International Women’s Day 2015 – Three Articles

March 9, 2015

[Editorial note: Sanhati salutes International Women’s Day, 2015. On this occasion, we bring three articles. The first article, by Devesh Khatarkar, argues how women remain principal victims of modern capitalist development. In addition, we revisit two articles: one written by Judith Ezekiel, and the other a 2012 statement from Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression, a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements. The articles are complementary in scope. Judith Ezekiel’s article traces the history of the International Womens’ Day, from its radical conceptualisation based on May Day, its rediscovery by the Womens Liberation Movement, and its ideological contrast with the traditionalist Mothers Day. The statement from WSS visits the occasion from the perspective of the brutal, dirty, day-to-day realities of the radical peoples movements: the women who are “at the forefront of these struggles in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and other states”.

The relevance of these articles to today’s India has only grown. As the WSS statement had noted, “extreme violence of communalism and casteism is affecting women from various communities as majority fascism continues to spread its tentacles to several states in India in the neoliberal era”. This spread has now reached its crescendo. The twin prongs of neo-liberal loot and religious fundamentalism are mounting vicious attacks on the working masses. Women are bearing the brunt of these assaults, from riots fomented by political machinations of the ruling classes, caste violence perpetrated by a deeply entrenched social order, and custodial and police violence perpetrated in the face of resistance.

It is in the context of this grim reality of the present that these three articles should be read.]

1. The Brunt of Development Induced Displacement Falls on Women – Devesh Khatarkar (2015)
2. Celebrating Women: from Mothers Day to International Women’s Day – Judith Ezekiel (2012)
3. Statement from Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression – WSS (2012)


Article 1: The Brunt of Development Induced Displacement Falls on Women


by Devesh Khatarkar

The world witnesses forcible displacement of millions of people in the name of development especially in developing countries of the Third World. More than 60 million people have been displaced in India since development. To keep pace with developed countries, governments of developing countries are speedily clearing projects for dams, defense manufacturing, public -private partnerships, etc. For the purpose of all these projects they require land on which marginalized communities, like tribal people, have been living for years practicing their old-age customs and traditions. In the process, displaced people lose their homes, kinship networks and livelihood and face untold misery. Women of the displaced communities have to bear a large part of the costs of displacement, be it emotional, cultural or financial. (Kour, 2014)

“This occurs due to the gendered division of labor that has arisen from socio-historical processes of men’s traditional incorporation in wage earning and performing labor oriented tasks while women remain on the land jobs and its management on a daily basis. The insensitivity of the regimes constructing large developmental projects in the state has created conditions where women have been the greatest sufferer.” (Asthana, 2012)

In India, the Land Acquisition Act 1894 had serious gender-biased provisions that denied women significant roles in the acquisition process. “Whenever practicable, the service of the notice shall be made on the person therein named or on any agent authorised to receive service on that person’s behalf” directed Article 45 (2) of the Act. On the other hand, Article 45 (3) mentioned nothing for the female member of family: “When that person cannot be found and no agent is authorised to receive on that person’s behalf, the service may be made on any adult male member of his family residing with him; and, if no such adult male member can be found, the notice may be served by fixing the copy on the outer door of the house …or some conspicuous place in the office of the Collector and also on some conspicuous part of the land to be acquired.” The British, who had crafted the Land Acquisition Act, made no provisions for female members and widows of the displaced family.

However, to make land acquisition pro-people and to provide better compensation and rehabilitation to displaced people, a new act, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, was passed in parliament last year. But the new act does not have better provisions for women’s role in the acquisition process. Women have no say in rehabilitation and resettlement. Compensation is usually provided to male member(s) of the family. As compensation is handed over in cash to men, there is higher possibility that they waste the money in alcoholism and not contribute to the household budget in the new place. There is also time lag between resettlement and compensation which leads to more problems for poor women. Moreover, when female members of families are given the compensation money, they have no say in how it is utilized. Because of such patriarchal mindset, the process of resettlement and rehabilitation becomes a psychological trauma for women.
When displaced families shift to a new land, their economic and social status degrades. Tribal people who used to be proud cultivators before acquisition of their land become wage earners. Emotional stress increases alcoholism in men and the atmosphere of the family takes a turn for the worse. Illiterate tribal women are vulnerable to exploitation in a new place. These women become unemployed since they have no job orientated skills.

