Women Workers Union rallies for rights on International Domestic Workers’ Day 2022


June 16, 2022 | Chennai, Tamil Nadu

(Report compiled by Suhasini Udayakumar, Prajnya intern)

The Penn Thozhilalarkal Sangam (PTS), consisting of more than 50,000 informal workers from Chengalpattu, Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Tiruvalluvar districts, commemorated International Domestic Workers’ Day 2022 on June 16 at Valluvarkottam, Chennai, with a protest aimed at the Government of Tamil Nadu.

PTS’ asks from the state have remained firm and consistent: the creation of a separate law for the rights of domestic workers to ensure job security, minimum wage and social security benefits; ratification of the ILO convention 189; holding of a tripartite convention to discuss the TN labour codes and rules for domestic workers; formation of a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) for domestic workers at the corporation, municipality, ward, and panchayat levels; reduction of the retirement age of all unorganised manual workers to 55 and an increase of the pension amount to INR 3000 per month; a collection of 3% on house tax for welfare purposes; adjustment of white-board bus timings and frequency to benefit domestic workers (7-8.30 AM and 2-5 PM), and representation of women domestic workers on the Minimum Wage Committee, and other labour welfare boards and bodies.

The protest, spearheaded by PTS and Garment and Fashion Workers Union (GAFWU) President Sujada Mody and General Secretary Palani Bharathi, saw the presence of feminist leaders such as V. Geetha and Dr. K. Kalpana, and long-time PTS changemakers such as Dhanalakshmi, Vijayalakshmi, Pushparani, Prema, and Latha.

V. Geetha, one of the country’s most prominent feminist writers and activists emphasised the staggering double burden borne by women (and even more so by domestic workers), the urgent need to meet their demands for fundamental rights, and the power of continued protests.

Dr. K. Kalpana traced the history of women’s work, pointing out women’s invisibilised role in the industrial revolution, and the economic stability that men and the state continue to enjoy purely due to women’s contribution through unpaid and unrelenting domestic and care work. She highlighted the role that domestic worker unions play: they were the first to demand compensation for domestic work, thus kindling the realisation that women must not perform such work for free, be it at home or outside. These unions send out a message to the world that domestic and care work are skilled, essential, and dignified labour. Dr. Kalpana concluded that women must work together to eliminate the stigma associated with such work and raise awareness of the rights to which every woman/domestic worker is entitled.

GAFWU General Secretary Palani Bharathi reprimanded the government’s WIEGO Policy Brief No.23 which set a minimum wage of Rs. 371 per hour for “unskilled” domestic work, stating that all domestic work needs unique and special skills. She also asserted the importance of reducing domestic workers’ retirement age to 55, especially in light of recent pandemic conditions.

PTS President Sujata applauded the protest as a celebration of the 11th anniversary of the Union. She discussed the initiative and unity demonstrated by PTS members, commending them for the respect, recognition and empowerment they have championed for all domestic workers. She stressed the power of continued dialogues with the government and urged members to use benefits wisely, give feedback, and be fully involved in governmental decisions.

Other PTS members such as Dhanalakshmi, Vijayalakshmi, Pushparani, Prema, and Latha motivated their comrades to take pride in their work; to be bold and fearless in voicing their demands for fair pay, bonuses, work hours, leave policies, insurance, perks, benefits etc., and to put up a united front through and through.

This resolute protest and observance of International Domestic Workers’ Day 2022 was a true embodiment of domestic workers’ strength, solidarity, and determination, and a sustained bid for structured work policies that would protect the state’s domestic workers.

Hate Speech during Election Campaigns: A Petition for Action


March 25, 2021

Chief Election Officer, Tamil Nadu 

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, as citizens, professionals and women’s rights advocates in Tamil Nadu are writing to demand that you take action against Mr. Dindigul I. Leoni and candidate Mr. Karthikeya Sivasenapathy for the former’s misogynistic statements in the course of his Assembly election campaign in the course of the latter’s election campaign.

We are appealing to you, Mr. Chief Electoral Officer, in recognition of the fact that political parties will hesitate to withdraw a candidate two weeks ahead of an election.

Candidates who vilify members of any gender, caste or community in the course of an election campaign, including making personal comments on their appearance or lifestyle, are not deserving of the honour of representing any of us. Their tolerance of hate speech by their supporters is an equal offence. This is also true of political parties who tolerate this culture of vilification and hate speech in their self-interest.

While the Model Code of Conduct prohibits caste or communal comments and provocations and it forbids candidates from insulting each other, it carries no such provision with respect to slurs and insults against women and gender minorities. We ask that you set a precedent by penalising this candidate immediately.

It is time that misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic speech were made disqualifications for the honour of serving in our legislatures, along with histories of sexual harassment and violence. Please take action that initiates that change in our election laws.

As the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist states, “Democracy without gender equality is incomplete and imperfect.” As the guardians of India’s electoral democracy, it is up to the Election Commission to introduce and promote a more gender-sensitive and inclusive election culture, by:

1.       Banning misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic speech; and

2.      Barring candidates charge-sheeted or convicted of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment.

This outrageous campaign speech by Mr. Dindigul I. Leoni offers you an opportunity to act in the interest of 3.18 crores women voters in Tamil Nadu—the majority of voters, as you know, in this state. You must act, Mr. Chief Election Officer, because without your action, you know that the political parties that field such obnoxious candidates will not.

We look to you in the hope that you will stand up for the Constitution that sees all of us as equal citizens, equally entitled to dignity. We ask you to penalise the campaigner, the candidate and warn political parties to stop the use of offensive language.

Yours truly,

Swarna Rajagopalan 

Sujata Mody

ACR Sudaroli

Copied to:

  • Chief Election Commissioner, India
  • The Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu
  • Chairperson,Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women 
  • Secretary, Law Ministry, Tamil Nadu
  • Chief Justice, Madras High Court
  • President, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

This letter is also online here and it will be available for others to view and endorse.

#Beijing25 ||ROADMAP: women and peace


Shohini Banerjee’s depiction of the inclusion of women in peace processes was the winner of Roadmap, an infographic contest to celebrate 25 years of the Beijing Platform for Action.


