Report on 8th March

Report of 8th March

Newsletter May 1988


The 8th March is a reminder of that historical event in 1857 when hundreds of women workers of textile industries in the U.S. went on strike to demand more economic rights and better working conditions. In the year 1910, at the Second Socialist International Congress, Clara Zetkin passed the resolution that the 8th of March should be celebrated as International Women’s Day every year, in memory of these women workers who had for the first time raised their voices in protest against their exploitation. Since then, this day is celebrated as a symbol of women’s struggles all over the world. It is a day when all women get together to express their solidarity and strength.

On March 8, this year, we felt it necessary to hold a discussion focussing on (i) the government’s attitude to the issue of Sati, and (ii) increasing police inaction vis-à-vis women’s problems and police atrocities committed on women. It was largely attended by women’s groups, other democratic organizations, concerned individuals and students.

We believe that the issue of Sati is inextricably linked with electoral politics due to which the fate of women in this country is left in the hands of religious heads and fundamentalists. The government’s continuing indifference in spite of women’s groups crying themselves hoarse against personal laws is indicative of the discriminatory attitude the government has towards women. And of greater concern is the fact that in the interest of securing votes, the ruling party reassures minority communities that their rights will not be snatched away. In reality, men are assured that their dominant position in the family shall not be undermined in any way.

The issue of Sati drew thousands of militant Rajputs together who perceived any protest against Sati as an onslaught on their communities’ identity and therefore contributed zealously to the glorification of its practice. Women’s groups effectively pressurised the government to pass the Anti-Sati Bill. But the Bill is not without its loopholes. It holds the woman guilty and punishable by law. Secondly, it does not hold companies contributing money to the glorification of Sati as punishable. Thirdly, it is not clear as regards the glorification of Sati in the absence of an actual incident. Finally, it is months since these laws were introduced, but the guilty of the Deorala incident still remain unpunished and the lakhs of rupees collected at the site are yet to be confiscated. To make a further mockery of the Act, we have Shankaracharya of Puri freely advocating his views in favour of Sati. This amply illustrates how communal and fundamentalist politics have a direct bearing on women’s rights. It is in this light, that Saheli and Women’s Centre (Bombay) organized an anti-Sati Signature Campaign. Over 12,000 signatures representing various sections of people from all over the country were released on the 8th of March 1988.

In helping women in distress, we are constantly facing the problem of police inaction and also increasing atrocities committed on women by the police. In spite of laws against dowry, rape, eve-teasing, etc., these problems are on the increase. One of the main reasons for this increase is solely police inaction. To begin with, it is not a very simple exercise to get a complaint even registered whether it is rape or a dowry death. It becomes even more difficult to get a medical examination done and in procuring all other necessary evidence. Far from being co-operative, there’s absolute indifference and hostility on the part of the police in such cases. More often than not, the police are in collusion with the guilty and are most reluctant to take any step against them. In such situations, the woman becomes a victim of terror by both the offenders and the police and there is very little option left when the police itself becomes a source of harassment or rape.

In trying to help women in distress, Saheli is increasingly facing problems where the police are concerned. The attitude of the police towards incidents of rape and dowry deaths makes it impossible for us to seek justice. The overwhelming response to the discussion on March 8 is ample proof that it is becoming a source of concern for many other groups and organizations.

The discussion began with Saheli raising issues of police inaction and atrocities on women. Specific incidents faced by certain women were related. An extreme example of police brutality was related by Kamlesh who had been badly harassed by the police in league with the alleged landlords of the house she lives in. She was not only molested and her children mercilessly beaten, but the children were kept in police lock-up for several hours without any warrant, and Kamlesh jailed on a trumped-up charge of trespassing. Her nine-year old son Naresh was beaten so severely by the landlords at the instigation of SHO Lal Singh (of Anand Parbat Police Station) that the boy succumbed to his injuries and died at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital a few days later. In spite of repeated appeals made by Saheli, PUDR and other organizations, no arrests have been made so far and Kamlesh is yet to receive any justice while the culprits go unpunished. Yet another case of police inaction was reported in the event of a rape case of a student in Delhi University.

The work procedures of the crimes against women cell were discussed in this regard, was felt that the cell was chiefly working as a counselling unit without any punishment being meted out to the guilty. Their efforts are largely directed at creating an understanding between the husband and wife which often means the woman being sent to her marital home irrespective of the situation she has been in. There is inadequate follow-up to find out how the woman is faring after she is sent back to her husband. This leaves the woman even more insecure than before.

A plan of action was formulated by the end of the discussion:

1. To conduct a study of the Crimes Against Women Cell.

2. To demonstrate in front of police stations in specific instances as and when necessary.

3. To organize a dharna/hunger strike at Anand Parbat police station demanding the suspension of

S.H.O. Lal Singh and that the findings of the S.D.M.’s inquiry report be revealed to the public. This would be finalised at a meeting on 28th March. (S.H.O. Lal Singh was transferred to Palam in the second week of April and therefore alternate plans are being considered presently).

4. To publish a booklet containing information about women’s legal rights and routine procedures involved in approaching the police, with the view to raising awareness among women at large. It was also decided to organize a street-play to spread this kind of awareness.