If displaced men don’t get employment in nearby areas, they migrate to other places, and women are left alone to run families for months. In her case study of the hill areas of Uttarakhand, Vandana Asthana writes:

“Most men migrate to the plains in search of jobs and mostly get recruited in the army or work as truck drivers. Being a money order economy, the task of planning the household and the community is left to the women. Women are the able-bodied men and take care of household needs, trudge long distances to get water, work on land, get fuel and herbs from the forests and earn additional income for household by doing side business.” (Asthana, 2012).

Displaced women become victims of social evils as marriages are delayed. Attitude of women changes due to exposure to urban centers and industrial set ups. Control of women’s sexuality is also a serious issue in this case. To earn additional income women for their children’s education and health care, work as domestic labour or daily wage earners. They suffer greatly in slums for lack of privacy and sanitation.

“Sanitation is a major problem specific to displaced women. Not only did this make their lives physically uncomfortable, but also made them more vulnerable to physical and sexual harassment” (Kour, 2014).

Tribal lands are especially vulnerable for acquisition as they are located in mineral-rich areas. Hence tribal women special victims of development induced displacement. Displacement of tribal land leads to adverse impact on social and cultural lives of tribal women. Social kinship networks, which are very important for tribal women, is destroyed after displacement. Tribal women are fond of festivals but displacement causes reduction in number of festivals. Also, loudspeakers and bands replace traditional music and dances. Many tribal people convert into mainstream religions due to inducements of money, better health and education facilities for their children. Thus, they not only fall prey to fundamentalist religious organizations but also lose their cultural identity.

Navleen Kour (2014) points towards higher status of women in tribal society:

“… compared to the mainstream society the tribal community allows greater freedom to women. Bride price instead of dowry is indicative that women’s labour is respected and sought after. Widow re-marriage is allowed and women do not have any social taboos as smoking etc. After displacement many of these things change.” (Kour, 2014)

Tribal communities are forced to adopt traditions and customs of mainstream society. Pathetically, bride price is replaced by dowry. Taboos of mainstream society are enforced on tribal women that didn’t exist in their own culture. In her study, Vandana Asthana mentions one woman named Rukhi Devi of Uttarakhand who sums up her plight from the loss of cultural identity:

“British colonists took away our culture, similarly today this project is also like an imperialist conquest on the hill people‘s culture. It is an ethnocide in a region, which we struggled to establish for our separate identity and development.” (Asthana, 2012).

Some state-level legislations have tried to address the concerns of women. For example, Orissa R&R Policy, Amendment, Resolution of 3rd August 2013, creates equal treatment of women and men with regard to eligibility for R & R benefits. In fact, Orissa R&R Policy 1994 recognizes households headed by women and manadtes that they be treated equally for benefits. Compensation amount, house, and loans should be given in accounts having joint names. There should be consultation with women regarding resettlement facilities, and planning for house layouts. Privacy for women should be ensured to prevent sexual harassment in resettlement colonies.

The new legislation must direct officials to take some important steps to reduce trauma of development induced displacement and should plan with women, for incorporating facilities that reduce their drudgery in work. Creation of livelihood opportunities, along with women from host communities, need to be facilitated. Provisions should make sure that places for sanitation facility with privacy are built in resettlement colonies. The new land acquisition act 2013 has provisions for educational and basic health facilities for women as well as for children. It also makes it compulsory to build Anganwadi in resettlement colony so that pregnant women get basic nutritious food and care during pregnancy as per government schemes. Even then, the new act 2013 is a set of rules which are gender biased, and symbolize the patriarchal mindset of Indian society. It needs to include many other points securing dignity for women, and also needs to provide equal rights to women and men in the resettlement and rehabilitation process.

While women have participated as equals in the movement against displacement, it has not been recognized in legislation.

“The problems of displacement are enormous for them [women]. Although women have participated in the protest movements against the development projects inducing displacement, still they have not yet been provided with equal beneficiaries’ status in the relief and rehabilitation packages. Until the relief and rehabilitation authorities are represented by women, who are able to address the gender issues and concerns in rehabilitation, genuine development is possible” (Kour, 2014).

Such biases are nothing but the reflection of the patriarchal mindset of society. Acquisition of land is supposed to be a process for achieving economic growth and prosperity of the country. But policymakers need to mull over the path they follow. Economic growth should not be achieved at the cost of poor women’s lives by displacing them from lands and giving them sufferings. Inclusive development can be achieved only when women enjoy fundamental rights and are ensured a dignified life.


