Ramson Magasasay award winner Aruna Roy delivered the 13th Justice Sunanda Bhandare memorial lecture on Democracy, women’s struggle against poverty on Wednesday.
Recounting her experiences as a social worker in the villages of Rajasthan, Roy said the various movements spearheaded by women from the underprivileged sectors has forced the government to bring about changes in the law and introduce new laws like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Right to Information Act.
Roy, who is strongly campaigning against land policy permitting rampant acquisition of village land, shared the voices of the “other world” at the lecture. She recalled how a woman from the backward class, Bhanwari Devi, raised her voiced against child marriage and in turn became a victim of gang rape. “Devi’s case woke up the women from the middle class, who were also victims of rape, to demonstrate against this act of violence which in the rural areas is not a sexual act but a way to demonstrate power,” said Roy.
A firm believer in community service, for which she has been awarded the Magasasay award, Roy claimed it is the women from rural areas whose pursuit have yielded in laws like the Right to Information Act. “It was a group of women who squatted for 53 days on hunger strike to see to it that this act comes into force. The movement began in 1996 with a village woman, Sushila, addressing a press conference. When she was questioned as to why she wanted this act to be in force, she replied that the government, which accepts crores of rupees in her name, is answerable to her. Sushila, a poor woman from a Rajasthan village, stunned the audience when she said that she had the right to know how much did the government spend from the money it received in her name,” said Roy.
Vice-President Mohammad Ahmad Ansari lauded Roy’s efforts and said it was important for the urban class to know and learn from them about how caring “that” society is.