NE states participate in National Conference
Newmai News Network
SHILLONG, JANUARY 11
[dropcap]A [/dropcap]National Conference on “Women’s Social Security and Protection in India” organized by Programme for Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in collaboration with UN-Women, Heinrich Böll Foundation, International Labour Organization and The University of New South Wales held in New Delhi recently deliberated on key issues concerning the northeastern region of the country.The primacy of the issue of women’s social protection in India was emphasised by the participation of more than 170 delegates from over 16 states in the conference, including Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. The participants represented a cross-section of professionals engaged with the issue, including social activists, members of the academia and intelligentsia, grassroots workers, bureaucrats, members of trade unions and NGOs and political leaders, who discussed their individual experiences and perspectives to contribute to the discourse and offered suggestions following extensively informed deliberations on the subject matter. Some discussions presented by other participants from mainland India also find relevance to issues that are prevalent in Meghalaya.
Writer-activist from Manipur Shreema Ningombam argued that the imposition of AFSPA 1958 in many parts of the northeastern region of the country has had a devastating impact on the lives of people in the region, especially women, who are among the worst victims of militarization in states like Manipur.
Alleging the perpetration of extra-judicial killings in the state, she focused on the woes of women whose husbands and sons had been killed in these incidents, and who are denied even state support or assistance because they are branded as the ‘wives of terrorists’. The organisation Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Association (EEVFAM) has been formed exclusively for protecting the interests of such women, for channelizing the women’s movement into efforts to deal with state persecution and for helping the women secure basic human rights, as also access to financial support and education for their children, she added.
Anita Das, Convener, National Hawker Association while revealing that the National Hawker Association works for and with hawkers and street vendors at a pan-India level, she cited some significant figures—hawkers and street vendors rank second in the unorganised sector labour force, next only to workers from the farm sector and the population of hawkers in India is about four crores, out of which 40 per cent are women. Apart from bearing the burden of poverty, these hawkers also face pressures from municipality officials and police personnel, and have no access to social security of any kind. Her deliberation on hawkers finds rich relevance to the cause of hawkers in Shillong, who are not still under any policy except lips-service by the state government. Often cases of highhandedness come to light by the municipal authorities who hound them from their place of operation. She said that though the Hawkers’ Federation of Jharkhand has managed to get a law enacted for hawkers, which provides for old age pension, widow pension and maternal benefits in the form of cash payment during pregnancy, there are no provisions for healthcare. She also promised that the federation would continue its struggle for obtaining social security for hawkers.
Another relevant topic that came up for discussion was by R Geetha, Additional Secretary, Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam. She claimed that migrant labour today constitutes a very important segment in the working population, especially in the construction industry and revealed that the Nirman Mazdoor Campaign Committee struggled to get laws enacted for migrant workers for over a decade before getting two Central laws implemented for them in 1996. Her views holds true in case of Meghalaya where scores of migrant labourers works in construction sites, manufacturing sector and particularly in the state’s coal mines who are not protected under any law. She also rued the fact that though welfare boards have been instituted in 35 places and the Union Territories, even in states which have a large number of workers registered in these welfare boards like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the interests of the migrant workers are not being adequately protected. She cited some incidences of atrocities against the workers and their families in these states, and also pointed out that women workers continue to be paid wages much below those paid to their male counterparts, besides which they are also denied maternity, pregnancy and childcare benefits, and lack access to other facilities like immunisation, crèches, housing, and education for their children. Her deliberation is an eye-opener for other states who are lagging behind miserably in terms of upholding migrant labourers rights. She concluded her address by urging the government to provide social security benefits and inclusion in antipoverty programmes for the more than two crore bonded labourers engaged in various sectors in the country.