Dalit-Feminist Writer Anita Bharti Gets Savitribai Phule Award-2016

Feminist magazine ‘Streekaal: Stree Ka Samay aur Sach’ organised a programme on July 29, 2016 at JNU, New Delhi to mark 75 years of the historic Women’s Convention organised by Dr Ambedkar at Nagpur on July 20, 1942. Around 25,000 women had participated in the Nagpur convention, where a string of important decisions was taken. The programme at JNU, which ended late in the evening, was divided into three sessions and witnessed discussions on various topics, besides Kathak recital by famous danseuse Rachna Yadav. On the occasion, ‘Savitribai Phule Vaichariki Samman, 2016’ was conferred by ‘Streekaal’ on well-known Dalit writer and thinker Anita Bharati for her book ‘Samkaleen Narivaad Aur Dalit Stree Ka Pratirodh’ (Contemporary feminism and the resistance of Dalit women). The 2015 award was conferred on Sharmila Rege for her book ‘Madness of Manu: BR Ambedkar’s writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy’. This award was instituted by ‘Streekaal’ in 2015 with the financial support of feminist jurist Arvind Jain.

The programme was organised under the joint auspices of ‘Streekaal’, ‘Adivasi Sahitya’ and ‘United OBC Forum’.

Speaking on ‘Nagpur Women’s Convention: A milestone’ in the first session, Nisha Shende, professor of women’s studies in Amravati University said that, “We should stop and ponder from where we had begun and where we have reached after our long journey. At that time, we had congregated at Nagpur with 25,000 women and released the manifesto of women’s emancipation; today we are unable to mobilise even 25 women to draw contours of a big struggle”. That convention was held under the banner of All India Depressed Classes Association and besides political rights; resolutions on women’s rights and workers’ rights were also passed at the convention. In her presidential address, writer and critic Hemlata Mahishwar read out excerpts from the resolutions passed at the convention and the speech of Dr Ambedkar. She said that at the convention, Dr Ambedkar had called upon women to free their children from feelings of inferiority and to inculcate in them the desire to become great men and women. She said that the resolution against polygamy passed in the convention later became a part of the Hindu Code Bill. Dr SN Gautam also addressed the session.

Sanjeev Chandan, editor of ‘Streekaal’ said that the Nagpur convention was also important because it had demanded political reservations for women and also because its resolutions were revolutionary and clear whereas the ‘Towards Equity’ report, that came out in 1975 and became the springboard of the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s, lacked clarity vis-a-vis the political rights of women. That is why, he said, it had been decided to discuss women’s reservation too in the meet. In the session on women’s reservation, writer and one of the conveners of the ‘Dalit Adhikar Andolan’, Rajni Tilak said that “Women should get all the rights in proportion to their population”. Sushma Sahu, member of National Women’s Commission said that “More than those out of it, it is the women in Parliament who should take the initiative for reservations for women”. She also appealed to the women not to become a party to exploitation of their own kind. Feminist jurist and senior Supreme Court lawyer Arvind Jan said that “Until 25 lakh women lay a siege on Parliament, women will not get reservations. Given the present scenario, it seems that women’s reservation and uniform civil code bills will not be passed for the next 100 years. Kaushal Pawar, a writer who works for Dalit and women’s rights said that “Women like Swati Singh, who had launched a campaign for respecting the girl child but was found involved in committing atrocities against her own sister-in-law – who is also the daughter of someone – are a big problem for us”. Annie Raja, general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, who chaired the session, said that institutions like the Women’s Commission should make their stand on women’s reservation clear. She said that patriarchal mindset was responsible for the pendency of the women’s reservation bill in Parliament for the past two decades.  Vimal Thorat, who chaired the session on ‘Contemporary Women’s Movement and Questions on the Margins’ in which ‘Savitribai Phule Vaichariki Samman’ was conferred, said that women’s movement will not become inclusive and comprehensive unless the concerns and issues of women on the margins are included in it. Sanjay Sahai, editor of ‘Hans’ said “Till women free themselves from the stranglehold of religion, they will not become really free, no matter how many slogans they raise”. He also talked of freeing institutions like marriage from the influence of religion.

Writer and women’s rights’ activist Noor Zahir expressed her concern over the influence of Maulvis on Muslim women, especially those coming from the Pasmanda communities. She emphasised on the role of the women in the drafting of the common civil code. Medha, professor of Hindi in Delhi University wanted to know why is it that we talk of the writings of Meera Bai but not of non-dwij poetesses like Sahjobai. Tribal rights activist and professor of economics in Delhi University Ganesh Manjhi outlined the different aspects of economic exploitation of women. JNU research scholar Sarita Mali, who is associated with the United OBC Forum, also expressed her views. At the beginning of the session, writer Anita Bharati was felicitated for her book.  Senior writer and thinker Vimal Thorat presented a shawl and memento to her. The letter of citation and a cheque for Rs 12,000 was presented to Bharati by Sanjay Sahai, story-writer and editor of ‘Hans’. Bharati said that she was honoured to receive the award from ‘Strekaal’, “the magazine of us women, which is committed to women’s rights and especially to the rights of Dalit and marginalised women. I am feeling even more honoured because this award is named after Savitribai Phule, who is an inspiration for all of us”. On behalf of the jury, Archana Verma said that “In her book, Anita Bharati has flayed the Dalit writers, who are themselves victims of casteist exploitation, for writing against Dalit women and has tried to identify a distinct stream of Dalit Feminism within Feminism”. The jury included Archana Verma, Sudha Arora, Arvind Jain, Sujata Parimal, Hemlata Mahishwar and Parimala Ambedkar.

On this occasion, three books – ‘Bahujan Sahitya Kee Prastavna’, ‘Mahishasur: Ek Jannayak’ and “Chintan Ke Sarokar’ published by ‘Marginalised Publications’ under Forward Press Books series were also released. In the last session, famous dancer Rachna Yadav presented her Kathak recital. She was honoured by Annie Raja and Vimal Thorat on behalf of ‘Streekaal’.

At the end, Mulayam Singh Yadav (United OBC Forum) and Ganga Sahai (Editor, ‘Adivasi Sahitya’) proposed a vote of thanks. The programme was conducted by Dharmveer Singh.

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