Newsletter Mar 1985

As this issue of our newsletter was getting ready to go to the press we were confronted with communal violence on a large scale. From October 31 till November 4th the orgy of violence continued unabated with the police and local Cong (I) leaders actively conniving with anti-social elements to commit crimes against Sikhs. For many of us this was our first exposure to communal violence. 

We must admit that we at Saheli were totally unprepared for such a situation and could not, as an organization, play any role in preventing the violence. We were not able to even get in touch with each other for a while. Subsequently all of us got involved in relief work. We helped in rescuing people, rescuing people, helping at the refugee camps, holding peace marches and making collections etc.

The events we witnessed overwhelmed us. For a long time we were unable to understand the complexity of the situation. Over a period of time we are beginning to feels very strongly that the problems are so complex that we cannot handle them on our own. We will have to intensify our efforts and work with all organizations which think similarly. 

Our involvement with relief work is not over as yet although more than three months have passed by. Even today people are languishing in relief camps because the atmosphere in their colonies has not improved. When they visit their colonies to get their rations they are beaten up and threatened. The government has adopted a very unhelpful stand, it is not even willing to provide safe housing to people at reasonable rates. 

In addition to relief we are involved in long term rehabilitation work as well. For us it means three things, first to help rebuild the lives of those who have been affected while at the same time helping them get reintegrated into the communities where they have lived earlier; secondly, seeking punishment of the guilty who are still at large and are terrorizing people; and lastly working against communalism which is increasingly exposing us to new levels of violence and hatred 

Working on the question of resettling the victims, we had placed a number of demands before the government which specifically deal with the rehabilitation of women who have lost all adult male earning members of their family. The government has offered Rs. 10,000/- as compensation to the next of kin of the dead but has not yet paid it to all. We also doubt that this compensation will be paid to all affected because the government is constantly dragging its feet in admitting the number of dead and even today its tally is half the number of widows verified by us. Add to this men, women and children who have not left behind any widows. While we feel that no amount of money can compensate for loss of lives we are particularly worried about unsuspecting women whose relatives will exercise control over the money leaving them destitute. Hence we have demanded that in addition to the lumpsum a pension of Rs 300/- per month be paid to all widowed women. In addition we have demanded a number of other things from the government – (1) An all purpose desk to be set up in the Ministry of Social Welfare to prevent harassment of women and to enable them to get ration cards, jobs, loans and other help from one place. (2) Income generating projects to be set up in badly affected areas. In these projects Women of other communities facing similar problems would also participate, so that new relationships based on common interests develop and religious differences are buried. (3) Free education for children of riot victims. We have not received any positive response from the government except that a few income generating projects are being planned. 

The other aspect of the work carried forward by us is dealing with the larger society. In Delhi at least a large number of people are feeling insecure because they feel violence may recur. The sense of insecurity is further heightened by the incidents that have been taking place after November. We as women feel particularly unsafe not knowing who in out vicinity is a rapist or a murderer at large because most of the culprits have not been arrested. Watching the connivance between the police and the criminals has once again shattered even dregs of trust, that the police can protect an ordinary citizen. We are, therefore, carrying out a signature campaign, demanding the arrest of those who are guilty so that life can return to normal.

We also undertook educational activities in the form of leafleting and discussions pinpointing the dangerous consequences of political parties promoting communal violence. We have decided to work on a long term basis against the spread of communalism which is bound to break our country into pieces by giving all minority communities a sense of insecurity. 

In order to combat communal feelings, which are being fanned by a number of political parties, people have to develop alternate identities. They have to see themselves as women, students, workers, peasants etc so that whether they are Tamils, Muslims, Sikhs, Banias automatically loses significance. This is not to say that we have to stay still in the short run while we help develop these identities. We have to expose all those who engage in communal violence and communal politics. 

We feel that communal politics has consequences for women over and above those for others. We are not only subjected to violence in which we have no participation, we also have to face increased violence on the street and in the neighbourhood because the guilty are never punished. We are also affected by it when communal and religious identities are strengthened, giving rise to fanaticism. Horror stories of the treatment meted out to our sisters in Iran and Pakistan are only too familiar to us. In fact the Akali movement had also demanded a separate Sikh personal law which would have abridged the rights of Sikh women. As a result we have decided to work on the issue of communalism for the forthcoming international women’s day. We also feel that we must start working for a Uniform Civil Code which will instil a sense of unity among us. 

Since we are a small group we cannot work in isolation; therefore we joined various fronts and forums set up for this purpose namely Nagrik Ekta Manch to do relief and rehabilitation work, Jan Ekta Abhaiyan to seek punishment for the guilty and Movement Against Communalism to fight communalism. We are working with different organizations who agree with us on some of these issues and would like to strengthen our links with other women’s organisations to take on this task.


It is estimated that more than 1200 women were Widowed.

Balwinder Kaur: Her family insists she remarries her fourteen year old brother-in-law who is ten

years her junior. She has decided to live alone.

Ram Kaur: A widow aged twenty years had to buy her freedom by paying Rs 6,000 to her father-in-law.

Laksmi Kaur: Heavy with child is about to deliver her fifth child.

Amarjeet Kaur: is fifteen years old and has lost her entire family. She has not smiled since.

Nanaksar Camp: 107 widows here to feed on an average ten mouths.

Statesman Report, February 27, 1985: Shanti Devi who saw her husband and three sons murdered in the November riots committed suicide by hanging. She could not recover from her grief.