Newsletter Sept 1986
Saheli started in a small way with Rs. 80/- in the Kitty—put in by the founder members and with tables, chairs, and small things donated by members and supporters in a garage in one of the members home. Volunteer time came free because all of us worked only part time for Saheli. For about 8 months this state of affairs continued till we needed a full time worker to help coordinate the growing activities of Saheli. That was our fhrst choice of how we would deal with a large money requirement. However, we did not jump to put forward a project proposal, we all felt the need to get support and committed money, from among Saheli supporters and we worked to get this. In addition we receieved Rs. 1000/- as donation from one of the trusts which had a close relationship with one of the volunteers. This donation was in the nature of a one time grant. By mid 82, within a year of our existence we were busy working out the plans of holding a feminist festivaI and it seemed to require money. At the time we felt that it was not possible to raise funds from in individuals for supporting such an event and that we should apply for funds. This obviously generated the debate of what such funds meant for the organisation, and this debate helped us to arrive at a position which was as follows.
No funds came free and that each kind meant some control, we would rather be controlled by what our support base thought of us than by any funding agencies whether of domestic or foreign origin or by the government. We felt that the organized funds were, by and large available with those whose objectives were not the same as ours. If these were not so different, such funds still left a few questions unanswered. What would happen to Saheli if these sources dried up? What would happen if Saheli wanted to take a stance in conflict with those of the funders and finally how far could we provide a model which could have a wide applicability? We also felt that funders, did not, by and large, take into account the interest of those funded in order to channel and allocate funds but that this was much more governed by which programmes they felt to be relevant—which would mean funds for women’s organizations/programmes during the decade for women and that for peace organization if the UN so decided and then more on to the youth, children and the aged with time.
In all, what was important for us, was to develop a need to survive and probably grow in the face of an adverse funding climate. (It is important to note that this choice was made by us not in the air but in a context where funders were literally knocking at our doors every other day with offers of funds).
Given all this, we decided that we wanted to depend on individual donations for our basic survival. Yet we did not make a choice of never taking organized funds. We decided that if our intemal planning led us to require funds for any of our one time activities, e.g., holding a workshop such as Kriti which did not make us continually exposed to control from funders, we would take organized funds for them. For such occasions we also decided that we would take, preferably, funds from our own government.
After Kriti we have received funds for starting our newsletter, for helping with the direct expenditure incurred in helping individual women which has essentially helped us build a small reserve from our general fund, a short stay home run by us, for attending the Nairobi conference, and for running a training and production centre for the rehabilitation of riot aifected women. Of these, two are programmes which are perpetuities. The first is the short stay home. The funds for this are given to us by the Central Government. Basically we have utilized less than 10% of the grant and even now we continue with the system of safe homes with volunteers and supporters for so that our dependence on these funds is minimal. Funds for rehabilitation of riot victims were received from SIDA in opposition to our stated policies, butit is important that we explain our stand and the circumstances under which this was done.
After 1984 riots in Delhi we had got involved deeply in the relief work. At that time the Central Government approached us for starting a training centre for these victims. We took the offer and were promised funds and all other support. We did in fact get a shed but the funds though approved did not just reach us on account of the bureaucratic problems. Delhi Administration, which had given the shed to us in turn started asking us to vacate because we were not starting work there. This was in May 1985-more than 6 months had passed since the tragedy had taken place. The women were restive and were ready to migrate away from an unfriendly environment. At this juncture rather than to agitate before thc government we took probably a less correct approach of receiving the funds from SIDA. Earlier this year we were confronted with the problem of future survival, but now these women have been promised government jobs and hence we are bringing the project to a close. Yet there are lessons to be learnt from this venture becoming answerable to 60 women for their livelihood through a project is something which is highly dangerous for us, given our policies, we have to then be governed equally by our humanitarian approach as by our desire for autonomy. A lot of confusion in Saheli arose when it became common knowledge that some of our members had started receiving what can be called-activist funding. In other words, people were receiving funds not for working on specific projects but for being activists. We felt that it was violative of our basic approach that the basic work of Saheli will remain independent of organised funds. Further, we believed that a particular individual could not exist with two different approaches to the question of funds. One could not, for example, make a policy of taking activist funding in one organization but profess to be different in Saheli. One of the two approaches had to be false.
We also felt that Saheli had too public an image, that some members having a dual approach to funding were creating undue problems outside. We also felt that the not-so-correct decision mentioned above was a consequence of the duality, whereby, members who were used to foreign funds and were also involved in this particular project had not sufficiently explored the other alternatives, and had landed Saheli collective in a situation which was not really liked by a majority. Hence our problems with dual approach were not just based on a theoretical position but were emanating from the influence that this approach had had on our decisions.
During the review, some members called our approach to funding pragmatic as opposed to being principled. We feel that our approach is principled, because first and foremost we ask for our sources of funds to be secondary to our strategies as an organization. To us it is vital that we decide our programmes on the basis of the needs of the movement and not on the basis of the policies of the funders. We are definitely against being purists. We would rather see the issue of beef eating from a health and hygiene angle than from a Brahminical approach to the holy cow. For us it is of prime importance that our own strategies have some internal cohesion. If we take on the problems of individual women then we need to have a shelter available for them. We will not wait for the pure funds to arrive but will use what we get while we expand our support base. And indeed we have expanded it. As compared to the first nine months of Saheli where the total collections from individual donations could not have crossed the limit of Rs. 5000/-, in less than three years our collections for 9 months were close to Rs. 75,000l- Yet we do look for the cheapest ways of doing things. We have not rented a fancy building for our shelter but operate from a village near our office.
The other criticism levelled against us was that why do you have as members, such women, who work with multinationals, the government, or with funding agencies. This criticism according to us has little basis. Those who work in such places sell their labour power which is no way comparable to getting funds for an activist. What they do outside their working hours has no relation to what they do at their workplace. In fact Saheli activities and principles will jeopardize their jobs and not be helpful as is the case with those who receive activist funds.
The third question raised related to the class background of those who were dependent on foreign funds. Some asked whether they had right to full time activist work just because they had no financial security. We felt that raised in the context of Saheli it was not a true question because many of our fulltimers have really lived on Saheli living allowance alone and continue to do so and have no dependence on organized funds. This is a tricky question raised in the context of other organizations. But we do feel that one has to constantly think of alternatives to this situation and not take it for granted that there is no other way to survive. As such, all members felt that dependence on organized funding sources was not desirable. Those who were salaried from such funds were asked to exercise the options of becoming Saheli fulltimers.