COAL LABOURERS’ UNION: A GLANCE AT AWAG’S PAST INTERVENTIONS
AWAG’s objective has always been to take women’s issues beyond the individual level. With this in mind in 1993, AWAG initiated work with the coal labourers. The idea was to organise them into a union through which they could demand appropriate wages and basic facilities at their work place. The next plan was to work on issues concerning their education, health and nutrition so as to improve their standard of living and thereafter to put in efforts to reinstate them at their native hometown.
The first union of these members was setup in 1984 at the Asarwa transhipment point and the second one was in 1985 at Sabarmati. AWAG was well-versed with the concept of social security and understood that by doing so the labourers across all the transhipment points at the State level and National level would stand to gain.
AWAG embarked upon the issue at two levels. One was at the work area of the coal labourers and the other was a policy-based intervention by filing a Public Interest Litigation. Under ‘The Gujarat Unorganised Insecure Labourers (Welfare and Regulation) Act’ , the court passed an order to lay down schemes for the labourers. In June 1988, the government published the said scheme. The court instructed the government to setup a Board to implement the orders passed. This was AWAG’s first success.
The Board was finally setup by the government in September 1990. In addition to transporting coal, the transhipment points also undertook the transport of other products and goods. A fair count of labourers was involved in this work. AWAG started making these labourers aware about the prevailing exploitation between them and the contractors. This move led to a number of positive outcomes. The wages of each group comprising of six labourers that was earlier Rupees 90 gradually increased to Rupees 330. Likewise, the wage rate increased from Rupees 10 to Rupees 100 and the wage rate for loading a truck increased from Rupees 1.40 per ton to Rupees 10 per ton. In 1998 the railway authorities accepted the union and made services such as toilets, shed and crèche available to the labourers. With this, oppressive activities at the work place were put an end to.
A total of four hundred and fifty-two women and two hundred and sixty-three men were active members of the coal labourers’ union. Around one hundred and thirteen women were successful in procuring land under the Urban Land Ceiling Act.
Similarly, the government constructed low-cost toilets for one hundred and eleven women labourers in their homes in Panchmahal district. In short, the union was active. As an effect of AWAG’s intervention and pressure, the government had appointed a committee to provide social security to the labourers. The union was successful in obtaining their rights and benefits from the contractor lobby.
However, the coal labourers union had to be wound up midway. Work on the Central Government’s decision to convert meter-gauge railway lines to broad-gauge was commenced upon. Subsequently, the transhipment activity at the Sabarmati railway yard was discontinued. The contractor provided the labourers with half a month’s wages and discharged them from their duties. These labourers faced a great loss. They started moving into other areas in search of alternative employment. This directly affected the union’s functioning. The labourers became disillusioned and the union gradually closed down. This posed a major problem before AWAG.
A policy-based decision related to the livelihood of the coal labourers was discarded at a single stroke! AWAG’s work with the coal labourers was in a precarious situation. Efforts were put in to explore alternative sources of livelihood. AWAG felt that the labourers had attained a reasonable level of awareness by now. The organisation was convinced that they would be competent enough to ascertain their rights.
Social awareness, Campaigning and Advocacy, Counselling and Legal aid; surely we do all of it. Of course we believe that raising awareness is the first step towards social empowerment. Income generation can only come later. However, our income generation wing has emerged beautifully over the years. If asked what is AWAG all about? Obviously the answer is that AWAG is all about women and empowerment, women and dignity and women and self-reliance. But that’s just not it. The organisation is also about ‘women and their skills’. A part of the organisation is all about stitching, sewing, handicrafts and hand embroidery.
After the riots of 1986, AWAG started intervening with riot-torn women and responded to their demand of generating income. Initial steps in that direction led gradually to registration of AWAG-EKTA Industrial Co-operative Society in 1992. To know more about AWAG EKTA and our work please follow: (A must watch 3 minute video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF56B0vxJAw
AWAG-EKTA had initiated its intervention in that area of Ahmedabad where Muslims and Hindus have lived in close proximity. This was done specially with the view to bring about harmony among the rioting communities. The co-operative therefore was towards that ideal and was called AWAG-EKTA, ‘ekta’ meaning unity, signifying the future of the communities.
