NEW DELHI – Hundreds of thousands of women marched across India on Thursday, a week ahead of general polls, to protest rising intolerance and hatred in the country under the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Around 150 demonstrations were organized in 20 Indian states, under the banner “If women don’t rise, exploitation will.” Some 1,000 women attended the march in New Delhi.
“Over the last five years, Indian women have watched with growing anger how their struggle for equality, freedom and empowerment has been undermined,” a statement by the organizers of “Women March 4 Change” said, urging females to vote for change, to speak up and fight against lies and injustices.
In central Delhi, women from across age-groups assembled for the march at 11 am, holding up posters that said, “Women vote for change,” “We are half the world,” and “We are not ovary-acting.”
In the statement, the organizers condemned the BJP government for leading a war against its own citizens, spreading violence through hate speeches, silence in the face of mob lynchings, and using the sedition law to silence dissidence.
“All of this has led to a feeling of insecurity among women,” the statement said, adding that “violence against women will not stop unless violence in society stops.”
The organizers also said that in the last five years access to justice in the country had become difficult, especially for Muslims, Dalits, tribal people and women.
The women also protested lack of development in the country and said that in the last five years welfare of the poor, women and children had taken a backseat.
In the interim budget in February, the government had allocated $12.7 billion for children, only a 0.01-percentage-point increase to 3.25 percent of the overall budget as compared to last year.
In 2017, India had expanded a conditional cash transfer scheme for pregnant women as a part of Maternity Benefit Program, leading to a rise in safe, institutional deliveries.
However, it was later restricted to one child, which the United Nations had warned was against the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over 56 percent of the allocation for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save daughters, educate daughters) program were also spent on “media-related activities” from 2014-15 to 2018-19, junior minister for information and broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, had told the Parliament in December last year.
The statement from the organizers of Thursday’s march pointed out that 65.1 percent of women were engaged in farm labor but the agricultural budget allocated only 8.5 percent to female farmers.
The education budget, under Modi, had dropped to 2.7 percent from 3.1 percent, the statement said, adding that the school drop-out rate among girls from the Muslim, Dalit and tribal communities was 40 percent.
The statement claimed women, the youth and the rural population have suffered the most from the policies of the Modi government and urged the women of India to come together and vote against war, violence, hatred and intolerance.
“Let us all vote for a just and peaceful society, for the protection of our democratic principles and institutions and to protect our fundamental rights. Let us vote for democracy,” it added.