It’s election time. April 8 saw hundreds of women from low-income families, from the city and from the districts, assembling at Tapan Theatre to present a charter to political parties. The event was organised by a group of NGOs united as Paschim Mahila Janagoshthi O Mahila Sangathan.
Some women got up on stage and told their stories — of the battles that their lives are. A lively play that bashed ineffectual and petty men and put the onus on women to voice their problem and come together met with loud applause from the full auditorium, where the women who were accompanied with small children were finding it hard to restrain them to their seats. The charter was released at the end, with one woman reading it out slowly, haltingly, but doggedly.
The most important demands, said Kumkum Kumar of Actionaid, were women’s access to land and natural resources, the right to property and labour rights in the unorganised sector. “Though one would expect it to be otherwise in West Bengal, the Muslim community, whether it is on a Calcutta footpath or in a slum, feels quite discriminated against,” added Kumar.
Will things change by holding such meetings? One change, Kumar said, is already visible: the women getting up on stage. It’s no mean matter for a woman from an unknown village to face a hundreds-strong crowd. But that’s happening.