Women’s Collectives Are Pitching Their Own Manifestos To Parties, Candidates

From women belonging to nomadic tribes to cane-cutters, small social and workers’ groups are presenting their charter of demands to politicians and parties contesting the ongoing elections

“Women from the nomadic tribes-denotified tribes (NT-DNT) women have been seen as a vote bank for ages, I want to shift the narrative towards leadership and political participation. Political parties have remained ignorant about our fundamental issues since Independence. So voicing our issues and creating our manifesto was important for me,” said Shaila Yadav, a Satara-based social activist from the NT DNT community. 

Yadav is a part of the Bhatake Vimukta Sanyojan Samiti, a Maharashtra-based collective of grassroots organisations focussed on the NT DNT community. She has contributed to the writing of the group’s manifesto that will be shared with the candidates and political parties contesting the ongoing general elections in the state. Elections in Maharashtra are being held in 5 phases- 19 April, 26 April, 7 May, 13 May and 20 May.

In March 2024, a state-level conference of NT DNT groups was organised at the MIT university in Pune, and more than 100 activists had gathered to discuss the manifesto. “The conference was organised to create a buzz around our issues and we wanted it to be inclusive,” said Yadav. 

Shaila Yadav, an activist from NT DNT community, contributed to the manifesto made by the community/Credit: Shaila Yadav

Health, employment, education, easy access to welfare schemes and citizenship documents, a separate budget allocation for the community, and caste-based census are some of the important demands made in the manifesto. Women from the community – mostly still nomadic in nature – have always faced challenges in registering themselves as voters because they lack address and identity documents, birth certificates and Aadhaar cards. This is, thus, a prominent demand in the manifesto. Also on the list is the demand for a government initiative to erase the social and institutional biases against NT DNT women. 

There have been such manifestos made by members of the community, notably the celebrated author Lakshman Gaikwad, but this is the first time women have drawn up an agenda.

This election, multiple women’s groups representing marginalised wagers, farmers and scheme workers have drafted manifestos to be shared with contestants and parties at village, district and state levels. The women cane-cutters collective, Uoostod Majoor Sanghatana, associated with the women farmers’ network, the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM), have drawn up one. So have the Right to Pee campaigners. 

This shows a shift from being passive voters to active electoral campaigners. Maharashtra has 4.4 women voters (48% of the electorate)  registered to vote for Lok Sabha elections 2024 according to the state election commission of Maharashtra. 

Women Cane-Cutters Seek Health, Safety, Wages

Jyotsna Thorat from Kathoda village in Beed district has worked as a cane-cutter for 13 years. As we have reported, women cane-cutters face huge challenges related to health, safety and wages (here, here and here.) Thorat, and other Beed activists, Deepa Waghmare, Kranti Khalge and Rupali Dongare, have made a manifesto for cane-cutters and presented it to Arun Dake, a local NCP leader from Thorat’s village. 

“Government authorities have repeatedly said the number of cane-cutters is approximately 1 lakh in Maharashtra, but when I started working with the Uoostod Majoor Sanghatna, I realised that there are more. Our survey showed at least 300-400 families in every village in Beed, certainly in the talukas where we work – Georai, Vadavani, Dharur,” said Thorat.

Thorat and other activists from Beed attended the meetings in Pune organised by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch. After brainstorming over the last couple of months in Pune, Throat and other members of the Sanghatna started working in Beed district under the guidance of  senior activist Manisha Tokale, who has been working with cane-cutters for over two decades now. 

After interviewing hundreds of cane-cutters in Beed, the team met at Tokale’s residence for a week in March and started working on the draft manifesto. It was intensive work, says the group, 8-10 hours of it every day. 

Thorat says the process of drafting the manifesto was empowering. Before joining the organisation, she was not aware of her workplace rights and or her political options but over the last three years this has changed.

The cane-cutters are also disgruntled about the functioning of the Gopinath Munde Uoostod Kamgar Mahamandal, founded by the Maharashtra government for their welfare. This body has been inactive since its formation and has not been helpful in resolving, says an activist.

In the absence of housing with basic facilities, cane cutters have demanded housing at their workplace. Credit- Aruna Ghongade/Mahila Uoostod Kamgar Sanghatana.

What They Want

The Cane-Cutter Manifesto

  1. Women cane cutters should be registered and given identity cards by sugar factories and the government of Maharashtra.  
  2. They should  be provided living facilities at their workplace with water, electricity connections and toilets. 
  3. Women should be handed their wages directly. They should be given weekly offs, maternity leave and provided creches at the workplace as per government rules.
  4. In cases of a debilitating accident or accidental death of the koyata, their male co-worker (mostly husbands), their loans taken from the Mukadam should be waived off. 
  5. Gopinath Munde Uoostod Kamgar Mahamandal is inactive since its formation, it should be active. 
  6. They should be provided with health facilities at their workplace which will help them prevent unnecessary surgeries, especially hysterectomies. 

Manifesto of The Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch 

  1. Women farmers should be registered
  2. Women farmers should be given property and land rights
  3. Women should be involved in all initiatives and dialogues on the management of natural resources
  4. Effective enactment for the POSH Act should be in place.
  5. Loans with low interest rate should be provided by banks and cooperative societies to women farmers
  6. Women farmers whose husbands have died by suicides should be have access to well implemented welfare schemes made for them
  7. Women who are dependent on forest produce for a living should be given their forest rights. They should be involved in the decision making of natural resources management at the gram sabha level and in the process of implementation of Forest Rights Act 2003
  8. Fisherwomen and women in animal husbandry should be recognised and provided capacity building by the government and more business opportunities. Fisherwomen’s collectives need to be given a priority for renting ponds, lakes for fishing by the government
  9. Women in organic farming should be encouraged and provided with government subsidies, irrigation facilities. Group farming by women should be encouraged and resource centres should be made available on village levels by the government 

This manifesto is pursued even outside the election framework, says Seema Kulkarni, a member of the national network of MAKAAM.

“The issues are identified and listed by the grassroot activists and workers from different sections throughout the state. So, the draft is mainly designed by them and it is necessary that these women exercise their agency and their voices should be a focus. This year we started working in January. After making these manifestos, we have given it to major newspapers and main political parties of Maharashtra except the right wing parties. As a matter of principle Makam believes in a secular, inclusive politics, hence we don’t engage with non-secular forces or parties.” said Kulkarni. 

The Right to Pee collective of Mumbai made a citizen manifesto two years ago, specially for the BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation) election, but since these have not been held yet, activists at the group aim to meet political leaders and raise their issue of providing public toilets in Mumbai. It wants the government to help public toilet operators with their electricity bill waiver. 

  • Priyanka Tupe is a multimedia journalist with Behanbox based in Mumbai.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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