  1. Council on Foreign Relations. Women’s Roles in Peace Processes: Explore the Data. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.cfr.org/womens-participation-in-peace-processes/explore-the-data
  2. Gender Peacekeeping. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from
  3. Hedström, J., & Senarathna, T. (Eds.). (2015). Women in Conflict and Peace (Rep.). International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. from https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/women-in-conflict-and-peace.pdf
  4. Khullar, A. (2020, January 16). A Lukewarm Commitment: India and Gender Equality in Security Affairs. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://southasianvoices.org/a-lukewarm-commitment-indian-perspectives-on-unscr-1325/
  5. Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (Security Council resolution 1325). (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2020, from https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/
  6. O’Reilly, M. (2015). Why Women? Inclusive Security and Peaceful Societies (Rep.). Inclusive Security. from https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Why-Women-Brief-2020.pdf
  7. Press Trust India. (2019, October 22). Urgent need to institutionalise involvement of women in conflict prevention: India. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/urgent-need-to-institutionalise-involvement-of-women-in-conflict-prevention-india/articleshow/71699614.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest
  8. Samad, K. (2011). Gender, Conflict and Peace-building: On the Margins of Development
    (Rep.). Paris: UNESCO. doi: BFC/PCPD/2011/PI/1/REV.2

Shohini Banerjee is a Gender and Development Consultant.

#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Silvia, Gender-based Violence and Social Inequality


By Catharinal Silvia.M

As everyday news clearly portrays, we live in the 21st century where everybody is considered to be equal and free. These monotonous lines are deeply rooted in our brains that we don’t stop and think what the true reality is . We often come across violences against women and children and we are manipulated to believe that gender based violence can only be against women which is not true. Gender based violence is considered to be violences against any particular gender which need not only have to be associated with feminine characteristics .It should be clear that gender based violence can be against both men women or any other gender. But the amusing fact is that more than 80% of gender based violence is are against women which proves why gender based violences are associated with women and children.

Since time began, we are told and we have experienced in histories how women had to go through gruesome inequalities which ruined their lives. Even though these inequalities against women are not that ghastly as it was before in the earlier times we still find these ideas etched in peoples minds.

Lots of works have been established which talks of how women go through teriffic horrors in their lives and mostly these things seem monotonous when we go through them because it has become a fashion to talk about gender based violence but not take any action against it. Gender based violence and social inequality are intertwined with each other because these violences happen on the base root of social structures and backgrounds. Beginning with our own households and our own practices, these ideas are fed into children’s minds since they were born and that’s where the problem begins.

If we take a typical Indian household, we always see that a male child is given more important and is treated superior to any girl child . 

We could take examples from western and eastern countries, which we considered elite and good. The production of Barbie dolls and the market it created cannot be forgotten. These Barbie dolls came to our households as just dolls but it did not only create entertainment but also a illogical standard which cannot be erased even today. The clear cut shape that the Barbie doll portrayed has become the standard shape that any woman has to have in order to be looked up on. This has so much to do with social inequality as women who  don’t fit into these stereotypical standards were ill treated, mocked and body shamed.

Another revolutionary fact is the creation of man and woman. People always say that woman was created out of man and so she has to be not equal but a below him. These ideas are so much put in our minds that wherever we go in any part of the world there is always conflict faced by a woman.

For example in workplaces, schools ,colleges ,anywhere in any part of the world a woman has always have to face some kind of challenge be it  inequality, crimes , safety, bodyshaming, criticisms and more.

Human minds are so much manipulated that women cannot do the work that a man does, as it is very rare to find women in the fields where physical strength is required. And if by any chance a woman appears in the field of maybe the army or the Navy or somewhere where physical strength is required she is looked as if she’s an alien.

When it comes to education there is a lot to look upon. Even now in remote places of India  women and girl children are deprived of proper education.Education allows us to think for ourselves, when we don’t think for ourselves we will definitely have to go by the rules of another person.

We could not only say that only women undergo these kinds of inequalities in social backgrounds also transgenders go through brutal crimes almost everywhere. These gender based violences have to be strictly looked upon because we’re lied to that everything has changed.

#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Pradeesh, Gender-based Violence and Social Inequality


By Anushka Pradeesh

Gender-based violence is now a days highly prevailing issue in our society leading to social inequality. From ancient days till today men are considered to be superior race in this world. This ideology have played a major role in creating gender-based violence and social inequality among women, transgender people and men.

Women are prone more to gender based-violence in this world. They are facing harassments at homes, streets, work places and even in public places. A survey proves that around eighty one percent of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. In India divorce is considered as a bad act. As a result of which many women tend to tolerate the harassments imposed on them by their husbands. Each and everyday we are witnessing the news of a girl being raped in the newspaper. It’s just a news for the readers but in reality it’s the life of the girl and the family which is shattered and torn into pieces. Justice is never served to them. The main reason for this violence is the loop holes available in the judicial system. Women are deprived of safety not only in the outside world but also in social media. Cybercrime cases are increasing extremely in this pandemic situation. Women have lost liberty to share their photos in social media. The main reason is morphing of images which is taking place as an illegal business at higher levels. Many women have lost their lives due to cybercrime. Child marriage is yet another prevailing issue during this pandemic. A study proves that around twenty seven percent of girls in India are married before eighteen and seven percent before fifteen. As per the government records the government have stopped around 5,584 child marriages but still there are yet more cases which none are aware of. Girl children married at the young age are forced to face harassments not only from their husband but also from the entire household and society. All these gender viloences portray woman as weaker gender unable to speak up for themselves leading to social inequality. A great example for social inequality is women doing equal work as men and are paid only one-fourth of the men’s salary. Still today gender stereotypes remains unchanged.

Transgender people are the people who are more discriminated in the name of gender. The violence and and humiliations faced by them are unseen by the society. Literally the society turns it’s blind eyes towards these people. They are hated by their own family members and relatives. The harassments faced by them begins from home. They are not only physically harmed but also are experiencing mental pressure and depression.In search of peace they runaway from their homes. They are not given equal job opportunities. Even if their parents are supporting them the society is not really showing any acceptance to them which results in social inequality. For instance, parents are not willing to allow their child study with a transgender kid at schools promoting gender stereotypes and violence. In such a case social inequality begins from a place where equality should be inculcated in the children.

