By Ishan Kukreti
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an autonomous body working towards creating a better society for women to live in, boasts a membership of more than 1 crore.
Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary AIDWA, is one of the many women in India who have faced gender based discrimination in their daily lives. But she is among the few who have decided to not suffer it with their heads bowed down, their hands folded.
Born and brought up in Haryana, where minister’s and panchayats are notorious for cooking up culinary or sartorial reasons for sexual crimes against women, Sangwan’s journey is nothing less than awe-inspiring. She has undoubtedly inculcated that one trait for which the people of Haryana are famous, courage.
In an hour long afternoon conversation with NewsGram at the AIDWA office in Shadipur, Delhi, Jagmati Sangwan talked about gender discrimination in India, its causes, government’s attitude towards women safety, her life as a female athlete in Haryana and much more. Here are the excerpts from the conversation.
Ishan Kukreti: What is All India Democratic Women’s Association and how did it come into existence?
Jagmati Sangwan: AIDWA was formed in 1981 by those women who had been a part and parcel of the freedom movement like Susheela Goplan, Anila Naglekar, Laxmi Shegal. The slogan “Janwad Samanata Nari Mukti” ( Democracy Equality Emancipation of Women) was raised by them. They felt that the path of development followed by India had not been addressing the issue of women’s equality.
We feel that Indian women are discriminated at three levels. First as citizens, then as part of the exploited class, and then as gender, in the form of dowry etc. So we take up programs on these dimensions. Our main focus is on the women from the weaker sections of the society.
IK: What are the main concerns about the women issues which AIDWA is looking at?
JS: We do awareness work, agitation, counseling and direct intervention of victimized women and policy intervention. These days our major area of intervention is food security. Our aim is strengthening and improving implementation of National Food Security Act and efficient working of PDS. Civic amenities are also a key focus area. We are also organizing our program and protests around efficient implementation of NAREGA. As a lot of women benefit form this scheme. We are also organizing women on the issue of 33% reservation. We also try to address policy issues related to violence against women.
One of the area of struggle has also been honor killing, in northern India in general and Haryana in particular. We have built a strong movement around this. It has become a national issue now. We forced the Haryana government to build protection centers. We will do massive campaigning in collages and schools in the near future to create awareness about the issue.
IK: You have been active in the struggle for women’s equality for long. What do you think are the major causes for such mistreatment of women?
JS: There are structural issues. Women don’t have equal property rights. Moreover, whatever they have in their name is also not under their control. They are discriminated at the level of entitlement. Then, there are unequal social institutions like marriage, dowry around which there is a whole range of traditions, beliefs and values which are against the equality of women. At the policy making level, the women is seen as a dependent individual and not as equal citizens of the country. The mindset is still very patriarchal and a woman is not looked as someone who has equal claim on the resources and the processes of decision making.
IK: In the light of increasing sexual violence against women, do you think the role of government has been satisfactory?
JS: AIDWA feels that the reason for increasing cases of rape or gang rapes is the insensitivity of the government. The woman organizations had been asking for an improvement in the laws relating to rape for more than 20 years but the government showed no interest. It was only after the Nirbhaya Case and the subsequent agitation, especially by youth, that the government did something.
Even policies which are being framed are not done with the right perspective and the policies which are in place are not being implemented properly. You see, even after creating a Nirbhaya Kosh, not a single rupee had been spent out of that fund, for the last two or three years.
The insensitivity was the same during the UPA government and its the same during this NDA government. The current government who said things like “Bhaut hua nari par atyachar, ab lao Modi sarkar” has completely used the issue of women safety and security to come gain power.
The UPA government said that it will create a One Stop Crisis Center at every district, but now the NDA government has decided that just one is enough in each state.
IK: Do you feel that the is a difference between the discrimination faced by a women in urban India and one in the rural?
JS: The placement of rural women make them more vulnerable to all kinds of violence. The infrastructure to provide protection and serve justice to the offenders is not available to these women. As compared to a woman in rural India, an urban Indian woman is comparatively well placed. She has some structures at her disposal where they can file their complaints, like police stations, NGOs, civil society organizations etc.
IK: You belong to Haryana were ministers and Khaps say all sorts of things about violence against women, why do you think this is so?
JS: Haryana is a paradox, in the sense that it is a state which is economically better off than most north Indian states, but socially it is the most backward. The sex ratio in Haryana is a shame to humanity, cases of domestic violence and rape are rife. I feel this is due to the political leadership of Haryana which has a very patriarchal mindset. For example, the Haryana government tried to abolish the Parental Property right twice. I don’t think any other state government has tried to do such a thing. Moreover, there aren’t many women in the political parties and government machinery in Haryana. Also, there has not been a social reform movement in the state which could improve the situation.
IK: How did you get associated with the feminist cause?
JS: I was an athlete, a volleyball player, in a village near Sonipat. And many of my friends, who were more talented at the game than me, had to quit because of societal pressure. They were married off after their 12th exams. I was lucky because of Arya Samaj’s influence on my family and also because I made it to a sports college in Haryana which provided lodging facility.
When I went abroad to represent India, I saw that the techniques employed by the top teams there were those which my village friends had mastery over. This thing touched me at a very deep level and I decided to join the cause of improving and providing equal opportunities to women.