`Life with dignity' sought for oppressed women

FOR RIGHTS: Participants at a public meeting in Bangalore on Thursday. Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Staff Reporter

Testimony of participants replaces keynote address

Bangalore: "I was six years old when they killed my mother. All she had done was to insist that I go to school," said 12-year-old Meena, microphone in hand, even as tears rolled down her face.

Her mother, Renuka, was a Devadasi in Mudhol, Bijapur, who had seen her daughter through third standard. Her community in Bijapur would, however, not tolerate Renuka's desire to have her daughter educated, and such was their opposition to Renuka's break with tradition, that they "poisoned" her.

Testimony such as this one replaced the convention of a keynote address by a chief guest at a public meeting held here on Thursday. The meeting, coordinated by a collective of 20 organisations, demanded a "life with dignity" for oppressed women.

Women from different professions and backgrounds 70 children of Devadasis attended the meeting. Also represented were women domestic workers. Five lakh women domestic workers are employed in Bangalore.

Dalit women, women living with HIV/AIDS, sexual minorities, women with disability, sex workers and victims of acid attacks shared their experiences of discrimination. Revathy, a trans-gendered person, said that her sexuality had ensured that she had no space either at home or in society. "I could not receive an education, and as for work, I only had two options one to beg, and the other to be a sex worker," she said. Police beatings, Revathy added, "are routine in a hijra's life".

The meeting that also marked International Women's Day was intended to "bring back the tradition of a struggle for women's rights, by women who fight to merely survive." The collective of women's rights organisations or Mahila Okkoota included among others Bangalore-based Vimochana, Visthar, Sangama, Vijaya Mahila Sangha, Young Women's Christian Association and Stree Jagruthi Samithi.

The collective also pressed for the tabling of the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament, the implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations with regard to Muslim women, and living wages for all unorganised sector workers.