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Women groups traverse country to pitch for quota bill

New Delhi, June 3 (Calcutta Tube) They call the campaign ‘The Campaign Reservation Express’. A group of 55 women – activists and those who have stood against social injustice – will return to the capital Sunday after a two-week journey across the country to garner support for women’s reservation bill’s passage.

The group of women, hailing from different parts of the country, were divided into three ‘Karvans’ that went on different routes across India from Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh May 20, spreading their message through public discussions, stage performances, poetry recitations and the like.

Besides activists from over 200 organisations, women like Bhanwari Devi of Rajasthan who was gang raped by five men in 1992 and who sought justice for 15 long years and Sultana Sheikh of Gujarat who was sexually assaulted and whose husband and five other male family members were killed in the 2002 communal riots, also took part in the campaign.

Social activist and NGO Anhad member Shabnam Hashmi, who was a part of the team that conceptualised the campaign, said: ‘More than 50 percent of the women participating in this nation wide campaign are Muslims, Dalits, from other minority groups and those who have been internally displaced because of riots and other disturbances.’

‘Our demand is that the women’s reservation bill should be passed the way it is. We are against the idea of quota within quota because that will really not address any problem and is just an excuse by some political leaders to delay the passage of the bill,’ Hashmi told IANS.

The women’s reservation bill that seeks to reserve 33 percent seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for woman, was passed by the Rajya Sabha amid much drama in March. It is yet to be passed by the Lok Sabha.

The Karvans travelled through 60 cities in north, south, east and west India and are on the last leg of their 20,000-km journey that will culminate in Delhi. Young film makers are also on this journey and will document all the events as a historic women’s struggle.

‘We feel that there is a lack of political consensus for the passage of the bill, that’s why suddenly the process has slowed down. There are opposing voices from within the Congress too. It’s not easy to lose your seats after all,’ Hashmi said.

‘But the fact of the matter is that the bill will bring about tremendous changes over a period of time. Women are the worst sufferers in any calamity, be it communal riots or any disaster. Healthwise, India’s maternal mortality is quite high. Once more women have the power to take important decisions for the country, things are bound to change because they will know which area needs more focus,’ she added.

Talking about some of the hallmark moments, Hashmi said that in Hyderabad, groups of women started singing ‘We shall overcome’, which was followed by singing of the song in different regional languages – creating an electric atmosphere.

‘Chandigarh was one of the tough points because there were a lot of professors and others who were against the bill, but we left our mark there. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were also not very easy because of stiff resistance to the bill,’ she said.

On Sunday when the women come to Delhi, there will be celebrations in the form of folk dances, folk songs, performances and lectures reiterating the journey and planning the future course of action.

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