Men tend to face social inequality at certain phases of their lives. For example, in some firms there is this policy of treating people on the basis of caste which results in social inequality. Social inequality exists in this society mainly due to caste discrimination, biased religions and societal status. These three factors imposes social inequality irrespective of gender.

Gender-based violence and social inequality can be completely abolished when each and every Indian citizens are accepting every human beings as their kit and kin without discriminating anyone on the basis of gender, caste and class hierarchy. Equality will strive in our country only when our perspective changes.

Be the change you want to see in the world”

                                                                         – Mahatma Gandhi

So let the change begin from you and me. Let equality strive in our society.

Ilina As We Knew Her: A Tribute from WSS


Shared by Laxmi Murthy

Ilina As We Knew Her:
A Tribute from WSS

August 11, 2020

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) deeply mourns the passing away of Ilina Sen on August 9 in Kolkata. Ilina, 69, was a feminist activist, teacher, researcher and writer passionately involved with the women’s movement in India. Be it through activist work or classroom pedagogy, conferences or rallies, Ilina’s  deep engagement with women’s struggles in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and her active solidarity with women in mass movements in other states provided a crucial impetus to unraveling and resisting the combined forces of state, patriarchy and capital  in the lives of women and other marginalized communities.  Her favorite song Bread and Roses resonated this larger vision of women in struggle.

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

In the early 1980s, Ilina along with her partner Binayak Sen had moved to Chhattisgarh to work among the movements and peoples of an adivasi region inspired by Shankar Guha Niyogi. Binayak as a medical doctor worked with children and their families, and went on to work at the Shaheed Hospital, a unique institution built and run by workers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). Initially, Ilina was involved with sustainable development in association with Dr RR Richcharia, ensuring the preservation of seeds and rice varieties which were in danger of dying out under the aggressive farming techniques being promoted by the state. Working in the trade union started by Shankar Guha Niyogi in Dalli Rajhara gave Ilina insights about women’s labour and their role in organizing for their rights. In the autonomous women’s movement conferences, she often would sing Chhattisgarhi songs from CMSS like “Anasuya Bai, Laal Salaam…”

ILINAIt was here that she worked on and published her important book A Space Within the Struggle (1990). This collection of essays on the less visible dimensions of women’s struggles in grass roots movements remains unsurpassed as a collection that moves away from the metropolitan movement’s primary concerns important though they were in their own right. A Space Within the Struggle chronicled the struggles of brick workers, landless labourers, fishworkers, environment protectors, segments of the population that are not visible even to women’s studies students. Among the last pieces of work she was trying to complete was to update that work, bringing in the new movements that were exploding in different parts of the country.

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

Unfortunately,  Ilina was diagnosed with cancer in the year 2011 immediately after the Supreme Court granted bail to her partner Binayak Sen – a leading PUCL activist from Chhattisgarh.  Together, they had also set up the NGO Rupantar in Raipur. If we look back at these recent years, we have seen Ilina paying a heavy price ever since the arrest of Binayak Sen in May 2007 under the draconian UAPA by the Chhattisgarh Police (on charges of links with Naxalites) right up to her last breath as she succumbed to cancer. Upon his arrest, Ilina went full swing, facing the processes of litigation from lower courts to the Supreme Court and left no stone unturned in leading a campaign across the country for his release, while continuing to be the rock for Binayak and their two daughters. The demand for his release also evoked vibrant solidarity and support from countries abroad.

In the process, Ilina drew many supporters and activists and brought attention to the plight of countless numbers of adivasis incarcerated in the jails of Chhattisgarh. They were the victims of the newly-formed state that was founded at the height of the rolling out of the neo-liberal economy when companies – national and global – made a beeline for the minerals and forests of the state. It is no wonder that within two years of its formation in 2000, the CRPF was deployed in Chhattisgarh permanently.  Perhaps an entire generation of political activists came up in this period following the arrest of the PUCL Vice President as they saw a ruthless state rolling out its Operation Greenhunt that targeted those who questioned the development juggernaut meant to fill the coffers of global capital.

Her lifelong efforts had been poised between women’s organizations addressing patriarchal oppression and subjugation on one hand and mass movements struggling for livelihood resources and claiming their just ownership of natural resources on the other. Therefore the formation of WSS and its first two founding meetings happening in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had filled Ilina with much hope and good cheer. Despite the litigation processes and her teaching career keeping her on her toes, she kept in constant touch with WSS at every step in those years after attending the second convention in Raipur in December 2009. She saw myriad possibilities in WSS and continuously expressed her restless desire to be able to be more involved.

 As we go marching, marching
Unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing
Their ancient call for bread
Smart art and love, and beauty
Their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for
But we fight for roses, too

From the year 2004, Ilina came in close touch with a generation of young students and researchers studying gender when she began taking classes in the Mahtama Gandhi Antarashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalya in Wardha. She joined as faculty in the year 2007 and after spending a few dedicated years,  Ilina moved to TISS in Mumbai. While at Wardha, she was the organizing secretary of the IAWS conference in 2011 and her presence and creativity made the Wardha conference among the most memorable of the IAWS conferences in recent decades. Again in the IAWS conference in Guwahati in February, 2014, Ilina sang to an entire audience:

Iraade Kar Buland Tu
Kahna shuroo karti to acha thaa
Tu sahna chod  kar kahna shuroo karti to achha thaa…
Tere maathe pe yeh aanchal, bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aanchal ka ek parcham bana leti to accha thaa
Tu sahna chod  kar kahna shuroo karti to achha thaa…
Iraade Kar Buland Tu…

Her knowledge and the insights that came from her political involvement with the lived realities of struggles – collective and individual — breathed life into the curriculum wherever she taught. Even as she inspired many young minds, she was eager to pursue her own core research interests. As a Senior Fellow in the Nehru Memorial Library from July 2013 to July 2015, Ilina tried to collate her insights and ideas of women in mass movements along with coping with her illness and its therapy. She also collected narratives of partition refugees in Dandakaranya and was much worried about leaving these pieces of work incomplete as both projects were very close to her heart.

Buy Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir Book Online at Low ...

