A nation-wide campaign supporting Women's Reservation Bill, Campaign Reservation Express, that began from Jhansi two weeks ago culminated at the Constitution Club here on Sunday. The campaign's main demand was passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in its present form in the Lok Sabha.
Three caravans of women from across the country travelled to different places through three separate road routes, covering 60 cities and 20,000 km to garner support for passage of the Bill. The campaign, initiated by Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, was supported by over 200 organisations across the country.
The convergence of the three caravans was marked by celebration at the Constitution Club lawns. The women were garlanded and awarded trophies. “It is a happy moment for us,” said National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) general secretary Annie Raja. “We have aroused public support and have asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister,” she added, pointing to the specially designed signed postcards addressed to the Prime Minister asking for passage of the Bill.
A short documentary was screened to present an overview of the journey undertaken by the womenover the past 17 days.
One of the aims of the campaign was “to take on conservative religious leaders”, said Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD. The issue of low representation of Muslim women in the legislatures, she said, was part of a “much larger struggle” and was being used “to stall the passage of the Bill”. Muslim women in the caravans demanded their right to political participation and denounced statements made by political and religious groups claiming to talk on their behalf.
Mansi Sharma, who works for ANHAD, was the leader of one of the caravans. Speaking about her travel across 22 cities in 17 days, Mansi said: “The open interaction with the people and the media made us realise that even though there are genuine concerns, there is no opposition of the Bill.”
Besides generating pro-reservation support, the Campaign also drew attention to existing gender disparities in the political spaces of the country and the importance of assertion of women's political rights. Many distinguished women leaders spoke about the need to attain the important goal of empowering women in the country.
The caravans had women from all walks of life fighting for the cause of women's empowerment and passage of the Bill. Bhanwari Devi, who survived sexual assault and decades of litigation which ended in the Vishakha judgment; Mussarat Jahan, sister of Ishrat Jahan who was killed in a police encounter outside Ahmedabad; survivors of the Gujarat carnage of 2002; several Dalit and internally displaced women and young activists from places as remote as Tangdar in Kashmir, were part of the caravans.
A cultural programme featured performances by various groups was organised for the audience. Excerpts from a puppet ballet were also enacted. The event was attended by women leaders, human rights activists, intellectuals, artists and students from all over the country.
Amid slogans that made it clear that the women are demanding their rights and not charity, the mood of the congregation was celebratory. But these women want more to celebrate than the culmination of the campaign. “They have to get the Bill passed,” summed up Ms. Hashmi.