AWAG-EKTA has had both Hindu and Muslim members and women of both communities have worked together. Their bonding has been such that it did not take them long to unite even after devastating riots of 2002.
More recently, the co-operative is also engaged with Fabindia for garment making.
Over the years, right from job work with Calico and then Modern Terry Towels, these women have acquired enough skills to become wonderful seamstresses. They can produce just about anything and have expertise in an assortment of fabrics – khadi, mangalgiri, ikkat, handloom, organic cotton and more. Our various designs have fetched us some very potential and promising collaborations such as Fabindia, Bandhej and House of MG. (Ahmedabad)
AWAG Ekta, is located in Bapunagar. The campus also includes counselling shelter and other projects including Mental Health for women and adolescent is run there.
Social taboos have long been discussed and criticized, but sneakily continue to linger. Existing more commonly in economically underdeveloped countries and eastern nations like India, women are usually the worst victims of taboos. What is heartening is how the perspective is changing against taboos that have long impeded life for women.
A walk down the centuries brings to light scores of restrictions we have placed on life based on the times, gender, caste or some such “category”. These prohibitions, that were probably relevant in the past, get suffocating when they fail to change with the growth of civilization. Social taboos have proved especially damaging to the development of women, their social status and overall living. There is a pressing need for society to re-look and reconsider taboos in order for us to enjoy a fresh lease of life.
DISTURBING SOCIAL TABOOS FOR WOMEN
Social taboos in India date back to the prehistoric times and the list can be unimaginably long. Shocking as they are, women have predominantly been targeted and forced to adhere to them. Some of these taboos now seem decadent but continue to be a reality for some women:
• During her menstruation cycle, a woman is considered “impure” and has limited access to the social world. She cannot visit a temple, touch certain things, associate with people, wash her hair or touch elder’s feet. She cannot even spell out ‘period’ and has no option but to wait it out.
• Widows in many parts of India have to go bald. With their husband’s death – who is often far older than her – her venturing out of home and socialising come to an abrupt end. Remarriage is only a dream.
• In the child marriage era, little girls were often married off early and kept away from school as education would come at the cost of social interaction. Being a girl meant remaining illiterate for rest of her life.
MENSTRUAL TABOO IN THE MODERN SCENARIO
Amid increasing awareness about female physiology, inclusion of sex education in schools, and transformation of perspectives about the menstruation cycle, findings of a recent survey are not too encouraging. Recently conducted research reveals that more than 90% urban women rule out the idea of washing hair when they are menstruating, close to 70% consider it inappropriate to water plants, and a large section in Southern India won’t go out of home during this time.
Strangely enough, the menstrual taboo prevails in all major religions albeit in different forms. The propagators of this taboo, often belonging to conservative families, bring out remote mythological connections and religious beliefs. There is no denying that menstrual taboo persists even in so-called modern India.
BREAKING THE SHACKLES
While setting prohibitions and restrictions in some spheres of life is essential, this is not so for debilitating social taboos that only bring down quality of life for women. Taboos for women string us to conform to illogical beliefs and hamper our growth and development.
TEN KEY RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY JUSTICE VERMA COMMITTEE AFTER NIRBHAYA GANG RAPE INCIDENT
A panel set up in response to public outcry over the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman has delivered its report outlining recommendations on how to tackle gender violence in the largely patriarchal country.
The panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, received over 80,000 responses from the public as well as women’s rights groups, academics, gender experts and lawyers, compiling their suggestions into what commentators have described as a “path-breaking” and “progressive” report.