From her activism to her writing and from petitioning the courts to interacting with young scholars, Ilina was filled with a zest for life to integrate a holistic view where the expression of the individual is inextricably an expression of the social and the political. It is no wonder that while travelling across the country with heavy bags of legal documents and then facing the diagnosis of cancer, she could so easily pen down Inside Chhattisgarh – A Political Memoir, a memorable record of her work with Binayak and the bitter court battle to counter the arrest and incarceration of a partner and fellow comrade.

Through all her travails, Ilina’s hearty laugh and keen sense of humour never waned, her vivacious interest and deep engagement with individual lives and political struggles did not falter. It is this tenacity that ensures that Ilina Sen leaves an indelible mark on women’s struggles and workers’ struggles in India.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall
The rising of the women means the rising of us all
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses!!


Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements from women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations and mass movements and also from many different walks of life. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s).








Writing about Kalpana, writing about the times


By Ranjana Padhi and Laxmi Murthy*

*Ranjana Padhi and Laxmi Murthy have been associated with the autonomous women’s movement since the mid-1980s and were active in Saheli from around 1986-2006. Saheli was founded on August 9, 1981. 

Cross-posted from The Prajnya Archives 

There is no cure against mortality, yet there is a lingering sadness and a sense of loss at the passing away of a fellow-traveler, a saheli and a comrade. Any reflection of such lives becomes a reflection of the times. The times when we as women, and as feminist collectives, dared to go against the grain.  The early years of the women’s movement were vastly different from the present reality where much is taken for granted and often celebrated ahistorically as individual achievement. The struggles of the 1980s made strident inroads into challenging the bastions of patriarchy in the form of collective resistance.  Making that vital link in what is a virtually unknown history for an entire generation of young women might help to make sense of the present. Because Kalpana was active to the end, commenting – and raving – even about recent events, through the lens of a sharp feminist politics.

Kalpana Mehta 1Kalpana Mehta, 67, a feminist activist of the autonomous women’s movement in India, breathed her last on May 27, 2020 at her residence in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.  Kalpana was diagnosed of the neuron disease called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in mid 2017.  She gradually lost speech as well as mobility. Even then, she was tuned in to all events through the daily newspaper and communicated her thoughts and ideas through the application Tobii with friends who visited her during this time. Remaining engaged with news and sharing her political concerns and reflections helped her bravely cope with the symptoms of ALS. Also, her characteristic humor and witty rebukes directed at the powers that be were intact to her last breath.

Kalpana was a co-founder of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre that was set up in 1981 in New Delhi. She was one among the most active in shaping Saheli’s politics and equally, shaped by the collective. Saheli emerged out of Stri Sangharsh, a coalition of women’s groups in Delhi that led the campaign against wife murder or “dowry death” as it was euphemistically termed during the late 1970s. Saheli, a crisis response centre, was set up in 1981 to prevent such deaths, intervene in cases of domestic violence and provide a safe space for women in distress to talk, laugh, heal and fight back.

Politicizing the personal

Kalpana believed passionately in the slogan “personal is political” through consciousness raising circles, supporting individual women in distress and attempting to build solidarities among women who had experienced violence and politicise their personal struggles for justice. For her, women were not “cases”, and her allergy to the term in vogue, ‘case work’ was legendary. The debate about whether or not to continue individual support work raged on for a few years in Saheli, with Kalpana steadfastly on the side of wanting to not only continue extending support to women in distress but infuse new life into it by reviving “direct action” strategies: storming into matrimonial homes, accompanying women to claim their “stri dhan’ or even clothes and certificates; intervening in custody battles or exploitation by employers.

The inevitable burnout and inability to respond vigorously to the growing numbers of women approaching Saheli for help meant that there was more reliance on institutions that were patriarchal and strung with red tape. Yet, stopping ‘case work’ to focus more on campaigns directed at structural changes was not an option for Kalpana, who led the initiative to form ‘mutual support groups’ or women who had experienced violence and marital distress. After much leg work and emotional investment, the difficult realization that the common experience of violence could not be a binding political force hit Kalpana hard. The ideological underpinning of understanding domestic violence and discrimination within the family and marriage, also forged a robust critique of religious personal laws and their stranglehold on the dailiness of women’s lives. Thanks to Kalpana’s constant connections with crucial political work of individual support, it was not an abstract theoretical discussion about personal laws or uniform civil code. It was getting into the nitty gritty of individual women’s marital problems that brought a rich and nuanced understanding to personal law reform, and later, with growing Hindu fundamentalism, that made women’s groups articulate the demand for a “Uniform” Civil Code which by the 1990s became a right wing agenda, to an Egalitarian Civil Code, a core feminist demand.

Women and Health

Saheli was one of the pioneers of taking on the government, medical establishment and research agencies, in building one of the earliest and sharpest critiques of hazardous contraceptives pushed on women as part of the population control programme. The public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court by Saheli along with other women’s organisations against the introduction of the hazardous injectable contraceptive Net En, was an outcome of field investigations by Hyderabad-based Stri Shakti Sangathana, and research by feminist activists, not all of them doctors. From leg work at the National Medical Library where we sneaked in in the guise of medical students (pre-Google research was a different animal!); to innumerable trips to the lawyers, attending court hearings, bringing out publicity material, writing pamphlets, protests, demonstrations and meetings with the ICMR and government, Kalpana was in the thick of things. Gate-crashing, vaulting over walls and barging into a meeting called by a private pharma company bidding for the government contract to market a long-acting injectable contraceptive was a characteristically Kalpana-style guerilla action which got front-page attention.

Writing a street-play raising awareness about Norplant, a long-acting contraceptive implant, was an outlet for Kalpana’s creative spirit. Energetically directing rehearsals in a public park, oblivious to gaping bystanders, she managed to coalesce an innovative way of outreach, communicating complex medical concepts, ethics of research and a critique of the population control program in 20 brief minutes. The play, witty and irreverent and politically hard-hitting,  was performed on the streets of Delhi and outside ministries along with leafletting.

