Thursday, March 3, 2011


It is with a sense of pride that I compose this address from the desk
of the Chairperson, Reception Committee of this National Convention
that is of momentous significance. The Confederation of Central Govt.
Employees and Workers at whose call this conference is being held is
one of the largest and the most important of the Employees
Organization in the country, and , as an active member of the Women's
movement in India I feel happy that the Working Women in the
employment of the Central Govt. have decided to hold this National
Convention I believe it is the first of its kind, Hence there is an
additional pride in being invited by the organizers in the State, to
head the Reception Committee. From this desk I extend a hearty welcome
to all the distinguished guests and participants. Welcome to Kolkata,
'the cultural capital of India' in this important year of 150th
anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore's birth.
Women in the Globalised World are under special threat. Their labour
is being devalued every day, and the areas of security are shrinking.
Since most of them are in the unorganized sector, they hardly have and
rights, as they cannot organize to fight for themselves. Despite
recommendations of the Arjun Sen Gupta Committee, one does not see
much signs of their forming Unions. It is, therefore, doubly important
for fully unionized bodies like the present one to fight for much
greater extension of union opportunities for the grossly under
privileged and deprived of our working women.
Unfortunately, the mantra of this first globalizing country of ours
is privatization. It has been said that the Globalisation has stood
the basic tenets of democracy on their head, because, it is
globalization of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The growing
disparity between the rich and the poor has reached obscene proportion
: while hundreds of thousands of farmers have had to commit suicide
for not being able to make the two ends meet. One of the richest of
our industrialist is boasting of building a palatial residential house
complete with three helipads in the heart of city of Mumbai.
Despite many movements of protest, women have been feeling the
unbearable burden of this exercise of these excess of late capitalism.
In the name of choice women are being projected as arch consumers of
luxury goods, fairness cream and elaborate jewellery, when, for 90% of
our women survival with good security is a major problem. In the name
of freedom movements across the globe, we see a phenomenal increase in
migration which is being criminalized and is leading to a new kind of
slavery. In case of women this takes the form of trafficking of minor
and young women. The trafficking is conducted locally by some poor
people in the locality who are known to the family of this girls and
women. But trafficking is the third largest profit marketing activity
in the World, the first two being arms and drugs. From the local to
the Global there exists networks that offer lure of a marriage of
opportunities of a better life, but in fact, these turn out to be a
nightmarish existence of bondage without access to the minimum rights
of a citizen. A noxious family practice that is spreading with the
expanding greed unleashed in the society by the market-centered
mentality is the system of dowry and ostentatious spending by the
bride's family during weddings. This ultimately devalues the girls in
the eyes of the family and contributes to trafficking, often presented
as a cashless wedding with rich family often lured into assisting
trafficking. Another are in which the evil practice the dowry as had a
negative impact is in the willful killing of female fetus. Social
insecurity is aggravated the prevailing son-preference in our society
and the additional burden of having to marry off the daughters with
dowry has contributed to the wish to eliminate the birth of girls.
Thus the technological advance in the pre-natal assistance to safe
births has been misused to bring down the birth rate of girls. Thus
India, in the aggregate, has had a steadily declining sex-ratio, from
972 per thousand male births in the 1901 Census to 927 in 1991 (which
was raised to a meager 933 in 2001 and, that too after a lot of
campaigning). This reduction has reached alarming figures in Haryana,
Punjab and parts of Himachal Pradesh. Haryana has been known to
traffick girls from West Bengal to make up for their dwindling female
population! The other social evil that has been aggravated by dowry is
the problem of child marriage, as it is perceived, that the older the
girl to be married, the more dowry she will have to be given. What
comes out in this vicious cycle in which Indian girls and women are
caught, is that a sustained and socially committed movement for
securing better rights for our women will be a major challenge for all
the groups fighting for a just and equitable society. Though
apparently unconnected with trade union rights of working women,
ultimately the trend in the situation of all women is bound to have a
negative impact on those rights.
Correspondingly, these threatened rights of Indian girls and women
get a clear boost when a major employees' confederacy to initiate the
first Women's National Convention. We are proud that Kolkata is their
chosen venue. Kolkata has long history of fights for worker's as well
as women's rights. This city also spearheaded that social reform
movement led by men like Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwarchandra
Vidyasagar and women like Swarnakumari Devi and her daughter Sarala
Devi Choudhurani, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, who founded the
Sakhawat Memorial School for Girls, which is celebrating its centenary
this year. Kadambani Ganguly, the pioneering medical doctor who,
together with Chandramukhi Bose was the first women graduates in the
entire British Empire. I hope this Convention will articulate clearly
how women's special demands can be made central to the demands being
formulated by the Co-ordination committee of Central Govt. Employees'
and Workers' Unions and Associations.
In 1979 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination
of all forms of Discrimination against women. India is signatory to
the Convention. The Govt. has already passed a rather innovative Act.
for prevention of Domestic Violence and has tabled in the Parliament a
Bill on Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace. If implemented
properly this Bill ensures women's rights to work with dignity and
physical and psychological security. I hope the Convention will find
time to consider the adequacy of the existing rights of working women,
such as maternity benefits, crèche facilities, all of which will be
under attack in the current scenario of privatization. The working
women will, I hope, consider breaking the glass ceiling whereby really
able women workers do not reach high, decision making levels in the
department , as well as in the Trade Union. Working Women have amply
proved their mettle and should consider the full recognition of their
own worth. I would like to caution against the patriarchal mind-set
from which neither women nor men are always free.
Finally, I hope that consideration of women's rights will include a
commitment to the responsibilities towards the clients who often are
helpless citizens. The women from poor and deprived sections of our
society deserve especially sympathetic attention from the women
employees. The clients who approach you with real need must be made
partners in your just fights for rights.
Let us deliberate the ways of fighting, in a spirit of solidarity,
against all the attacks on employees and workers, especially in view
of the increasing pressure of market-driven privatization policies the
Central Govt. is adopting increasingly. The battle is not an easy one,
but we shall overcome.

Professor Jasodhara Bagchi,
Chairperson, Reception Committee.