By Maya Palit and Ila Ananya
In an area near Narasapuram in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, as many as 92 women were apparently caned and beaten up by local police forces when they staged a demonstration against a proposed aqua food park.
They had planned the protest in advance, to bring attention to their agitation about the fact that the food park could threaten the health of the people in the region — not least because the 59 acre project will consume 1.5 lakh litres of water, which could lead to a shortage for people residing in the area, and discharge about 50,000 litres of waste water which could be a massive health hazard. But the police crackdown proved to be fierce. They had placed prohibitory orders on people moving in large groups out of villages, and by the end of the day, Section 144 was imposed, and people were arrested in droves.
In a different part of the country, a similar rampant detaining of women was happening too. Anticipating protests during Modi’s visit to Gujarat to address women sarpanches on International Women’s Day, more than 1000 anganwadi workers and activists were apparently detained on Wednesday. Some activists were warned that they would be arrested if they left their houses. At least one of these arrests flouted the Supreme Court order that women shouldn’t be detained between 6 pm and 6 am, as the leader of the women’s cell of the Aam Aadmi Party, Vandana Patel, was detained at her home in the early hours of the morning on 7th March.
Shalini Singh, an elected sarpanch from Thora village in Uttar Pradesh was gagged and dragged out of the auditorium where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was talking. Reportedly, she raised slogans near the podium, where Modi was addressing women panchayat members in Gujarat because it was Women’s Day.
Apparently the security personnel thought it was okay to cover Singh’s mouth and drag her away, when she started talking about how women feel insecure in many places. According to some reports, Singh later told reporters that she wanted to talk to the PM about development in her village.
In Vandana Patel’s case, Patel wanted to carry out a campaign against increasing atrocities against women in Gujarat, but were taken into preventive custody before they could reach the venue. One of the survivors of gangrape had been taken into custody when she tried boarding a bus to Ahmedabad, and Patel was detained before she could reach the place the PM was addressing women. Everyone was taken away to an undisclosed location. It’s just great that we had a man, our PM nonetheless, who held forth about the contributions of women sarpanches and didn’t think it important enough to hear women themselves speak.
So while stores and businesses around the country erupted with dazzling offers for Women’s Day, certain groups of women protesting the effects of big business and potentially dangerous projects did not have it quite so easy.