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New Left Review I/153, September-October 1985


Vibhuti Patel

Women’s Liberation in India

The birth of the women’s liberation movement was the result of a unique and sharply polarized political conjuncture, between the years 1968 and 1975, which had a radicalizing effect throughout the world. Many of the women involved in the social and political struggles of that period became the pioneers of an autonomous women’s movement. India was no exception. Even in the West, of course, regional peculiarities such as the role of Roman Catholicism in Italy and Ireland, the lack of a strong politicized labour movement in the USA, working-class conservatism in Britain, or the backwardness of traditional Left parties in France, have compelled women to take up concrete demands which differ from country to country. In the case of India, the socio-economic and cultural differences with the advanced capitalist world are so profound that it would be strange if the women’s or labour movement simply parroted the slogans of its counterparts elsewhere. Over the last decade and a half, women’s organizations there have concentrated on a number of demands, many of which are probably alien to women in the West. We have taken up the cause of maid-servants, fought against temple-prostitution, denounced superstition and witch-hunting, opposed deforestation and the exploitation of Dalit and tribal women. The problems of women living in slums and the socio-economic oppression of working-class and peasant women have always been to the forefront. This is hardly surprising, as the overwhelming majority of women in India live in conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation. At the same time, rape, wife-beating, economically motivated killings and other atrocities against women show no sign of declining. The tasks confronting the women’s movement in India are formidable indeed. This brief essay is an attempt to explain our situation to sisters and the Left in the West.

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