Going beyond the critique of hazardous contraceptives, Kalpana began to get deeply involved in developing options for safe contraception and alternatives to allopathic interventions in women’s health. Through international networks painstakingly built over the years through International Women’s Health Conferences, correspondence with activists at the Boston Women’s Health Collective among others, the idea of ‘Paridhi’ was born. Paridhi, a group set up by Kalpana, began to import the diaphragm, a safe, reversible, inexpensive and woman-controlled contraceptive, conduct workshops on self-awareness and women’s health and popularize its use. The diaphragm was imported in bulk from a feminist collective in Brazil! Around the same time, shifting to Indore as primary caregiver to her ailing parents, she set up Manasi, a women’s health clinic. Along with a small team, she used homeopathy, acupuncture and other methods of holistic healing for women’s health problems. The clinic grew as a drop-in place for women to unwind, chat about their lives and seek support, in much the same way as Saheli had grown.

Her critique of the medical establishment and government did not wane, though. The hysteria orchestrated around research on vaccines to prevent cervical cancer had led to the introduction of the HPV vaccine.  Clinical trials were reported being conducted on young adivasi girls from Khammam in Andhra Pradesh and Baroda in Gujarat. Over 23,000 girls were reported to have been used for testing. Six girls had died in these trials. Women’s organizations campaigned to raise the question in the parliament until the trials had to be stopped. The trials were being conducted on two unproven vaccines, gardasil and cervarix.  Kalpana Mehta filed two PILs in the Supreme Court in 2012  and 2013 along with the women’s organization Sama in Delhi and feminist activists Nalini Bhanot and Rukmini Rao demanding the revoking of the license given to the pharmaceutical companies.  As had been the practice since the early years of Saheli’s work in challenging long acting hormonal contraceptives,  the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer also propelled Kalpana into painstaking hard work, reading and  research to challenge what the medical establishment was professing while bringing in these companies, namely Glaxo Smithkline and MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd.  In 2018, a significant judgement in the Supreme Court set a significant precedent: the admissibility of Parliamentary Standing Committee reports as evidence and overruled the counsel of the pharmaceutical companies. As NB Sarojini, co-petitioner in the case writes, the court decision forced pharmaceutical companies to increase transparency and accountability in larger public interest.

Power and its malcontents

000 question authorityBWAs with all feminist collectives of the time, Saheli had consciously eschewed not only donor funding but also adopted a form of organisation that refused to accept formal hierarchies, designations and authority. Decisions were taken collectively, and an attempt to reach consensus and accommodate personal experience and minority points of view. For more about the collective journey understanding power and hierarchy, read this write up from the souvenir marking 25 years of Saheli. The uneasy relationship of feminists with power affected everyone, but arguably, it forced the more dominant members to engage more intensely, especially on organizational matters. This was seen in uncomfortable forms in what came to be called the “Saheli split” in 1986 following which some highly active members who were also founding members left the organisation.

In one long meeting in 1990 to discuss organizational issues, Kalpana said, “The form of organisation closest to my ideal would be democratic centralism. I am torn between the two – collective decision making, for which I have theoretical commitment, but feel democratic centralism is better. In democratic centralism, all have rights but not opinions, to exercise rights in different avenues. There is no negation of hierarchy, but everyone has a chance to move up. With the practice of collective decision-making, the leadership has not felt a responsibility to the rank and file. In the name of “Collective” if we come minus preparation then it is a loose ineffective structure. For a Collective to work there has to be some common minimum ideological understanding.” Such an insight encapsulates the organizational predicament and challenges experienced by many collective political formations till date.

During intense arguments about the importance of process, with some of us insisting to prioritise the manner of decision making over the decision or activity itself, Kalpana’s frustration would show, “How can we have a perfect process in an imperfect society. That’s probably why I’m willing to compromise on both. If we concentrate so much on process – this paralyses the group. In the history of every organisation there are times when you can afford to spend more time discussing process. If we’re not able to accept the alienation that is occurring, how can we address it?  I’m at a stage of life where I’m not willing to wait only for process. We need a minimum common understanding.”

Despite being one of the most visible Sahelis, central to all activities and decision making within the organisation, Kalpana deeply believed that “the essence of Saheli is the possibility of equal participation”. There was a recognition of hierarchies of various kinds from age, class, caste, language skills and articulation. Certain levellers were attempted: decisions were taken at collective meetings; there were no secret documents ; everyone got a key and equal access to the office; there was an effort not to project leadership outside by sharing  representation in public; full timers had equal salary and everyone had equal access to fulltimery, core group membership and decision making. The attempt to improve these aspects was ongoing throughout. “We need to solve some practical problems. We don’t kill ourselves because society is imperfect. We don’t leave marriages which are not perfect. So why do we expect so much from Saheli – that if there’s  not perfect democracy, why do we think of leaving it?” she once asked at another meeting.

Work distribution in Saheli not only knocked off the chip from many shoulders but also became a leveller in many ways. From keeping the office open and functioning to handling accounts and getting them audited, from leaflet writing to perspective papers based on endless collective discussions and drafts, from counselling women in distress to talking to authorities, Saheli equipped all volunteers with multiple skills to last more than a lifetime. Kalpana did it all with elan and grace – more often making each onerous task a fun-filled activity. Sale of Saheli literature and fund raising for Saheli was part of the collective identity we wore with pride and conviction as the aim was public outreach. No task ever was mechanical; each and every act was based on an ideological and political belief of how we organize ourselves vis a vis the world outside.

Like many competent feminists who found themselves in leadership roles, and shouldered major responsibility for the most part without complaint, she had remarked that people within organisations with more power also had it because others put them in the position of more responsibility. She quipped, “I am tired of doing all the work and then making others feel that we have all done it together.” Her vexed relationship with Saheli, an inextricable mix of a deep sense of belonging, and identification with autonomous politics, laced with frustration, disappointment and a sense of alienation was one some of us who had been very active in Saheli, could relate to. But unlike many feminists who left women’s groups to pursue careers or got absorbed in family life, Kalpana turned her inexorable energy to broader organising.

Widening the base

After more than three decades steeped in autonomous feminist politics, Kalpana’s urge to connect with grassroots struggles led her to forge solidarities with people’s movements. In an article in the 2008 issue of Seminar, she wrote, “”Disappointed with the left and the NGOs, the women’s movement has to broaden its own base. The opportunities are plenty. Lakhs of women have been enrolled in panchayati raj institutions as elected representatives on reserved seats, another lot is women of self-help groups. In other words it is probably time to wrest back the co-option benefits being enjoyed by the state in the name of women’s empowerment. It is also important to intensify our participation in the mass struggles now that we are accepted as equal partners with thirty years of history behind us. It is vital to fight the forces of communalism and to get the right to protest which is threatening to undermine our strength in times to come.”