Asthana, Vandana. (2012): Forced Displacement: A Gendered Analysis of the Tehri Dam Project in India. Economic and Political Weekly, December 01.

Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice (2013): The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013

Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice (1894): The Land Acquisition Act 1894.

Kour, Navleen (2014) Development-Induced Displacement: The positioning of Women, Online International Interdisciplinary Research Journal, Volume-IV, March.


Article 2: Celebrating Women – from Mothers Day to International Women’s Day


By Judith Ezekiel, maître de conference, Université de Toulouse le Mirail, Visiting Professor, Wright State University. This article was first published on Sanhati in 2012.


How do we celebrate women in a world in which male domination is the rule? Indeed, can we celebrate women when the category “woman” has exploded? This paper compares two different secular holidays: International Women’s Day (IWD) and Mother’s Day in its French and U.S. incarnations. While both holidays have tortuous histories, used and abused, I argue that the former can be, and has been (re)claimed by feminists around the world as a holiday with potential positive impact for women and feminism, whereas the latter is irremediably beyond redemption and antagonistic to women’s interests.

Holidays, eminently political creatures, are usually represented in the mainstream as timeless and politically neutral. Like humor, holidays as part of “cultural,” or family “traditions” are supposedly exempt from scrutiny [1]. However this free pass works selectively. So, whereas critiques of Mother’s Day, indeed of most beloved imaginarily “traditional” holidays, are seen as in bad taste, many people respond to IWD by saying that a single day for women marginalizes us, leaving the other 364 for men. The political meaning of holidays, as well as their creation, popularity, and survival, shifts in relationship to many factors, ranging from social movement practices and campaigns to overt manipulation and hijacking by the powerful as well as other more subtle shifts in framing and broader zeitgeist. The histories of IWD and Mothers Day shows us numerous such processes and transformations.

The Origins of International Women’s Day

IWD was no doubt born in 1911 when hundreds of thousands of women around the world protested for workers rights, suffrage and peace. Despite historic tensions, the holiday brought together two powerful movements: socialism and labor movements, with feminist and suffrage ideals. Socialists Clara Zetkin in particular and soon thereafter Alexandra Kollontai were important figures in the creation of the holiday, but equally important were American–the term is anachronistic here–socialist feminists.

Many European socialists discounted or denounced the massive suffrage movement as being “bourgeois” [2]; yet they could not ignore the power of feminist demands; the Second International had created a Women’s Bureau in 1907, headed by Clara Zetkin, which passed a resolution calling for Socialists to fight for women’s suffrage, albeit in and with Socialist organizations, independently of the “bourgeois suffragists.”

In the US, where by this point, considerable interconnections existed among the labor, feminist and socialist movements, Socialist Party women held a mass meeting on women’s suffrage in 1908. In 1909, US Socialists then declared the last Sunday in February to be a national women’s day which brought together working and middle class women around a broad spectrum of feminist concerns ranging from women’s work to suffrage. In 1910, Zetkin and other Socialist women introduced a resolution at the Second International Women’s Conference at Copenhagen:

In agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organizations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to Socialist precepts. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully. [3]

The International set the day for either March 18 or 19 to coincide with the German commemoration of the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune. The date was later moved to March 8th.

In the year following the resolution, many events did take place such as huge demonstrations, particularly in Germany and Austria–some 30,000 in Vienna alone. Kollontai commented, “Germany and Austria … was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organized everywhere … in the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask [male] workers to give up their places for women.” [4] And some men even had to stay home to take care of their children.

The Model: May Day

Despite the very different historical context and meanings, IWD was modeled after May Day, the holiday for the workers of the world… that is the entire world except for the United States. That the US “Labor Day” takes place, not in May, but on the first Monday in September is particularly ironic, since May Day began as a commemoration of a US event, the Chicago Haymarket massacre of 1886.


The 1880s had been a period of radical labor activism in particular to win an 8-hour working day and Chicago was a hotbed of labor and specifically anarcho-syndicalist activism. On May 1,1886, there was a general strike for the eight-hour day. On May 3, the Chicago police fired into a demonstration, killed several people. The following day, the police descended upon a large anarchist rally. There, a bomb exploded killing one policeman. The identity of the bomber has never never uncovered, yet a witch-hunt led to death sentences for seven anarchists for having helped this unknown perpetrator. Haymarket became an international symbol, enshrined by the Second Socialist International, when in 1889, they adopted May 1st as a holiday for the workers of the world.

