Found out something interesting about a friend at work. She works with a women’s organization called Saheli Women’s Resource Centre (the word ‘saheli’ means ‘female friend’ in Hindi). About twenty-five years old, Saheli have a small team, but their work has affected women all over India.
Saheli’s strength lies in mobilizing support for policy and law changes. Organizing rallies; writing to government representatives; raising their voice against unjust treatment of women; and the like. They have been signatories—along with 18 other groups from all over the country—to a joint statement to a Government of India committee set up to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. This is with respect to the abuse of power by the armed forces. This Act has resulted in arbitrary torture, rape and looting by military personnel, having terrible repercussions especially on women, with the guilty literally getting away with murder. Rape by army men in Jammu and Kashmir has resulted in them just being dismissed for ‘breach of discipline’! The signatories want the law to be repealed and not just reviewed or amended or replaced.
Saheli have raised their voice against the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 for equal inheritance rights for daughters, and also Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes all ‘sex against the order of nature’. The ban of dance bars by the government in Mumbai has also seen protests from women’s groups. Judging them to be detrimental to the so-called ‘culture’ of the country, the Maharashtra government has decided these bars need to be shut down, without a second thought to the livelihood of professionals whose jobs have disappeared overnight. (Funny that this ‘culture’ does not extend to making the streets and public places safe for women! A whole new subject!)
When you raise your voice, you are invariably heard. One notable success achieved by women’s groups, Saheli included, is the decision of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to delay the introduction of injectable contraceptives for women in its National Family Welfare Programme till studies prove that these are not harmful to women’s health.
Of course, there’s lots more. One blog entry can barely do justice! By the way, Saheli bring out a newsletter thrice a year. If anyone is interested, drop me a line or put in a comment and I’ll pass on the subscription details.