concluded Delhi-Deorala anti-sati march led by Swami Agnivesh,
proved the enormous strength and the inherent weakness of
a religious organisation in taking up a multi-faceted socio-economic
issue of women's rights.
19-day, 285-km march had to be ended abruptly with the marchers
courting arrest and other social workers defying prohibitory
orders at Jethpura village, 25 km short of Deorala on December
23, the martyrdom day of Swami Shradhanand. Earlier in
the day, a "women's rights protection yagna" was held on the
banks of the Bandi river, five km from Jethpura.
the march failed to reach its destination, it initiated a
fresh debate on sati, dowry, child marriage and allied issues.
The response to the march was considerable, especially in
the villages, where women in purdah "woke up to the slogans
of the sadhus".
Swami, who had vehemently criticised the pro-sati Dharma Raksha
Samiti as a "group of anti-socials and anti-nationals who
pretended to be the wholesale dealers of the Rajput community",
adopted a diplomatic soft-line after the march by responding
to a proposal for talks with the samiti.
samiti has not responded to the Swami's statement. According
to sources the samiti was in utter confusion. A samiti activist,
who preferred to be anonymous, said : "We are very cautious.
The experience in the past one month shows that whichever
way we deal with the marchers, they emerge winners. At the
same time, we cannot ignore the Swami, as he has gained much
mileage in the newspapers and among the public."
number of official releases have been issued recently clarifying
that the "Swami was never arrested and that the government
had done nothing unlawful against the Swami". The
releases claimed that the government had given full protection
to the marchers. The clarifications by the government, though
late, show the importance the state government gave to the
march, despite pressure by the Dharma Raksha Samiti to do
the complaints against the government in banning the march
later, the fact that it was provided prompt protection till
Jethpura cannot be ignored. The Dharma Raksha Samiti had
reportedly planned to prevent the march from entering Rajasthan.
When the march entered the state and Shajapur on December
11, the police acted immediately and sent back about 500 Dharma
Raksha Samiti men, who shouted slogans against marchers. This
timely action and the security provided by the Rajasthan Armed
Constabulary made any attack on the marchers difficult.
the heavy security, a group of samiti members, who had arrived
in a hijacked bus, attacked the local organiser of the march
at Amber, 10 km from Jaipur. The arrest of 24 persons checked
further incidents in Jaipur and elsewhere. But the reason
for the declaration of Section 144 in Chomu tehsil remains
vague. However, the credit for arranging an incident-free
course for the marchers goes to the officials.
verdicts by the Rajasthan High Court on December 18 permitting
the marchers to proceed upto Ajitgarh, and that on December
21 quashing the ban order of the sub-divisional magistrate,
Amber, preventing the march from entering Chomu tehsil, provided
a big boost to the marchers. It was a moral victory for the
marchers, according to a lawyer.
role of the lawyers and activists in taking up the case of
the marchers is seen as a sign of growing awareness about
women's issues. Two women lawyers, Mrs. Madhuri Singh and
Ms Sunita Satyarthi, appeared for the Swami in the High
Court while the Swami made a forceful plea for the rights
of women. Two Janata Party leaders, Mr. Vimal Choudhary
and Mr. Manak Chand Surana, MLA, assisted the lawyers.
A number of activists of women's organisations and voluntary
organisations extended support to the march at various centres
Kedar, leader of the Janata legislature party, Mr. Surana
and Mr. Chandra Mehta, Yuva Janata leader, were among
those who turned up at Jorawar Singh gate to welcome the marchers.
The biggest boost to the marchers was the presence of the
secretary of the state unit of the CPI Mr. Ratiram Yadav,
and the Janata Party leader, Mrs. Promila Dandavate. Mr. Yadav
said left parties would support all reformatory movements.
march was accorded a warm reception at various centres and
many impromptu meetings were held. Local leaders joined the
march. Mr. Bhawani Singh, former Janata MLA of Behror,
participated in the march till the end. The sarpanches
of Deorala and Amarasar said they were awaiting the march.
Local organisers alleged that a relative of Roop Kanwar, who
had agreed to join the march was forced to withdraw by the
Dharma Raksha Samiti.
major impact of the march was the isolation of the Dharma
Raksha Samiti. The samiti withdrew its daily statements
against the march and programmes of protest as the march received
a big welcome in Jaipur. It had to drop the plan for a country-march
at Deorala on December 23 too.