalism in socio-economic structures, customs and value systems.

3. Even in the face of feudal-patriarchal opposition, women are trying to utilise the new opportunities – school education, various job openings and the provision of 50% reservation in panchayati raj institutions for example – for playing more active social and political roles. The new opportunities and experiences are equipping women with greater self confidence and a keener political awareness. Women’s increased mobility and public role (in employment as well as political life) are also destabilising traditional patriarchal arrangements and attitudes within households and society, resulting in progressive changes in gender roles and ideology, but also in fresh patriarchal anxieties, tensions, and violence.

4. In the face of these changes, the forces of traditional caste patriarchy are asserting themselves with renewed aggression, seeking to retain control over women’s sexuality, mobility, and reproductive power, and to defend patriarchal and feudal arrangements of land and property that are threatened by women’s new-found rights and assertion. These forces are not just a throwback to a feudal past: they are refashioning themselves in modern times, often with political patronage across the spectrum of ruling class parties. It is notable that these forces of patriarchal reaction have found their most organized and aggressive expression in some of the regions where the Green Revolution and capitalist development in agriculture have been most pronounced: Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP.

5. It must also be noted that patriarchal tendencies, often accompanied by caste and communal revivalism, are strong even in the urban context, including among the professional middle class. An outright patriarchal backlash to women’s assertion can also be seen in the ‘Save Family’ type of organizations that target the laws against violence on women. Such widespread and virulent patriarchal assertion in urban centres, among the professional middle class, cannot be hidden by the superficial gloss of modernity. The corporate media and entertainment industry in globalised India also seeks to define modernity in terms of increased sexualisation and commodification of women. The neoliberal market seeks to shape women’s aspirations in terms of their role as consumers or objects of consumption, rather than in terms of their autonomy and assertion against patriarchy.