Bhanwari Devi urges women to vote for parties that guarantee security

The diversity was apparent — from Halakki tribals in Ankola district to Bangalore’s garment workers to daily wage workers from H.D. Kote and sex workers — but the intent was the same: “To unite against violence on women”.

Interspersed with protest songs and sloganeering against attacks on women, writers, social activists, workers and journalists urged the large gathering at the Karavali Utsav Ground here to consider Women’s Day on Friday as the new beginning of women’s liberation.

This was preceded by a rally from PVS Circle to the venue of the meeting. At the forefront of the rally was Bhanwari Devi, whose struggle for justice against societal, police and judicial oppression after she was gang-raped by seven men in 1992, culminated in the Supreme Court coming out with Vishaka Guidelines against sexual harassment at workplace.

“There have been so many atrocities against women. How long can we tolerate this?” she said. She urged those present to respond with their votes, choosing parties that guarantee security for women. “There are so many rapists in Parliament. Do not vote for parties that protect them instead of protecting us,” said Ms. Devi, whose speech in Marwadi was translated into Hindi by her daughter Rameshwari.

Writer Sara Aboobakker lamented the inefficacy of the nascent woman’s rights movement in Dakshina Kannada. “For no reason women are being taken (moral policing) to police stations here. If it had happened in Kerala, hundreds of women would have gone to the streets. Yes, there have been protests against rape here, but no protest of a sort that would have served a warning to the police,” she said.

Urging women to stand up against patriarchy, Ruth Manorama of the National Federation of Dalit Women, decried fundamentalist forces that “tell women to stay within boxes”.

Shahnaz M., Editor of women’s magazine Anupama, said respect for women should start within the domestic set-up, and by standing up to representations of misogyny. “There is a deodorant advertisement that says if men spray it, women will follow like animals. What kind of depiction is this?” she said.

Ankola taluk-based Halakki tribal folk artiste and Rajyotsava Award winner Sukri Bomma Gowda said women and men should unite and put an end to the discrimination of women.

The convention also protested against economic discrimination as those from women-majority sectors such as garment workers, anganwadi workers, civic workers aired their grievances.

Gowri from the BBMP Pourakarmika Sangha, said women who swept streets from 4 a.m. risking their safety were paid only around Rs. 2,000 per month. B.R. Jayashree, representing anganwadi workers from the district, said workers were door-to-door agents for numerous government schemes, apart from anganwadi duties and election duties, and yet, were not considered government workers. “We have no benefits at all. The government should follow Puducherry model, where anganwadi workers are recognised as Grade C workers,” she said.

Sexual minorities and sex workers were represented by Nisha, who said: “Sex workers are the worst treated. On the roads, they are harassed and assaulted by rowdies and the police, and in the brothel, by brokers.”

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