Here is a list of the 10 key recommendations put forward by the Verma Committee in its 630-page report:
1. MAKE VOYEURISM, STALKING AND INTENTIONAL TOUCHING AN OFFENCE
– Make voyeurism an offence punishable by a maximum jail term of three years
– Make stalking an offence punishable by a maximum jail term of three years
– Intentional touching, using obscene language or gestures should be treated as a sexual assault offence
2. AMEND RAPE LAWS
– Rape of a minor should carry a minimum jail term of 10 years
– Gang rape should be defined in the Indian Penal Code and be punishable by at least 20 years imprisonment
– Death caused by rape should carry a minimum penalty of 20 years in jail
– Make marital rape a criminal offence
3. REVIEW SECURITY LAWS IN CONFLICT ZONES
– Due to the number of reports of sexual offences committed by the armed forces in India’s conflict areas such as Kashmir and the North East, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – a controversial law that gives sweeping powers to and often confers immunity on security forces – must be reviewed
– Security forces must be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law rather than under army law
– Special commissioners for women’s security must be deployed in all areas of conflict. Such commissioners will have powers to monitor and take action in all cases of sexual violence against women by armed personnel
– Introduce “Breach of command responsibility” – making a senior officer of security forces or police liable to a jail term of at least seven years if his/her subordinate commits rape
4. MONITOR ILLEGAL, PATRIARCHAL VILLAGE COUNCILS
– Put in place measures to monitor illegal village councils known as “Khap Panchayats” that sanction so-called “honour killings” and impose oppressive diktats such as banning girls and women from using mobile phones, wearing western clothes or venturing out unaccompanied
5. REVIEW MEDICAL EXAMINATION OF RAPE VICTIMS
– Put in place medico-legal guidelines on how to perform a medical examination of a victim of sexual assault
– Scrap the so-called “two-finger” test – an outdated practice that examines the laxity of the vagina to determine whether the victim is “habituated to sex”
6. POLICE REFORMS
– Institute a Police Complaints Authority at district level to look into complaints against police officers who do not register complaints of gender crimes. Police who fail to register complaints or abort an investigation should be punished. This will provide more police accountability, said the commission
– All police stations should have CCTV to ensure proper procedures are being followed in handling, recording and filing complaints
– Provide appropriate technical equipment and training to police to ensure the highest standards of investigation of forensic evidence for sexual assault crimes
– Separate police investigating gender crimes from law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the public
– Increase the number of female police on patrol and on duty in police stations so that women feel comfortable filing sexual assault complaints
7. ELECTORAL REFORMS
– Lawmakers who have been charged in a court of law with serious offences such as sexual offences or dowry crimes should be disqualified from contesting elections
– Sitting parliamentarians with criminal cases against them, including those of rape and other types of sexual assault, should voluntarily vacate their seats
– There should be a code of conduct for political parties, instituting transparency in receiving donations and declaring whether parties had sanctioned people to run for elections who have criminal records
– The formal curriculum in Indian schools must be drastically revamped and sex education must be made an integral part of the curriculum
8. BILL OF RIGHTS
– India should institute a “Bill of Rights” for women, along the lines of similar bills in South Africa and New Zealand
– The bill would set out the rights guaranteed to women, which would include the right to life, security, bodily integrity, democratic and civil rights and equality
9. HUMAN TRAFFICKING
– Define the offence of trafficking in the Indian Penal Code
– Trafficking should be punishable with a jail term of no less than seven years and may extend to life imprisonment
– Employing a trafficked person, for example as a domestic servant, should carry a jail term of no less than three years.
Being in the 21st century, with technology, digitalization and development being flaunted all over the country and the world at large, the need to talk about this subject, “How safe are women in India?” still reverberates. With a profound understanding of what is happening around us, it is time that the country joins hands to realize the gravity of the issue.
While there are many cases of crime against women that are reported there are a lot more cases that are unreported and the treacherous misdoings persist. The list of crimes against women in India is exhaustive and includes acid attack, child marriages, domestic violence, forceful domestic work, child abuse, dowry deaths, female infanticide/sex-selective abortions, child labour, honour killings, rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, forced for prostitution, and many more. The list of safety laws for women in India is equally exhaustive, but despite formation of various effective rules and regulations by the system to handle and control the crimes against women, the number and frequency of crimes against women are increasing day by day.
