Our Routine at Saheli

Our Routine at Saheli

Newsletter June 1984

Lawyers, newspaper publicity, and a word of mouth network spread the word about Saheli. Some women coming to us even carry letters of referral from people known to us. They want to know about us, often the mother, father and other relatives come to us first with a list of questions.

Q. Who is the head of Saheli? We want to talk to her.

A. Sorry, we do not have anyone incharge. We function as a collective and everyone is a volunteer.

Q. Is Saheli a private organization or a government sponsored one? Are you affiliated to any political party?

A. We are not a government body nor are we affiliated to any party, Saheli is an independent organization set up by women for women.

Q. Do you have influence with high government officials, police officers and politicians?

A. We do not have any connection with influential people nor do we think it necessary. We believe in the collective power of our volunteers and supporters.

Q. How do you meet your expenses? Do you get funds from agencies or not?

A. Most of our expenses so far have been met by donations from individuals. Now we have got some funds from the government to help women in distress and set up a short stay home. We have also received funds for meeting expenses of our newsletter.

Q. How many volunteers are associated with Saheli?

A. Presently we have about 20 volunteers of whom 4 are full timers.

Q. How can you help us?

A. We first have to understand your problem. We would like to meet the woman concerned. After which we can start working out our course of action. We want to help the woman decide for herself and not impose our solutions on her. We do not want to do anything without talking to the concerned woman. .

Q. Do you have any lawyers? `

A. Yes, there are some lawyers who are helping us.

Q. One last question - You won‘t get influenced by the other side will you?

A. Of course not. You have to trust us.

Then we come to fixing an appointment to meet the woman.

The woman does not come to us alone at the appointed hour. Her relatives accompany her. An unhappy, dejected woman, she can be recognised at once. We introduce ourselves and the dialogue begins.

The woman is hesitant. She keeps looking at the others for clues. We encourage her to talk. Her talking is a mixture of emotions, at times she is enthusiastic, at others angry and at times she cries. When she. pauses to think, invariably the others with her start off. They want to avenge themselves. "They are our enemies. They have wronged our daughter. We will take revenge." In their anger they often forget who will suffer from this revenge.

The woman often says that she had never dreamt that she would have to face all this. She talks of her dreams of a happy marriage. "My in-laws think that they have got a slave who will fulfil all their wishes .... who does not have a life of her own". She blames her mother-in-law and sisters-in·law. If my husband supported me I would never have to face this day".

But there are things she would not say before her relatives. We ask them to go out for while. Some women do not open up in the first meeting with us. We encourage them to come again and again- Often we find that her problem really turns out to be quite different from what was told to us at the beginning. Women suffering in isolation often feel that if they tell the truth everyone will look down on them.

We like to keep in our records:

1. The personal history of their problems.

2. Various names and addresses ;and practical details about police complaints, documentary proof of harassment, details of marriage dowry etc. depending on the nature of the problem.

3. The attitude of her own relatives. We try to find out what she wants to do. What has she thought of her future?

Often the response is more crying. She does not know what she wants to do. She feels that this is the end of her life and happiness.

We tell her about ourselves, about our struggles.

"You are not in this alone. We all have such problems. We are with you all the way. We do not claim that coming to Saheli is going to solve your problem. But do come here regularly. Sitting around and moping about things will only make you more unhappy. Come and spend time here. Think of the future. Think of the work you can do. Would you like to equip yourself with training? Work for more independence. Meet others at Saheli and understand your own situation better. You have to decide what to do, we are here to help".

Our Effort

To listen to the woman’s problem with total involvement. Help her feel stronger to face the difficult situation she is in. Motivate her to become economically independent. Help her End a job. Give shelter if she needs it in our own houses. Empower her to take some steps. Help her share her feelings. Help her change from being meek and helpless to being strong. She must struggle and make space for herself wherever she is. After coming to Saheli a few times she is clearer about what she wants to do. We try our best to settle things out of court. Working through the problem may require any one or more of the following actions :

1. If a woman requests, we try to seek appointments with the husband or in-laws or even parents as the case may be. We go ourselves if we do not get any response. We feel that talking to both parties can be helpful on two counts first it gives us a better understanding of the situation and second it helps in settling matters later.

2. Again on request we can mediate a dialogue between the two parties. We often find that while talking to us people are quite busy painting the other side black but in front of each other are more honest n and forthright. `Sometimes these women would like to continue the relationship if some ground rules are changed. We try to get some conditions accepted in writing. Sometimes these solutions do work out because the husband knows that there are others aware of the situation and the woman has support. If they want to discontinue the relationship and get a divorce we try to work at a mutual consent divorce which is a less time consuming process. If this is not possible we help the woman find a lawyer. If she is poor we take her for legal aid but if she can afford it she pays. We help her prepare her case and accompany her to the court.

3. If the problem entails physical abuse · we approach the police. Same is done if there is any threat or dispute regarding property.

This does not mean that all the women approach us with "husband and in—law" problems. They come to us with problems with their patents, at work, of needing employment, of accommodation, of sexual harassment, with tenants, with children, or of health. We often try to settle with the other party to the dispute; put pressure if need be through bosses, authorities, legal notices and even demonstrations. For other problems we have referral services.

This also does not mean that all those who come to us have genuine needs for help. Sometimes people want "demonstrations" and at other times "free legal aid". We do not hesitate to tell them off when we realize this. People also approach us to organize marriages—we refuse to act as a marriage bureau. Some times we have helped couples get married but that is when the woman wants to exercise her choice.

We try to maintain contact with all the women who come to us. For this purpose we try to call them for monthly discussion meetings; invite them to other events such as international women’s day; keep them informed through our newsletter. We are also trying to set up discussion groups based on commonalities.