The United States workers’ day had a very different history. In the context of a nearly feudal company town, workers for the Pullman Company had been on strike for decent wages and working conditions with the support of Eugene Debs and the American Railroad Workers. President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops who fired on the crowd, killing two. The union was disbanded and Debs imprisoned, setting back the cause of unions for decades. Days later, a pending bill came to Cleveland’s desk for a worker’s holiday in September, and with elections coming, he signed it into law, hence the US “Labor Day.” [5]

May Day nevertheless remained the international worker’s day; if in the Soviet block, it later lost its radical content and became a State holiday and the occasion for a military parade, it has retained its vitality in many places around the world, including sometimes even in the US from the anti-Vietnam War protests to the recent massive demonstrations for immigrants’ rights.

IWD and the Russian Revolution

International Women’s Day took on particular significance in 1917, when in Petrograd, women led a demonstration from the factories and the breadlines, which led to the events that brought down the Czar four days later, and marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Although male Bolshevik leaders had opposed the demonstration and were astonished at its impact, they later “claimed paternity.”[6] This was on February 23rd by the Gregorian calendar, which translates into March 8th in the West.

In the new Soviet Russia, in part thanks to Kollontai’s position, women gained equality in the law, easier divorce, job security, maternity leave and much more. Yet despite official dogma that Communism freed women, Kollontai insisted that women still needed “Working Women’s Day,” because “[t]he shackles of the family, of housework, of prostitution still weigh heavily on the working woman.”[7]

In the U.S.S.R, IWD, like May Day, later lost much of its radical content, first by reducing women to Stalinist realist portrayals of strong workers, then later by transforming the holiday into a Communist version of Mother’s Day, a day to offer women flowers. In the U.S., there was little celebration of IWD until the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s.

Origin Myths

A funny thing happened on the way to the sixties: a new past was written for IWD. As Internet surfers and scholars alike will discover in research on the holiday, it had somehow become the commemoration of glorious working-class struggle, a strike by American women in the textile industry in 1857. Many articles and websites even claim it was the first organized action by women in the world. Of course even restricting ourselves to U.S. history, this assertion is absurd: from the rebellions of slaves and indentured servants in early America, to the textile workers’ strikes of the 1820s and 1830s, women’s labor activism has always accompanied women’s labor. But far stranger is that no evidence has been found of any such strike. French feminist scholars, Françoise Picq and Liliane Kandel, who point out that 1857 was the year of Zetkin’s birth, find that the first trace of the 1857 date suddenly appear in the columns of the French Communist newspaper in 1955 [8]. There are several hypotheses about the reasons for the creation of this origin myth, but most convincing seems that it allowed the Communist Party to weed out the connections to the feminist or suffrage movements of the early 20th century and morph IWD into a pure worker’s holiday. Picq and Kandel, joined by US historian Temma Kaplan and Québecoise Rénée Coté [9], debunked 1857 myth, yet another cropped up, that of a massive 1908 demonstration of working women, generally a misdating of various other strikes and protests, none of which were in March 1908. Decidedly, resistance to the notion of any feminist-socialist convergence continues to this day.

IWD and the WLM

The Women’s Liberation Movement rediscovered IWD and claimed it as its own. The first record I have found of contemporary celebrations was in 1968 when Chicago Women’s Liberation held a festive public event [10] with a showing of the long-blacklisted film The Salt of the Earth, a fitting film in which wives of striking Latino miners impose personal and political recognition, combining issues of gender, class and race. That this celebration starts in Chicago is also fitting, bringing us full circle back to the city of May Day, the holiday that inspired IWD. Chicago became a center for Socialist feminism in the 1970s and their choice of a film, one combining labor and feminism, was a taste of their future movement. That same year, 1968, in a film review for the University of California at Berkeley’s Daily Californian, Laura Rand Orthwein (later known as Laura X) called for a revival of International Women’s Day in the US.

