By Matters India Reporter
Kolkata, Feb. 2, 2019: The vision of B R Ambedkar, father of the Indian Constitution, continues to inspire women from India’s marginalized sections.
Ambedkar’s call to “Educate, Organise and Agitate” was realized on January 28 and 29 with the opening of two independent Dalit (formerly “untouchables”) and Adivasi (indigenous) women’s organisation in West Bengal.
The impetus came from Udayani (awakening), a Kolkata-based Jesuit run social action wing that has striven to raise consciousness among Dalit and Adivasi women in the rural West Bengal for the last 20 years. The main aim of the organization is to establish all women’s groups that would work to establish equity, peace, freedom and equality within society, says Udayani director Jesuit Father Irudhaya Jothi.
According to him, India is predominantly ruled by myths and believes that portray women as a subservient breed. Manusmriti, one among the many precepts of Hinduism, defines women as ‘Sudhra,’ meaning lowest of all castes, because they are considered impure by birth. This fosters gender discrimination and legally sanctions violence of women rights in a patriarchal society, he added.
“In this stereotypical patriarchy, the position of Dalit and Adivasi women is even worse, they are faced with two-fold discrimination, firstly for being a woman and secondly for being a Dalit or an Adivasi woman,” the Jesuit priest explained.
Therefore, the Jesuit NGO launched “Nari Mukti Chetna Sangathan” (NMCS, Union to help raise consciousness for women’s liberation) and “Sampurna Nari Kalyan Sangathan” (SNKS, union for women’s holistic welfare) in West Bengal.
On Jan 28, NMCS was inaugurated at Kalna II block in Burdwan district of West Bengal. Next day, SNKS was opened at Bishnupur block in North 24 Parganas district.
The inauguration ceremony was attended among others Inigo Eguren Valera of Calcutta Ondoan and Right to Food activists and women Self Help Group leaders.
NMCS secretary Basanti Soren explained the organization’s ideology. For them, ‘Nari’ symbolizes women, especially those belonging to Dalit, Adivasi and the backward classes. Therefore, this organisation would solely be for Dalit and Adivasi women, by Dalit and Adivasi women and with Dalit and Adivasi women.
Secondly, the word ‘Mukti’ means liberation from the discriminatory customs which restrict the freedom of women within society and which confines them within the stereo typical roles of a good daughter, a good wife and a good mother, Soren explained.
Thirdly, ‘Chetna’ refers to the stage where women attain consciousness and become aware of their potentialities. Lastly, they employ their potentialities and resources through the ‘Sangathan’ to mobilize a movement and wage a war for the realization of their rights.
Pratima Ruidas, treasure of the Sangathan, predicted that 10 years down the line people would place their faith in “our organization” when they see how it has transformed the lives of thousands of women in the rural pockets of Bengal.
“After ages of oppression it is high time we took over the reins to establish an egalitarian society where ultimate development of Dalit women will take place and which will encompass all the facets of a woman’s life be it socio-political or economic,” said Sumitra Mondal, a member of the SNKS executive committee.
SNKS secretary Sujata Chiti said, “On this very day I resolve to develop this organisation which will transform the life of Dalit women. I am determined to walk on the foot prints of Udayani and to bring about a positive transformation in society.”
The two organizations focus on Burdwan and South 24 Parganas districts.
Father Jothi recollected how 17 years back he started a fragile group in the village with frightened Santal tribe women and how they have now become a force to reckon with in the whole of administrative block of Kalna in Burdwan.
“Today the dream comes true and my faith in the power of the rural Dalit and Adivasi women to take lead of their lives unitedly on the fore front is realized,” the Jesuit priest said.
He recalled the obstacles in the past and how the words of Mahatma Gandhi (father of the nation) ‘first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win’ energized them to taste one victory at a time and one success lead to another.
Today, a movement of around 1,000 women is born in two different districts. He encouraged the women to move ahead.
Inigo, member of Calcutta Ondoan, also expressed her joy by saying, “When I first visited Kalna II and Bishnupur blocks I confronted a set of women who were restricted to their households but today those women have emerged into confident leaders and have formed an organisation of their own. I am proud of them and hope they will be able to carry out their responsibilities effectively.”