It was this urge that led to her active involvement in the pan-India network Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). Kalpana found a fresh lease of life when she together with a group of other activists set up WSS.  Sexual violence by Sulwa-Judum forces  on adivasi women were failing to draw any protests by women’s organizations.  This trend was becoming more prominent. Anti-displacement struggles had become widespread across Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other states. On one hand, balancing solidarity work for these movements and giving dedicated time to your organizational tasks became more difficult. On the other, as continuous state repression on these movements became the modus operandi for state governments to coercively acquire lands, mountains, forests and water bodies, the lack of response from the broader women’s movement began to become more and more discerning.   Years of presence of Indian security forces in Kashmir and states of the North-East had led to aggravated sexual violence on women among many other daily acts of repression on entire communities. WSS was set up in response to specifically focus on the growing incidence of sexual violence on women resisting land grab and state repression. By bringing to light the violence inflicted on women by military and paramilitary forces, WSS became an extension of the same feminist politics. Its analysis and actions attempted to keep step with the turbulent socio-economic-political scenario emerging all around us.

After one full year of the CBI giving a report covering up the crimes of rape and murder of two young women,  Asifa and Nilofer in Shopian in Kashmir, WSS organized an unique protest in New Delhi outside the staff quarters.  On December 13, 2010, over a hundred women and men brought loads of bed sheets to gift to the CBI to cover up their crimes. He bedsheets were sprawled with messages like: GIFT FOR YOUR NEXT COVER-UP! CBI INVESTIGATE YOURSELF! JUSTICE FOR ASIYA AND NILOFER! COVER-UP BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION NOT CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION!

There’s strong recollection of women’s groups storming into the office of the National Commission on Women on 10th October, 2012 and demanding justice for Soni Sori who had undergone severe torture and sexual violence at the hands of the Chhattisgarh police and repeatedly humiliated since one long year. The NCW had ordered an enquiry but the files had not yet moved. The NCW member who met the group said that the NCW had closed the case considering the matter to be subjudice. Women’s groups demanded the reopening of the case.

These are all collective actions. But friends remember Kalpana as the one putting herself entirely into such an idea and seeing it to completion. She was ever willing to initiate protest actions, symbolic or real.

Adieu, friend and comrade, adieu Kalpana! You will be remembered as a tireless foot soldier, a leader and a visionary. A fighter to the end, you infused everyone with your dreams and determination.


It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

(by Ruksana Ahmad)

Reflections on Resilience: “How Do You Lock Down a Farm Full of Cumin Seeds?” by Mihir Bhatt




Mihir Bhatt, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute

How are the communities you work with coping with the lockdown? What are the communities you work with? What are their main concerns now? Are you/ All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) able to be in contact with them and what are you hearing?

For the first time, AIDMI is not directly working with the communities. Instead, AIDMI decided to work with a relatively under represented group. And that group is the local institutions and organizations. AIDMI also decided not to do outreach or rush to respond. But to wait and address a specific need, in fact a demand. This was a departure from previous trend of responses, a much-needed departure, for AIDMI and the humanitarian sector.

As a result, AIDMI is currently working with two local authorities to help add pandemic response into city disaster management strategy. What can a city do to address global crisis that directly affects its citizens? AIDMI is helping farmers’ association come to terms with what is called lockdown. How do you lock down a farm full of cumin seeds? And how do you pack away the farm labour that has come to work and live on your farm for the past two decades? Similarly, AIDMI is addressing a set of demands from local school board with poor digital technology or capability, a district operation of UN officials to find out what are the migrant workers demanding in terms of food and shelter, an inter-agency group struggling to come to terms with very limited civil society space in decision making, and so on.

Institutions and organizations are realizing that deglobalising is the direction—what Elaben has called “hundred miles’ communities” in her book titled Anubandh. She finds localization overdue.  She finds deglobulisation urgent.

AIDMI is in touch with the COVID-19 affected communities (and who can say who is and who is not affected by the virus in a culture like ours?) via these institutions and organizations. And what is coming out is the call for a far more imaginative approach to the lockdown idea. To sum up several voices from the communities, let me say that, “Why did we lockdown? Our cities and cultures are not made to be locked down. They are in fact unlockable. We see the struggle of locking a family in. Because what is in? And what is out? We live most of our lives in between.” This is a summation of voices that are reaching AIDMI.

Distancing per se is not a very Indian way of living. We crowd. In our bedrooms, in neighbour’s veranda, at the pan ki dukaan, in our offices and factories, on bus stations and mall. Even to offer our innermost thoughts to our God, any God, we crowd. In such a cultural context, the paradox of social distancing multiplies. We end up distancing health givers from health support needing citizens, distancing majority from minorities, distancing work from workers, distancing food from farmers, and so on. This is another theme that is coming out from the voices we hear of the local community organizations and institutions.

This is not to say that social distancing as a measure to stop infection is not needed. There are many ways of distancing and we rushed to the one that was in front of us. We rushed to implement the example of lockdown that was in front of us. It is good to learn that after this lockdown, many and new versions of lockdowns and social distancing are being planned.

What are some lessons from your regular work that would be relevant to this situation?

AIDMI has no “regular” work. That is AIDMI has never repeated what it has done. Be it the nature of response or learning or extent of effort scale or type. Mostly because one or many other humanitarian agencies pick up the idea or approach or experience or the experiment of AIDMI. Upscale it. Widen the scale. Sometimes far better than AIDMI!  Meanwhile, AIDMI moves on to the next frontier of knowledge or action.

Having said that it is striking to see that what was true in 1998 in AIDMI’s work and ideas is still valid in this most unusual pandemic.

For example, keeping the victim at the centre of almost all decisions.  AIDMI may be invited to support a UN agency develop its regional knowledge strategy for COVID-19 or AIDMI may be invited by a district group of teachers to help form a list of key COVID-19 actions for the lockdown school: as soon as the citizen or the school student is put at the centre of the COVID-19 discussion, many unnecessary aspects such as ineffective operating procedures fall behind.

For example, let me add, overlooking the structures in favour of the humanitarian system was a valid way to work back in 1998 for AIDMI and is valid in 2020. Most of our structures, humanitarian or other, are designed with good intentions but in the backdrop of the strong preference for control. Top-down, round the clock, ever expanding control of the citizens. Enabling structures are not common. While the humanitarian system is still emerging, part-formal, part-informal, nimble, in government as well as civil society domains. The system offers more openings to entry or exit, rapidly spread, and is more cost-effective in terms of time and money. As a result, AIDMI addressed the demand for guidance from a “cash transfer” network by placing the cash relief actions to address the humanitarian system as it is. And as a result, ways were planned to reach cash to the poor migrant labourers who had no access to their Jan Dhan bank account in the middle of lockdown.

For example, as a planner in 1998, I found it useful to plan the humanitarian actions so that when the need came, I could change the plan. If there was no plan, there was nothing much to change! And in 2020 in dealing with the institutions and organizations that are locally embedded, whether it be a new foundation in Kashmir or a tsunami vintage local economic enterprise, AIDMI finds that being adaptive about the project plan or program plan is very useful.  Pandemic context and content both change so rapidly and in many ways that the best thing a good plan can do is to be ready to be adaptive.

These are some of what I may call ” timeless” items on AIDMI’s humanitarian action in COVID-19 pandemic. And having said so, let me rush to add that these items are evolving! Because the time within which COVID-19 pandemic is located is evolving in ever so dumbfounding a fashion.

What could have been planned differently given the knowledge we already have about communities, their needs and capacities? In other words, if the government had consulted you, what would you have asked them to think about?

Hindsight is mischievously misleading. Hindsight gives one a false sense of expertise! So let us avoid thinking what could have been done differently.  Let us look ahead. What can be done differently? What could be done differently by the authorities as we move ahead?

One, “flatten the curve” seems to have overtaken our thinking.  Yes, the curve of the spread of the virus must be flattened and authorities have made very difficult efforts to do so. And some success is on our way. But we, as humanitarian actors, must be prepared for a very slow tapering of the graph or even a sharp straight upswing from time to time. Pandemic experts can tell us more about the other possibilities as we move ahead.

Two, as we move ahead spending will slow down even more at all levels of our economy and therefore we need to make relief and recovery money available at the lowest level of our economy.  Tsunami recovery has shown that when the public expenditure is made at the lowest levels of the economy where large number of poor people make a living the recovery is faster and robust and relatively long lasting.

Three, as we move ahead we should not overlook the sight of opportunities in this terrible pandemic.  One such opportunity is to give the majority of the poor migrant labourers and small business widespread access to digital technology and further permanent access to digital economy.  Here is our chance to decentralize the digital economy.  Here is our chance to democratize the digital economy.  Here is our chance to reduce the digital divide between the rich and the poor.

Fourth, as we move ahead we must rebuild trust that has suffered severe loss and damage. To an extent, it is normal for a pandemic to do so. But the loss and damage should not last too long.  Let me explain. It is very important that trust between the virus-affected and those unaffected by the virus be made robust.  Trust between the formal sector and informal sector must be re-established.  Trust between the migrant workers and their “host” cities needs rethinking.  These are three immediate areas for trust-building.  There are long term areas of trust-building that are important which includes trust in collaborative federalism, that is trust among the states and the centre; trust between majority community and minority communities; trust in our federal financial institutions; and so on.

The above are some of the important actions that we may not take up in a full-fledged way in the rush of addressing some of the more visible and obvious aspects of pandemic management such as investing in the expansion of health infrastructure and support package for air travel and tourism sectors.

What do you think will be the long-term gender impact of this crisis on your communities? On gender relations? On coping? On recovery?
How do we prepare for recovery so that it is also gender-transformational? What are priority areas in your view? What would be your wish-list projects?

COVID-19 will leave a long-term impact on women as women, women as workers and women as victims. This pandemic also offers us an opportunity to make gender relations better, strengthen women’s coping capabilities, and make recovery transformative. This is what AIDMI finds in its efforts to support a range of local organizations working with community affected by or in danger of COVID-19.

In fact, AIDMI hopes that this pandemic brings together women across India to rethink health as our most precious wealth of Indian economy.  Women help us take the turn towards full and final recognition of health as a pre-condition for economic prosperity.  So far, three key action areas have come up in AIDMI’s work for and with local institutions and organizations responding to COVID-19 pandemic.

Direct and operational focus on women, in fact youth among the women is a very critical group of citizens to work with. Especially among the low income and poor families.  It is these young women, many educated and many not, who will be the health makers as well as wealth makers. May it be as school teachers or health workers or home-based manufacturers in neglected areas of our cities and underserved villages. How promptly these young women made masks for their families! How creatively these young women managed the lockdown induced stress at home! More investment is needed here.

Another critical group of citizens to far better engage with is women in agriculture.  These women may be farm labour, owners of family farm, on farm produce processors, or casual labour plucking fruits or tending farm irrigation. This group has suffered the silent loss and damage to their own health and nutrition.  This group has absorbed loss of income and savings so far invisible to the economy and in many cases their own families. And it is this group, as we find in AIDMI’s work with female farmers in nine districts of Gujarat, who offers the willingness and ability to revive our food supplies to cities and towns. Sustained investment is needed in this group.

A critical group that AIDMI has missed working with so far, in its efforts to support local authorities and organizations addressing COVID-19, is the group of women in science and environment.  So much of this pandemic we are able to manage so far because of the scientific and environmental measures.  But what will make these measures even more effective and long lasting is more women at many levels of scientific and environmental endeavours addressing this pandemic. Direct investment is needed in making women’s active role in science and environment a reality.

There are other groups of women, and men, who are crucial to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on gender relations, recovery, and coping capabilities. We can start with the above three groups.

Reflections on Resilience: What We Have Learnt



April 27, 2020

India has been locked down for a month as I write this. All day, every day, those of us who are lucky enough to have homes and access to the news monitor the virus’ toll on our lives and communities. If we have water, we wash our hands and everything else, obsessively. If we can afford food, we wonder about where to source this or that essential item. If we have leisure, we prepare elaborate and fancy recipes based on Internet videos, take courses on new topics and pursue long-forgotten hobbies. Still, life feels more precarious than ever before for even the middle class and elite, everywhere.

This precarity is familiar to most humans. Most people, on an average, just get by. If nothing terrible happens, the middle class can comfortably manage essentials and the occasional treat. Most of us know this comfort is an illusion and we carry with us the anxiety that something will happen, at any time, if we should blink. We live vigilantly. And if we have been fortunate enough to relax that vigil, this pandemic has been a time to remind us that nothing is permanent—in good ways and in bad.

In the face of impermanence, what we can seek is resilience. Traditionally, we anchor our resilience in faith or acceptance. But having done so, we rely on government to build structures and processes that enable our everyday resilience. Those who work in disaster-affected areas and those of us who write about their work have long recognized that this is a delusion: disasters in fact reflect a failure of governance. That is, disasters happen because governments have not built the capacity to withstand natural catastrophes. The accelerating rate at which climate catastrophes happen underscore the relationship between bad government policy, failed governance and the experience of disasters.

Civil society organisations have worked, independently or in partnership with government, to fill this governance gap. Working with communities during and beyond disasters, they have come to understand people’s needs and to innovate ways to help them make the changes that will make them resilient. What they have learned in the aftermath of disasters—floods, earthquakes, tsunamis—is useful for coping with and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, where preventive measures have also triggered a secondary humanitarian crisis with long-term consequences.

In 2016, Prajnya’s first Saakshi Fellow Linda Racioppi and Swarna Rajagopalan published a volume of essays by experienced practitioners and academics, “Women and Disasters in South Asia: Survival, Security and Development” (Routledge). Prajnya invited Indian contributors to the volume to share their insights with us in the context of this pandemic.

  • Mihir Bhatt is director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), a community-based action planning, action research and policy support organization, working towards bridging the gap between policy, practice and research related to disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation as laid out in National Disaster Management Plan of Government of India of 2016. Mihir Bhatt has published widely on issues of vulnerability and disasters, and has been part of key evaluations of disaster response in Asia. He is a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative since 2007 and was a member of the panel that selects the Humanitarian Coordinators for the United Nations. He advises Climate Development Knowledge Network’s work on climate compatible development in nine states of India. He chairs Duryog Nivaran, a South Asian network on alternative thinking on disaster risk reduction.
  • Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett is an Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Leicester’s School of Business. She is the founding president of the Avoidable Deaths Network (ADN). The ADN is a global network dedicated to reducing disaster deaths. The ADN has launched a Repository of COVID-19 Information on ADN’s resource page. The Repository Page is available to the public, and provides web links and reports only from reliable sources (e. UNDRR, WHO, UNFPA, John Hopkins University). Dr Ray-Bennett is the author of the book: Avoidable Deaths: A Systems Approach to Disaster Risk Management (2018, Springer Nature).
  • Eklavya Prasad is a leader in water management. Through his organisation, Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA), he has successfully solved the problem of water scarcity that prevailed in North Bihar, despite the abundance of water resources. His contribution to this collection is a collaboration with Pradeep Poddar and Kumod Kumar Das. Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA) began as a campaign and an informal functional network in 2005, in a part of rural North Bihar, to identify existing practices for accessing drinking water during floods and to juxtapose it with innovative, appropriate, self-engineered and self-administrated techniques. MPA has evolved over the years. It has broadened its approach from temporary rainwater harvesting during floods to working on people-centric groundwater management system. In addition, it has been promoting flood resilient habitat, with components such as drinking water, ecologically sustainable sanitation technology, housing and local adaptations by people. Presently, MPA’s focus has expanded across the water-distress regions in the East Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, covering both rural and urban (in Dhanbad, Jharkhand) spaces.
  • Prema Gopalan is the Founder and Executive Director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, a learning and development organization that has empowered over 100,000 women in the last 20 years. SSP stimulates enabling business environments for both rural women and global companies in “Base of the Pyramid” markets. Its bouquet of incubation and business development services aligns networks of women entrepreneurs, village institutions, and corporations to launch profitable enterprises that are governed by a triple bottom line: financial, environmental, social.

In mid-April, I sent each of them a set of questions about the experiences of the people they work with during the pandemic and lockdown, relevant lessons from their previous work and gender concerns they anticipate. This was intended as a quick Q&A mainly to draw attention to the treasure-house of Disaster Risk Reduction experience we are not drawing on enough now. But each of them turned their attention seriously to the task and what we have is a rich collection of reflections on resilience—where it is absent, how it is being sustained and what it will take—that they have thoughtfully written.

What exacerbates this crisis is that we are not able to predict how long it will continue and while some of our remedies must begin immediately—such as providing food, shelter and primary health care—our ability to plan for the medium-to-long term is limited by the indefinite time-frame. In such circumstances, we postpone gender questions indefinitely as well, and never address them.

The attention drawn to increased domestic violence has kept the spotlight on women’s safety. But “gender” is not just women and girls, and women and girls are not just bodies. We are humans with needs and aspirations. In the plans we now draw up, for both relief and reconstruction, we must remember to draw on the resilience-building lessons we have already learnt. Through listening to all sections, opening up training and decision-making to be inclusive and extending credit and skilling opportunities to whoever might seek them, we might emerge from this disaster, with some hope of transforming gender relations and historically unequal social structures.

We at Prajnya are proud to have played a small curatorial role in bringing the experience and wisdom of our friends and colleagues to you.

Thanks to Nandhini Shanmugham for editing this collection and as always, to Eklavya Prasad for allowing me to use one of his beautiful photographs to adorn the project.

Swarna Rajagopalan

Read the contributions here:

How Do You Lock Down a Farm Full of Cumin Seeds?” Reflections On Rebuilding Life, Livelihoods and Community, by Mihir Bhatt

COVID-19: An Opportunity to Learn Effective Disaster Governance, by Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett

Fear, Panic, Hope: Lockdown Insights from The Hinterland, By Pradeep Poddar, Kumod Kumar Das and Eklavya Prasad

Rising Up to “Flatten The Curve”: Resilient Women, Resilient Communities, by Prema Gopalan

Access the collection as a .pdf file here.