It was in the streets of Berkeley, the following year, that the first US IWD demonstration took place. Laura X already a socialist and a feminist came across a mention of the 1917 Petrograd women’s demonstrations and the 1908 US Socialist rallies for suffrage. She became furious that this history had been hidden from her, particularly the link between socialism and feminism. In the New Left, she remembered, women had been ridiculed and called bourgeoise when they called for “the right to be human.” And the Left, she said, perpetrated the myth that nobody in the working class had ever fought for women’s rights, including the right to vote. [11]

Shortly thereafter, Laura attended a party where sociologist Pauline Bart spoke about the new class she was preparing, a “women’s studies” class. A much-loved, Left-Wing male professor retorted that Bart would never find enough material about women to fill a quarter. Laura remembers that this betrayal “knocked me into the orbit of the pure fury.” In three days she “pestered friends everywhere and pulled together a list of 1,000 women in world history: politics, the arts and sciences.” She nailed it to the male professor’s door “alla Martin Luther,” as she put it. She later reproduced this list, “Herstory Synopsis,” and despite the limited communications means available at the time, sold more than 10,000 of them.

Next, she and a tiny band of feminists, dressed up as historical figures, held the first IWD demonstration in the contemporary feminist movement. The radical press picked it up and by the next year, she says, there were some 30 protests around the country. Simultaneously, she began receiving feminist literature and documents from around the world that fed into her new International Women’s Liberation Archives, which later assembled about a million documents. Subsequently, inspired by Black History Month, she and the women working on the archives contributed to the campaign for the creation of women’s history week and then month.

These observances went mainstream, with women’s history month and International Women’s Day and Year being endorsed by US President Jimmy Carter and the United Nations. IWD has become not only a day of protest, but also a part of State Feminism, and the day when nations around the world announce new policies and actions in favor of women. Despite the limitations of State feminism and feminist movements conceptions of global, international, and transnational feminism, IWD, along with May Day, is one of the few holidays that crosses borders and boundaries of nations and social relations of gender and class.

Mother’s Day

Like IWD, the US Mother’s Day was born about a century ago, A woman by the name of Anna Jarvis devoted years of her life to the idea, tirelessly lobbying for it from 1908 to honor her own mother, who had worked for a regional mother’s day to reconcile the nation through mothers from both sides of the Civil War conflict.

Others had supported a mother’s day before that, notably abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” who penned a call in 1872 for mothers around the world to stop their sons from injuring each other. In recent years, feminists have rediscovered this document and flooded the Internet with it. Yet today’s holiday does not come from Howe’s call. It was Jarvis’s work that lead to President Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 establishment of the official May holiday.


Once victorious, Anna Jarvis became utterly disgusted by the commercialization of mother’s day, actually going to the extent of protesting and getting arrested. She was stigmatized by the press, particularly as she remained single and never had children. Her portrayal as a “bitter childless old maid,” so vividly demonstrates the pitfalls of glorifying women as mothers. Reducing women to their maternal (or any so-called natural) function, this story shows, is an inherently antifeminist stance.

French Mothers Day is even a more flagrant example of this danger of glorifying motherhood. Under the collaborationist Vichy regime, Mothers Day was born as a part of the fascist repertoire. If you were lucky enough not to be Jewish, Romani, lesbian, or “childless,” you could be honored, as a mother producing children for the nation. Petain proclaimed “la fête des mères” on May 25, 1941 [12]. Simultaneously, the Vichy regime banned divorce in the first three years of marriage; made abortion a crime against the State—i.e. treason, punishable by death; and increased punishment for adultery and for abandoning children. Mothers, certain mothers, were venerated as vessels to produce babies, of the right “race,” of course, for France as for the German Reich.

Not only because of specific history, but because of its demonstration of the danger of glorifying motherhood, while demonizing reproductive freedom, French feminists entirely reject Mothers Day, while still celebrating IWD. This history serves as a lesson of the dystopian potential, not just of fascist glorification of motherhood, but also of feminist essentialism.

Although no holiday has a timeless, unchanging story, the comparison of International Women’s Day and Mothers Day does suggest that the latter, by reducing women to a supposedly natural role, is easily turned against the interest of women as a group. To the contrary, International Women’s Day, a product and on-going part of social movement struggles, by joining together women’s status and needs as workers and political subjects, by crossing borders and boundaries, has often contributed to women’s emancipation and has potential as a tool in feminists toolbox worldwide.


This article comes out of recent discussions with Laura X, Ariel Dougherty, and Rochelle Ruthchild, as well as years of working with Liliane Kandel and Françoise Picq. Many thanks to them all. Thanks also to Sirisha Naidu for her encouragement and patience.

1. In academe, of course, sociologists and anthropologists study rituals including ways in which they reinforce adherence to a nation or cohesion of a subset of the population.

