Monday, March 7, 2011


Saturday 5 March 2011

It is with a sense of pride that I compose this address from the desk of the Chairperson, Reception Committee of this National Convention that is of momentous significance. The Confederation of Central Govt. Employees and Workers at whose call this conference is being held is one of the largest and the most important of the Employees Organization in the country, and , as an active member of the Women's movement in India I feel happy that the Working Women in the employment of the Central Govt. have decided to hold this National Convention I believe it is the first of its kind, Hence there is an additional pride in being invited by the organizers in the State, to head the Reception Committee. From this desk I extend a hearty welcome to all the distinguished guests and participants. Welcome to Kolkata,' the cultural capital of India' in this important year of 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore's birth.

Women in the Globalised World are under special threat. Their labour is being devalued every day, and the areas of security are shrinking. Since most of them are in the unorganized sector, they hardly have and rights, as they cannot organize to fight for themselves. Despite recommendations of the Arjun Sen Gupta Committee, one does not see much signs of their forming Unions. It is, therefore, doubly important for fully unionized bodies like the present one to fight for much greater extension of union opportunities for the grossly under privileged and deprived of our working women. Unfortunately, the mantra of this first globalizing country of ours is privatization. It has been said that the Globalisation has stood the basic tenets of democracy on their head, because, it is globalization of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The growingdisparity between the rich and the poor has reached obscene proportion: while hundreds of thousands of farmers have had to commit suicide for not being able to make the two ends meet. One of the richest of our industrialist is boasting of building a palatial residential house complete with three helipads in the heart of city of Mumbai. Despite many movements of protest, women have been feeling the unbearable burden of this exercise of these excess of late capitalism. In the name of choice women are being projected as arch consumers of luxury goods, fairness cream and elaborate jewellery, when, for 90% of our women survival with good security is a major problem. In the name of freedom movements across the globe, we see a phenomenal increase in migration which is being criminalized and is leading to a new kind of slavery. In case of women this takes the form of trafficking of minor and young women. The trafficking is conducted locally by some poor people in the locality who are known to the family of this girls and women. But trafficking is the third largest profit marketing activity in the World, the first two being arms and drugs. From the local to the Global there exists networks that offer lure of a marriage of opportunities of a better life, but in fact, these turn out to be a nightmarish existence of bondage without access to the minimum rights of a citizen. A noxious family practice that is spreading with the expanding greed unleashed in the society by the market-centered mentality is the system of dowry and ostentatious spending by the bride's family during weddings. This ultimately devalues the girls in the eyes of the family and contributes to trafficking, often presented as a cashless wedding with rich family often lured into assisting trafficking. Another are in which the evil practice the dowry as had a negative impact is in the willful killing of female fetus. Social insecurity is aggravated the prevailing son-preference in our societyand the additional burden of having to marry off the daughters with dowry has contributed to the wish to eliminate the birth of girls. Thus the technological advance in the pre-natal assistance to safe births has been misused to bring down the birth rate of girls.

Thus India, in the aggregate, has had a steadily declining sex-ratio, from 972 per thousand male births in the 1901 Census to 927 in 1991 (which was raised to a meager 933 in 2001 and, that too after a lot of campaigning). This reduction has reached alarming figures in Haryana, Punjab and parts of Himachal Pradesh. Haryana has been known to traffick girls from West Bengal to make up for their dwindling female population! The other social evil that has been aggravated by dowry is the problem of child marriage, as it is perceived, that the older the girl to be married, the more dowry she will have to be given. What comes out in this vicious cycle in which Indian girls and women are caught, is that a sustained and socially committed movement for securing better rights for our women will be a major challenge for all the groups fighting for a just and equitable society. Though apparently unconnected with trade union rights of working women, ultimately the trend in the situation of all women is bound to have a negative impact on those rights. Correspondingly, these threatened rights of Indian girls and women get a clear boost when a major employees' confederacy to initiate the first Women's National Convention. We are proud that Kolkata is their chosen venue. Kolkata has long history of fights for workers as well as women's rights. This city also spearheaded that social reform movement led by men like Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and women like Swarnakumari Devi and her daughter Sarala Devi Choudhurani, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, who founded the Sakhawat Memorial School for Girls, which is celebrating its centenary this year. Kadambani Ganguly, the pioneering medical doctor who, together with Chandramukhi Bose was the first women graduates in the entire British Empire. I hope this Convention will articulate clearly how women's special demands can be made central to the demands being formulated by the Co-ordination committee of Central Govt. Employees' and Workers' Unions and Associations. In 1979 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women. India is signatory to the Convention. The Govt. has already passed a rather innovative Act. for prevention of Domestic Violence and has tabled in the Parliament a Bill on Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace. If implemented properly this Bill ensures women's rights to work with dignity and physical and psychological security. I hope the Convention will find time to consider the adequacy of the existing rights of working women, such as maternity benefits, crèche facilities, all of which will be under attack in the current scenario of privatization. The working women will, I hope, consider breaking the glass ceiling whereby really able women workers do not reach high, decision making levels in the department , as well as in the Trade Union. Working Women have amply proved their mettle and should consider the full recognition of their own worth. I would like to caution against the patriarchal mind-set from which neither women nor men are always free.

Finally, I hope that consideration of women's rights will include a commitment to the responsibilities towards the clients who often are helpless citizens. The women from poor and deprived sections of our society deserve especially sympathetic attention from the women employees. The clients who approach you with real need must be madepartners in your just fights for rights. Let us deliberate the ways of fighting, in a spirit of solidarity, against all the attacks on employees and workers, especially in view of the increasing pressure of market-driven privatization policies the Central Govt. is adopting increasingly. The battle is not an easy one, but we shall overcome.

Professor Jasodhara Bagchi,Chairperson, Reception Committee.

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