Women’s organisations in Maharashtra : A brief account
Maharashtra is believed to have legacy of the southern matrilineal society. Hence the women here may have relatively more freedom and their status might be slightly better (Datar, 1990). The state also has a long history of social reforms including those related to improving status of women.
Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai, Anandibai Joshi, Tarabai Shinde, Ramabai Ranade, Kashibai Kanitkar made valuable contribution in bringing about these reforms. Due to these reasons the women’s movement in Maharashtra is more conspicuous. This article provides a peep into the work carried out by some of the women’s organizations in Maharashtra mainly after 1975. Some of these organizations are involved in development oriented programmes, some focus on advocacy of women’s rights while others are more political in nature. It should be clarified that given the limited scope some of the issues discussed may appear to be simplified.
In twentieth century, a number of women participated in the freedom struggle. However, their involvement lacked the ideological basis of equality as a right. With attainment of independence, spaces for common women to take part in social and political arena shrunk considerably. In initial two decades after independence women’s participation in social movement was largely restricted to mahila mandals and women’s conferences. There was an overall impression that women’s condition in the society had improved with better opportunities for education, employment (though restricted to certain castes and classes). However, release of ‘Towards equality’ report in 1972 shattered this belief as it showed that women’s progress in all spheres — education, employment, politics, health had in fact been curbed. This report created a stir at the government level. On the other hand, it gave boost to women active in student’s movement and youth movements. Exposure to the women’s liberation movement in the West also helped in shaping a new understanding of women’s issues among these activists.
In the early 1970’s Maharashtra suffered from major drought. Rising prices, black-marketing had made life unbearable for an average citizen. ‘Mahangai Pratikaar Sanyukta Samiti’ (United front against price-rise) was formed under the leadership of Mrinal Gore of the Socialist Party, Ahalya Rangnekar of the CPI- M, and Pramila Dandavate. The anti-price rise agitation launched in Bombay in 1973 by this Samiti mobilized women of the city against inflation. The movement grew rapidly becoming a mass movement for consumer protection. Thousands of women get involved in the movement. New form of protest by women coming out in the streets and beating thalis (metal plates) with latana (rolling pins) was invented in this movement. Similar agitations were organized at one hundred different locations in Maharashtra around that time.
These events encouraged women to participate in social movements and voice their concerns. The overall mood during this period was upbeat. It was seen in literature as well with many women writers expressing themselves freely. However, little had changed for women in the way their life was traditionally expected to revolve around man. In spite of passing of anti-dowry bill in 1961, the issue of dowry was still lurking around. A kind of deadlock was being felt and it was essential to break this impasse. International Women’s Year provided women’s organizations a chance to achieve this.
The ‘International Women’s year’ (1975) by the United Nations is considered as a turning point in changing the perception about women’s efficiency and their role in economic development. It also helped in introducing the modern Western feminist thought and movements to Indian women.
This year inspired women’s organizations in India to take up new initiatives both at the macro and micro level which were aimed at empowering women. In Maharashtra too, this year helped feminist movement gain foothold. Many groups all over the state came forward to voice women’s issues.
Formation of ‘Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti’
One of the important events was formation of ‘Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti’ (Coordination Committee of feminist women’s organizations) in 1979 with the initiative of Malini Tulpule, Chhaya Datar, Leela Bhosale, Kumud Pore, Sulabha Brahme, Saudamini Rao, Nirmala Sathe. The Sampark Samiti had organized a two-day workshop in Pune which was well attended. During this workshop groups formed of mix of women ranging from academicians to farm workers and labourers helped them understand and empathize with each-other’s problems. This conference threw light on the various aspects and facts of the organizational work being done and should be done at the macro & micro level. Many organizations were formed not only in big cities like Mumbai and Pune, but at the rural, semi-rural and district levels also.
The formation of Sampark Samiti helped energize women’s movement in Maharashtra by undertaking various initiatives. The Sampark Samiti organized regular meetings, exchange of thoughts, conducting different programmes jointly, celebrating women’s day on March 8 and collectively putting forward the demands made by different organizations. In 1987, the Government prepared a ‘National Perspective Plan of Women’. Sampark Samiti made some important recommendations concerning daily wages for women, security and technical education. In 1990, Sampark Samiti published a manifesto of women’s movement.
Women’s organizations in Maharashtra
The following section gives a brief sketch of some of the women’s organisations in Maharashtra. It is pertinent to clarify that the list of organizations discussed here is in no way exhaustive. There are many other organizations that are active at district and village level. However due to constraint of space only a few mainly those associated with the women’s movement have been mentioned here. In addition to these there are many right-wing women’s groups also. But their analysis of domestic violence, sexual violence is not in line with the feminist perspective. The women belonging to these groups are also vocal on the issues of atrocities on women, but their solutions are rooted in the patriarchal values embedded in the society.
- Samajwadi Mahila Sabha (SMS) was formed in 1959, by the women who believed in democratic socialism. The organization is active in various districts in Maharashtra and works on issues like rape, dowry deaths, deserted women. Avaben Navrachana Kendra in Pune is run by SMS.
- Purogami Stree Sanghtana was founded in 1977. ‘Bayaja’ — a bimonthly was born in the same year.
The women wing of Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal founded by Hamid Dalwai in 1970 was active on the issues of Muslim women. In 1985, the movement called ‘Talak Mukti Morcha’ gained historical importance. The three major demands of this movement were — End of jubaani talk (verbal divorce), apply the law prohibiting Muslim men from having two wives and Muslim women must have the right to alimony.
- Stree Mukti Sanghatana prepared its manifesto in 1978. The cultural wing started its programme with the help of harmonium and dholki (traditional percussion instrument in Maharashtra) to spread the thought of women emancipation among the illiterate, backward class of the society. Poster exhibition, slide shows, gathering of women were organized. In the silver jubilee year of Maharashtra state’s formation (1985), shows of two of its plays Mulagi jhali ho! (It’s a girl!) and Pandita Ramabai were staged in Delhi, Gwalior,Bhopal, Jhansi and Indore. Streemukti Yatra was organized in 1985. The mouthpiece of the organization Prerak Lalkari (Inspirational calling) is being published. Since 1989, the organization is fighting for the issues of women waste pickers.
- Servants of India society started the adult literacy classes in Phaltan, Maharashtra from January 1972. Late Sangeeta Kshirsagar established the anti-caste committee there. Meetings and workshops with women were organized and it was decided that women would stand together on issues like employment, crèche facility, equal remuneration etc.
- Vidarbha Molkarin Sanghtana (Vidarbh Domestic Workers organization) was established in 1980 with the initiative by Dr. Rupa Kulkarni. In Pune, after the historic strike by the housemaids, their organization Pune Molkarin Sanghtana was established. These organizations have played a key role in giving due respect to the household work and worker.
- Krantikari Mahila Sanghtana (Revolutionary Women’s Organisation) was formed under the leadership of Dr. Neelam Gorhe in 1981 with the aim to fight against the secondary status of women in all spheres and to establish equality.
- In March 1980, Dr. Seema Sakhare and her colleagues established ‘Balatkar Virodhi Manch’ (Forum against rape) in Nagpur. A mute rally against rape was organised in Nagpur for the first time which brought together people from different sections of the society. Newspapers in Nagpur, police stations, doctors, courts all were involved. Activities such as the rape survivors sharing their views, social exclusion of the rapists were undertaken.
- ‘Stree Atyachar Virodhi Parishad’ was organized in Nagpur from 28th to 30th March 1981 to discuss the issue of divorced Muslim women and to contemplate on the objectivesof women’s movement.
- In 1982 Nari Samata Manch was founded in Pune by like-minded women and men (Late Satyaranjan Sathe, Vidya Bal among many others) with idea of ‘women-men together for women’s equality-equal status’. As a feminist group, Nari Samata Manch strives to adopt non-hierarchical and democratic working style. Giving decision-making power to women, formulation of issues from feminist perspective are some of the core values of this autonomous women’s organization. In early 1980’s it ran a poster exhibition called ‘Mi Manjushri’ (I am Manjushri) on the issue of domestic violence and dowry death among educated middle-class families, which was well received. Realizing the extent and the complicated nature of domestic abuse the Manch runs gender sensitive counseling centre. It also organizes workshops to awareness about Vishakha guidelines about sexual harassment at workplace.
- ‘Garbhling pariksha va garbhling virodhi manch’ (Forum against sex-determination) was formed in October 1985 by a group of men and women believing in equality. State wide campaign was initiated in 1986 which received huge mass support and wide media coverage.
- Stree Mukti Sangharsh was established in September 1986 by Indumati Patankar. It put forth demands like deserted women should get a ration card, they should be the head of the family, they should get shelter, mother’s signature should be considered valid in the government offices.
- Mahila Dakshata Samiti (Women’s Vigilance Committee) was formed in Kolhapur in 1984. The committee has played an important role in protests against violence as well as constructive measures to improve women’s condition.
- Parityakta Mukti Andolan (Movement for liberation of deserted women) was founded by Advocate Nisha Shiurkar in 1987 at Sangamner. Men and women across different castes and classes participated in this movement. First conference of deserted women in Maharashtra took place on 20th March 1988. Mukti Yatra of deserted women was organized from March 10–15, 1991 culminating into a massive rally at the state assembly.
Since its inception in 1984, Stree Aadhar Kendra (SAK) has been working towards bridging the gap between issues of women at grassroots and at policy making institutions through advocacy on the issues of violence against Women; Women’s participation in decision making, political empowerment and participation in governance processes and women’s economic empowerment.
- Saad Yuvati Manch was established in Pune in 1986 to provide a platform for the college going girls across different castes and class to make them aware about sexuality, legal provisions, economic independence and to prepare them for a collective action.
- Purush Uvach was formed in 1987 by young feminist men who believed that violence against women is embedded in patriarchal values and should not be seen as problem of women alone. Their activities include poster exhibitions, essay competitions, group discussions and publication of annual issue Purush Uvach’ to raise awareness about equality among men.
- Formed with the initiative from Dr. Manisha Gupte and Ramesh Avasthi, Masum (Mahila Sarvangin Utkarsh Samiti) has been working on the issues related to women’s health and domestic violence. Streedhan project of self-help group started in 1991.
- In 1993, ‘Dilasa’ was formed in Kolhapur by Professor Rupa Shah. Muslim Samaj Prabodhan Sanstha was also established in Kolhapur. ‘Talak Peedit Mahila Udyog’ was formed in 1989.
- In 1980’s dalit feminists in Mumbai formed the ‘Mahila Sansad’ and by 1990’s Samvadini Dalit Stree Sahitya Manch (forum of feminist dalit women writers) emerged.
- National Federation of Dalit Women was established in 1993 which is engaged in social research to understand the conditions of dalit women with the aim to bring about changes at the policy level.
- ‘Maharashtra Dalit Mahila Sanghatna’ was formed in 1995. In December 1996 ‘Bhartiya Vikas Vanchit Dalit Mahila Parishad’ was organized in Chandrpur by various dalit women’s organizations where it was proposed that 25th December — the day when Manusmruti was burnt by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar — should be celebrated as Bharteey Streemukti Din (India’s Women Liberation Day).
- Mahila Rajsatta Andolan is a campaign for women in decision making process. It was formed in March 2000 with a view of empowering women and strengthening their participation in political processes through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), with the initial support of 500 elected women representatives, 5 regional networks and 150 organizations and community based organisations in 30 districts of Maharashtra.
With the vision to work towards the creation of a gender just and democratic society based on equality and freedom for all, Alochana (critical review) was set up in 2000. It aims to systematically contribute to the process of documentation, research, and dissemination with special emphasis on Maharashtra.
- Founded in 2000, Tathapi promotes innovative health training and advocacy initiatives for community health and development in Maharashtra. It seeks to improve the health of women through initiatives that empower them and promotes people’s right to conserve and develop their health traditions.
- Majlis was formed in 1980s in Mumbai by a group of artists, human rights activists, social scientists. Majlis runs a legal aid centre for women to create awareness about their legal rights.
- Awaaz-e-Niswan — A Mumbai based organization has been working effectively on the issues of Muslim women.
After more than three decades of continued efforts by the women’s movement a number of legislations and bills were passed which are aimed at gender equality. But effective implementation of these still remains a challenge. Panchayati Raj institutions, self-help groups have helped in empowering women. With the seemingly anarchist situation in which social media mediated ‘revolution’ is in vogue, we still have to go a long way to bring about feminist politics which believes in peace, non-violence and democratic principles upholding the rights of downtrodden and marginal communities.
(With inputs from Swati Karve, Anuradha Rao, Sadhana Dadhich, Utpal V. B.)
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- Naniwadekar Medha (Ed.) (2006) Maharashtratil Stree Chalvalicha Magova. Pratima Prakashan, Pune & Stree Abhyas Kendra, Kolhapur.
- Basu Aparna (2008) Indian Women’s movement. University of Delhi. BA Programme II