2. The accusation of “bourgeoise” leveled against feminists goes back to this era. See Françoise Picq, “‘Bourgeois Feminism’ in France: A Theory Developed by Socialist Women before World War I,” trans. Irene Tilton, in Judith Friedlander, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, eds., Women in Culture and Politics: A Century of Change (Bloomington, Ind., 1986), 330–343. Rarely have radicals discounted as bourgeois the ideas and practices of male figures, say, for instance Marx or Martin Luther King.

3. Quoted in Clara Zetkin and others, “International Women’s Day,” Die Gliecheit, [Women’s magazine of the German Social Democratic Party] 29 August 1910, reproduced in Women and Social Movements and quoted in the online Encyclopedia of Marxism,

4. Alexandra Kollontai, quoted in Liliane Kandel and Francoise Picq, “Le Mythe des origines: A propos de la journee internationale des femmes,” la revue d’en face 12 (Autumn 1982): 67-80.

5. An interesting twist came when I first arrived in Ohio as a visiting professor: Steve Austria, a right-wing candidate from my district to the House of Representative published a jingoistic history of Labor Day as a part of his campaign. Alerted by a journalist, I discovered that this piece was extensively plagiarized and I denounced this in the local press. He was elected, and continued to manipulate history to his ends: when President Barack Obama spoke of a “New New Deal,” chronologically-challenged Austria opposed it on the grounds that the first New Deal [1933+] resulted in the [1929+] Great Depression.

6. This felicitous turn of phrase is from Kandel and Picq.

7. Alexandra Kollontai, “Our Call To Battle” Mezhdunarodnyi den’ rabotnitz, Moscow 1920;
Trans., Alix Holt 1972.

8. Kandel and Picq.

9. Temma Kaplan, “On the Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1. (Spring, 1985), pp. 163-171; Renée Coté, La Journée internationale des femmes ou les vrais faits et les varies dates des mystérieuses origins du 8 mars jusqu’ici embrouillées, truquées, oubliées: la clef des énigmes, la vérité historique, Montréal: les editions du remue-ménage, 1984. Coté also debunks the 1908 myth.

10. “Chicago Women Celebrate March 8,” Voice Of The Women’s Liberation Movement Vol 1 #1 (March, 1968). Http://Www.Cwluherstory.Org/Cwluarchive/Voices/Voices1-1.Html

11. Laura X, letters with the author, notes and photo from her personal archives. The “Old” Left, although relatively attentive to “the woman question,” subordinated it to the “primary contradiction” of class and the need for socialism; the “New Left,” in its early years, despite its opposition to Stalinism and hierarchies, was not initially much more open to feminist ideas until the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

12. Éric Alary, ” Vichy. Les mères à l’honneur, les femmes sous contrôle “, Les Chemins de la Mémoire, n° 170 (March 2007). Feminist Mothers Day poster reproduced in La Gaffiche, Les Femmes s’affichent : affiches du mouvement de libération des femmes en France depuis 1970, Paris: Syros, 1984.


Article 3: Statement from Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression


Let us on this historic day reaffirm our commitment to:

* Resist the increasing assault on people’s land, other resources, livelihoods and lives
* Fight the increasing sexual assault in society at large, especially on women in mass struggles
* Rescue March 8 from the cacophony created by media, corporates and government to fearlessly forge ahead in the struggle for the liberation of all women

On this day, in 1857, women workers in the textile and garment industries in New York went on strike to protest against unfair wages, 12 hr working days, sexual harassment in the workplace and other inhuman working conditions. One of the first recorded strikes by women workers, they were fired upon by police and brutally repressed. Women’s participation in struggles increased subsequently across the world. So has the repression of the Indian state like many other countries, especially in the era of neo-liberal reforms. 

The crushing of dissent is making more women step forward in India. Whether to protect forests or rivers, a dwelling place or land, the future of children or safety of the elderly, source of livelihood or the right to dignity, women across the country are in the forefront of these struggles in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and other states.

While the relentless assault by national and international capital is forcibly dispossessing, displacing, starving and killing many, sexual violence is being used systematically by the State as a repressive measure through its armed forces, paramilitary and police. Women and girls are increasingly subjected to sexual violence, whether it is in a police station or on the way to one, and especially when they attempt to place their demands before authorities. 

A growing number of incidents reveal that the state is actively abetting the violence against women and facilitating the plunder of resources. Law makers are manipulating existing laws and enacting new ones that favor the corporations, big banks and other elite. New draconian laws and archaic ones like the Sedition Act are being used to silence dissent. Negotiation with elected representatives has become a farce as the forces of capital have taken control of the state, judiciary and the media. Police are often perpetrators of violence or abet as mute spectators or by failing to file FIRs. Instead of protecting people’s rights, with few exceptions, the judiciary like other custodians of law is crushing the hopes of ordinary people.

The following two incidences highlight the type of corporate and/or state sponsored/abetted violence on people, especially women who are at the forefront of struggles. On January 25, 2012 when the entire nation was gearing up for Republic day celebrations, 4000 men and women were peacefully marching to the Jindal Steel Plant in Angul to demand a more just compensation for the land forcibly grabbed from them and also the jobs promised to them by the company and Odisha Government. Security guards and hired goons brutally attacked them with iron rods and left many profusely bleeding. Women’s clothes were torn and there were reports of iron rods inserted into the private parts of some. When an FIR was lodged at the local police station, except for a token arrest of the security officer, none of the senior executives of the company culpable for the violence were arrested.

On January 31, 2012 fifteen women and two representatives of the non violent People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, which has been opposing the Koodankulam Nuclear Power plant since the late 1980s, went to meet with the GOI’s expert panel. They were attacked by Hindu Munnani and Congress thugs in the presence of local Congress leaders and police in the Collectorate’s Office in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. During this attack, four women formed a human shield around the male representatives of PMANE. These badly injured women were from the fishing community, which has been at the forefront of the non-violent campaign along with Dalit workers, farmers, shopkeepers and women engaged in beedi rolling. They were kicked on the stomach, hit with helmets, hair was pulled and blouses torn. One woman had a fracture, another had her neck disc dislocated, while the Collector remained in his office and the police were mute spectators. Corporate as well as Central and State Government sponsored/abetted violence on democratic and peaceful mass movements in collusion with other local political parties, including Hindutva extremists are on the rise in our country.

The extreme violence of communalism and casteism is affecting women from various communities as majority fascism continues to spread its tentacles to several states in India in the neoliberal era. Two recent cases of extreme violence against women in intercaste marriage, where the victims and their family members struggled to file FIRs, reveal state support for the rising casteist patriarchy. Despite media attention, justice has been delayed in the public lynching of a Dalit boy and Gowda girl, which culminated in an “honor” killing of the Gowda girl in Mandya District, Karnataka where the girl’s father and other pepetrators wield political power. Action against people responsible for the beating, public stripping and parading of a 45 year old mother of a Dalit boy by the upper caste girl’s family in the CM’s district (Satara) in Maharashtra has also been delayed due to political clout of the upper castes. Dalit women in particular woman, face the brunt of violence of casteist patriarchy in other states as well.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the anti-muslim progrom in Gujarat. The fascist CM responsible for the pogrom, where thousands of muslims were massacred and even pregnant women were raped, their feotuses slaughtered and burnt, remains firmly in power and is even projected by corporate CEOs, NRIs and others as the next PM of India. Several brave muslim women and men continue to struggle for justice for the victims who perished and the survivors in this repressive state.

Custodial torture has also reached unprecedented heights as in the case of Soni Sori, an Adivasi school teacher from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh who was arrested on October 3, 2011 after police registered a false case. Medical evidence submitted at the request of the Supreme Court shows that she was subjected to electric shocks and had stones pushed into her vagina and rectum while in custody. This was under the supervision of the SP who was awarded the President’s Gallantry award on Republic day in 2012 for leading an encounter attack on Maoists. By conferring this award, the state ignored the concerns of the families of the innocent villagers killed in that encounter and endorsed the custodial torture and sexual assault on an Adivasi woman. Denied bail, Soni Sori refuses to be silenced and struggles for justice, while she remains in pain in the custody of her torturers, without access to a doctor. Her poignant letters from jail reveal the injustice and violence faced by women prisoners in this country.

Our hopes lie in the refusal of people, especially women to be silenced and their continued struggle for justice as we pursue our struggles against casteist patriarchy, communalism, state repression and capitalism. We must continue to expose other incidences, while building our strength and unity through active solidarity, although the path for women’s liberation has become more uphill.

Let us reaffirm today our determination to:


Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non-funded effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women by any perpetrator (s).