The crux of the matter among other factors is that the authorities have not effectively implemented new laws on crimes against women. The majority of rape cases still go unreported. The status of women in the country has been growingly offensive and dreadful over the last few years.
In India a women is reportedly raped every 15 minutes. Multiply that by 24×7, 365 days a year. And keep in mind the majority of rape cases still go unreported!! The statistics on crime against women is even worse: Every 2 minutes, a woman in India is a victim of a crime. This ongoing issue of violence against women raises the real and serious question of whether India is truly ready for a seat on the global table.
One explanation for the ongoing rape problem is the skewed sex ratio. Like China, India has a massive imbalance in its sex ratio. Currently, the ratio of males to females is generally significantly greater than 1, i.e. there are more boys than girls.
Source: NCRB Report, Crime in India-2014
From the above table it is evident that the proportion of crimes against women is on the rise. The distribution of the nature of the crimes committed against women is graphically represented below.
AWAG along with other committed women’s organizations, trade unionists and responsible citizens has collectively addressed the issue in wake of the recent and recurrent heinous episodes against women in Gujarat. The collective named ‘Forum of Concerned Citizens for Naliya Incident’ that was formed following the Naliya Sex Scandal, took on its fight for justice through multipronged interventions such as holding protest demonstrations, press conferences, releasing an open letter addressed to women Sarpanchs of the country, etc.
And the fight for justice towards ensuring the dignity and respect for women continues……
LIFE IS PRECIOUS!
10 WARNING SIGNS OF CERVICAL CANCER YOU SHOULD NOT IGNORE
Cervical Cancer, in women, is the second most common cancer worldwide, next only to breast cancer. It occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). Women of all ages are at risk of developing this cancer after they begin having sexual intercourse.
Risk factors include unsafe sex, multiple sex partners, being overweight, use of oral contraceptives, genetics, smoking, poor immunity, multiple pregnancies and first pregnancy at a young age.
One of the scariest things about this cancer is that it does not show any symptoms in its early stages. After the disease has spread to the bladder, liver, intestines or lungs, the symptoms are more prominent.
Being an adult woman, if you notice any unusual changes or symptoms affecting your reproductive organs, consult your doctor.
Always bear in mind that your chances of successfully treating cervical cancer are higher if it is detected during the early stages. With the use of Pap tests and the HPV vaccination, it’s become possible to treat as well as prevent cervical cancer.
With knowledge of the risk factors and warning signs of cervical cancer, you can save yourself and others from a lifetime of suffering.
Here are the top 10 warning signs of cervical cancer you should not ignore.
• Women between 20 and 30 years old should get a screening every 3 years. Those 30 to 65 years old should be screened every 3 to 5 years.
• Get an HPV vaccination before your early 20s.
• Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
• Take the right steps to prevent STDs. This will help reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
To explore more, visit www.Top10HomeRemedies.com
Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to cope with the dangerous situation.
Recognize domestic violence
Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Men are sometimes abused by partners, but domestic violence is most often directed towards women. It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
• Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
• Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
• Prevents or discourages you from seeing family members or friends
• Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
• Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
• Threatens you with violence or a weapon
• Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
• Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
• Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
The cycle of violence in domestic abuse
Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:
Abuse – Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show you “who is the boss.”
Guilt – After abusing you, your partner feels guilt, but not over what he’s done. He’s more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for his abusive behavior.
Excuses – Your abuser rationalizes what he has done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
“Normal” behavior – The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
Fantasy and planning – Your abuser begins to fantasize about abusing you again. He spends a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how he’ll make you pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing you.
Your abuser’s apologies and loving gestures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult to leave. He may make you believe that you are the only person who can help him, that things will be different this time, and that he truly loves you. However, the dangers of staying are very real.
Break the cycle
The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed, anxious, helpless and guilty. Still, the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action — and the sooner the better. Start by telling someone about the abuse, whether it’s a friend, relative, or other close associates. At first, you might find it hard to talk about the abuse. But you’ll also experience relief and receive much-needed support.
“Silence Is Not A Virtue; Break The Silence Of Oppression.”
Dr Ila Pathak (1933 – 2014)
Founder, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG)