Beyond Money
Resource for a women’s think tank

Dr Nita Mukherjee finds a rich collection that provides published and unpublished materials relating to Indian women

On a recent visit to Delhi, I had the opportunity to personally explore the rich resource that the library of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) provides on all aspects of gender research.

CWDS has been functioning as a think tank on women’s issues since it was set up in 1980 by a group of people involved in writing ‘Towards Equality’, the first comprehensive government report on the status of women in India. It was registered under the Societies’ Registration Act, 1860, in New Delhi, in response to a felt need for an autonomous institute that would build on the knowledge generated, but with a wider mandate and resources to expand its activities in research and action. It began operations with a grant from the Vikram Sarabhai Foundation. In 1985, CWDS was recognised by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, which now gives the Centre an annual grant. It also receives funds raised from various national and international donor agencies for specific research projects.

Crucial to the functioning of any think tank is a source for information and documents. The CWDS library has been playing this role remarkably, with its comprehensive collection of published and unpublished materials relating to Indian women. More commendable is its effort to ensure that the needs of those who work on gender issues are fulfilled. To keep its users abreast with current information, it publishes a “Current Awareness Bulletin”. Since January 2008, the Bulletin is available in PDF format and is sent by email, on request.

Anju Vyas, the librarian at CWDS, has been proactive in marrying technology with information. She says that “most people get immersed in the technology aspects of the IT revolution and forget its information part. It is here, that we librarians play a vital role.” To this end, she has prepared various databases that can be searched through OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) on the Centre’s Intranet and are also searchable online.

Among the important searchable databases are: a) Articles Index Database comprising news items and articles from selected periodicals and journals received in the Library since 1994; b) Mahila Database of books and analytical entries from edited volumes, monographs, government documents/ policy papers, institutional publications, reports and conference proceedings; c) Periodical Database about the journals/ newsletters/ bulletins being received in the Library; d) Women’s Studies Articles Database which contains some 3,000 full text articles on women’s studies from various journals; and e) Chitra—An Audio-visual Database on over 1,000 posters, films and videos relating to women from South Asia from secondary sources.

Among the many initiatives of the Library—applying the latest developments in information technology—has been providing electronic platforms for discussions on women and health, to begin with. One of these is called ‘Bol’ (Hindi for talk), which is a moderated e-discussion group about issues pertaining to women from South Asia that was started in 2000, much before social media became a rage. Currently, ‘Bol’ has nearly 1,000 subscribers from 25 countries.

Anju, and her team, has also brought out several bibliographies on subjects like “Voices of Resistance, Silence of Pain: An Annotated Bibliography on Violence against Women” and “Gender Dimensions of Employment and Wages in Selected Asian Countries”.

Anju says that she has noticed a surge in publication of women’s memoirs and biographies. These provide insights into the status of women over the past century. Maybe a bibliographic compilation of these publications would enable scholars to do a content analysis to study these as cases of social change.

A membership-based research institute, currently, CWDS has 93 life members and four institutional members. Members are drawn from among scholars, activists and intellectuals with the expectation that they would actively participate in fulfilling the Centre’s aims and objectives.

Centre for Women’s
Development Studies
25, Bhai Vir Singh Marg (Gole Market)
New Delhi 110001 India Phone: 91-11-23365541;
+91-11-23366930 Email:;


Majlis Law Working Towards Gender Equality

Majlis Law provides legal support to women, has built a support system for victims of rape, and is deeply involved in bringing about a positive change in the community’s and the legal system’s attitudes toward women

Majlis Law (Majlis) is known only as a legal aid group, perhaps because of its well-known founder-director Flavia Agnes, but its operations are diverse. Besides offering legal services, Majlis has been trying to effect serious social change—it is committed to empowering women by informing them about their rights, conducting legal awareness programmes for women’s groups across Mumbai, engaging in policy interventions and public campaigns, creating support systems for rape victims and publishing books and articles on women’s issues.

The organisation was started in 1991, by Flavia Agnes, herself once a victim of domestic violence, and other activists. Majlis has an in-house team of 25, mostly lawyers, at its office in Kalina. The small team belies the number of cases it has fought over the years. Audrey D’mello, the programme director of Majlis, pegs the number at 50,000. She says, “Since 2000, we had started a fellowship programme. We identify women lawyers from all over Maharashtra and give them a five-day course on women’s rights. In most years, we had 100 participants, 10 of whom we hired at a stipend of Rs5,000 for a year. The programme ended in 2008, for lack of funding, but we still have a loose women’s lawyer network of about 120. Collectively, this network has fought about 50,000 cases.”

Despite being an NGO, Ms D’mello says that Majlis  doesn’t provide only free legal aid. She says, “Nearly all our activities, and 80% of the cases we take up, are funded. Ours is a ‘pay-as-much-as-you-can’ organisation. After all, many of our clients are high-profile, well-to-do women who come to us simply because they know they can trust us. You need to understand that women in all walks of life can be in violent marriages. This isn’t an Indian phenomenon either. Women the world over are often unaware of their rights. Or they just want to find a way to save their marriage. So they need counselling, which is usually not the best approach because it is not enforceable unless it is the ruling of a court.”

But Majlis  doesn’t believe that fighting case after case is the answer. This is where its other initiatives come in. “There’s a limit to the number of cases you can fight. This is why we believe it is also necessary to devote resources to bringing about social change. So, for example, we give talks and organise interactive programmes in colleges in Mumbai. We continuously write articles and books, to highlight procedural and technical shortcomings in the legal system and the police. We try to effect policy-level changes and modify existing laws. Also, instead of simply hosting discussions, we now train social service organisations around Mumbai. We organise lectures on women’s rights and teach them how to build evidence, so that correct information is spread within communities. We also help victims of rape by putting them in touch with groups that can provide them the support system they need at that time.”

Since its inception, Majlis has had an all-women team, which draws criticism from certain sections. To them, Ms D’mello says, “What we’re trying to do is create opportunities for women so that they, and those they are connected to, can be convinced that it is possible to  work and manage families. It isn’t easy working with women. They need leave to look after their parents, children and husband.”

Majlis is constantly looking to raise funds to support its lawyers and to ensure that its services remain free. It costs Rs12,000 to support a litigant for one year and Rs1.2 lakh to support a lawyer for a year. Donations qualify for tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.

Majlis Law
A 2/4 Golden Valley, Kalina,
Mumbai 400098
Phone: 91-22-26662394 / 26661252
Fax: 91-22-26668539


Helping those disabled by disasters

Saritsa Foundation assists people with disabilities caused by disasters

In 2012, 1,503,320 Indians were displaced due to natural disasters. Each disaster leads to thousands being displaced and lives torn apart. When a disaster strikes, the poor and underprivileged are the worst affected. Col Nagar M Verma, who used to lead the 7th battalion of the Sikh Light Infantry, noticed during the rescue operations, which the army is often called to undertake, that people were clueless about routine safety measures and that even elementary first-aid could help save lives or alleviate suffering. Most often, people simply wait for government to provide succour. Delays in administrative response often lead to loss of lives or disabilities and, consequently, loss of livelihood. Many, especially women and children, remain traumatised for years. So when Col Verma retired, he put in some of his retirement funds to set up Saritsa Foundation on 5 June 2000 with the unusual aim of providing information, knowledge and training in disaster management to save lives and return to earning a livelihood.

Col Verma says that many of his ex-colleagues help in imparting training. Although there is a national policy for disaster management, in reality, there needs to be a structured framework to guide its working and constant evaluation to study its efficacy. Also, because disaster management is a top-down approach, it takes time for help to reach the grassroots. The only solution, feels Col Verma, is for people to be trained and become self-sufficient to take care of themselves, until help arrives.

Despite the initial resistance, Saritsa has make remarkable progress in the past 12 years working through schools, colleges, political organisations, NGOs, international and religious groups as well as social institutions like Rotary Clubs. But a lot more needs to be done; knowledge about safety and disasters is still very poor. Col Verma’s team works at building understanding and trust among communities, to hone skills and to sensitise individuals on how to respond to disaster situations and to promote a culture of safety. Saritsa imparts education and training for disasters such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunami, droughts, cyclones, terrorism, bomb blasts, as well as chemical and biological hazards. It conducts workshops, seminars, debates, mass contacts, family conferences and street plays on issues of rescue and trains through evacuation drills.

Saritsa Foundation has established a mobile university for disaster risk reduction. It has already reached out to thousands of volunteers, including a few people with disabilities, across rural and urban areas of 18 states. At the national level, the Foundation has empowered over 0.2 million school children, orphans, women and differently-abled people, along with vulnerable citizens. Its programmes have raised the awareness on the right to life and has helped people in cultivating skills to respond to disasters using local resources.

People who have been trained by the Foundation are inspired to raise further awareness among their families and friends, and are implementing disaster preparedness plans in schools. Next on its agenda is to equip and empower 15,000 school children, women and differently-abled citizens annually. It is working towards raising funds for this initiative which, even with the use of local resources, requires administrative expenses of around Rs300 per head or Rs45 lakh. Col Verma says that Saritsa’s accounts are audited and it makes ethical and judicious use of donations. You can help Saritsa in its mission by volunteering to train people or by financial support. Donations to Saritsa Foundation are eligible for tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.

Saritsa Foundation
Contact: Col Verma / Prof Smita Kadam Flat No 3, Ground Floor, Pankaj CHS, Sitaram Keer Marg, Bhandar Lane,
Mahim (W), Mumbai - 400016
Tel: 91 22 24366370, 24370138
Mob: 9323157377


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