The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

Add Bawana Industrial Area firecracker factory, just outside New Delhi, India, to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. In this instance, on Saturday, an illegal but altogether known firecracker factory burst into flames. Seventeen people were burned or suffocated to death, ten women, seven men. Earlier in the day, three women workers protested “hazardous” working conditions. They complained that they couldn’t breathe because the air was so thick with gunpowder. They refused to work, took their day’s pay and left. As they left, they tried to persuade two other women to leave. The two women refused. They needed the money. A couple hours later, the building exploded.

The factory was registered as a plastics factory. In fact, it made gunpowder. The workers had no idea what they were producing, nor did they know the owners were in violation of the law. They knew the work was hard, the pay low, but it was a job. Until it wasn’t.

The workers’ stories, those who died and those who survived, are heartrending as they are familiar. The story of the factory is familiar as well. There were no fire safeguards, nor were their occupational safeguards. There was only one exit. The three women who left initially demanded masks, so they could breathe and continue to work. It was only when the manager refused that request that the three took their money and left.

The story of Bawana Industrial Area is the overarching story of national and metropolitan economic development. New Delhi is a congested, polluted city. In response, many factories have moved to so-called industrial parks just outside the city. In 2016, Bawana Industrial Area had around 18,000 industrial units. At last count, Bawana Industrial Area has 51,697 industrial units. They are almost never inspected. The licensing processes are a lethal joke: “In Bawana, industrial units range from drugs and pharmaceuticals, petroleum-based products, chemical products, rubber products. In the absence of any random inspection, many units flout industrial norms, even as work continues unabated.” You can get anything you want …

And now? The factory owner is detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neighbors keen and mourn. The world perhaps stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow. None of this is new or unforeseen. There is nothing exceptional about Bawana Industrial Area. The authorities expect the same conditions exist across New Delhi’s suburban industrial landscape.  Industrial fire codes are prominent discussed, and every day workers, mostly women, entered a fireworks factory that had no proper exit and no fire safety equipment. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. That fire was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The shape of global capital development today is a burning pyre composed of women workers’ bodies. It lights the sky. We have never left the age of primitive accumulation, “and the history of this … is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.”


(Photo Credit: NDTV)

Women in Tihar Jail say NO! to the State’s criminal neglect and abuse

612 women refused to accept death in life in Tihar Jail, New Delhi’s Central Jail. 612 women prisoners in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison, informed the State that they had been in prison awaiting trial for more than half of the maximum sentence for their various crimes. On Thursday, July 8, responding to a letter by Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph, the Delhi High Court decided to take over. Justice Joseph had written directly to the Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini, the High Court’s first woman Chief Justice, “earnestly” requesting her “to take up the matter appropriately so that the cry for justice is answered in accordance with law with the promptitude with which a mother responds to the cry of her child”.

In a plea to Justice Joseph, the 612 women in Tihar Jail described the cruel separation from their children six years and older; the severe overcrowding of the women’s jail; the insufferable delay in disposal of their cases; the unjust bail bonds conditions; the “lack of sympathy” from the jailhouse courts and doctors; and the inadequacy of legal aid made available to women prisoners.

The women asked to be released immediately on personal bond.

On Friday, July 9, testifying before the High Court, the Delhi government agreed: “Out of 622 inmates, 463 are undertrial prisoners, and there are only 159 convicts.” The Delhi government advocate noted that Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, was designed to hold a maximum of 400 women, and currently holds 622. Effectively, one State agency told another State agency it was time to let my non-people go.

From 1993 to 1995, Tihar Jail, under the direction of Kiran Bedi, was, as its current website still claims, a “harbinger of human rights of prisoners.” Kiran Bedi was dumped in 1995, and, twenty years later, here’s Tihar Jail today, or at least in 2013, the most recent accounting. Tihar Central Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, had a capacity of 400, and a population of 615. Of the 615, 471 were awaiting trial. 77 percent of the women in Tihar were remand prisoners, and in the following year it only worsened. 75 percent of the men in Tihar were also awaiting trial. Last year, The Indian Police Journal noted, “Overcrowding in jails has become a normal feature now. For instance, the latest report on India’s largest jail (Tihar Jail) reveals that it has at present anywhere between 9,000-10,000 inmates as against its total capacity to accommodate around 3,300 prisoners. Consequently, no correctional activities can be carried on successfully under such circumstances.”

Overcrowding and paralysis are the new norm for Tihar. The Ministry of Home Affairs 2013 data confirms this. It reports that, at the end of 2013, 45 remand women prisoners were in Tihar with 47 children: “1,252 women undertrials with their 1,518 children were lodged in various prisons in the country at the end of 2013 … A large number of women undertrials … were lodged in women jails.”

None of this is new. That prison is a special hell for women across India is common knowledge, as is the particular hell designed for “released women prisoners”. Why is Tihar Jail criminally overcrowded? The courts are to blame, along with the police and the general public who care for a second and then move on to more dramatic issues. 612 women in Tihar Jail said NO to all of that: the criminal and universal neglect, the violation of their human rights and dignity, the assault on them as women. In the largest prison comlex in the largest democracy in the world, women said YES to justice and women’s power.


(Photo Credit:

Saheli Women, New Delhi: After the fire update and appeal


Saheli is a women’s “collective” in New Delhi that started out as a crisis intervention center thirty years ago.  It was a time when the women’s movement had been mobilized by many national events that brought women’s vulnerability to the fore.  One of these was the forced sterilization campaign that Mrs. Gandhi’s government had imposed during the Emergency in the mid-1970s.

I came to know the women of Saheli through their opposition to all forms of coercive contraception directed especially against poor vulnerable women. In 1997 they were co-plaintiffs in a public interest lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court against the promotion of quinacrine sterilization, introduced by two American men who worked with local doctors to sterilize women without their consent.  [It was an off-label use of the drug (made into pellets for insertion in the uterus) that the FDA had not approved.  In the US the men were associated with the anti-immigration lobby].

Saheli Women have challenged laws and policies, demonstrated against all forms of injustice, and supported sister organizations in the women’s movement.  They are “autonomous” which in the context of the Indian women’s movement generally implies that they are not aligned with a political party.  They do not take funds from NGO’s, funders, donors or any institutional source.  They do accept support from individuals.  Consequently, I wanted to bring their appeal to the readers and supporters of Women In and Beyond the Global. Saheli Women would appreciate a note of support even if you do not send a check. To me they have always epitomized feminist solidarity and strength.  Thanks for reading this note and their appeal below.  And do go to for their stories and accounts in their own words.



From: Saheli Women <>

Dear friends,

As you know, on 13th May 2011, a raging fire gutted many shops and along with that, our Saheli office. The devastation has been incredible, with much of our documents and other material collected over 30 years gone.

Many of you have been with us through these trying times  ̶ to keep our spirits up, to help clear the remains and to celebrate the spirit of ‘moving on’ on Saturday the 28th! Thanks so much for a fabulous evening, and for those of you who weren’t there, here’s a picture of what some called our “hip new york bar’ look!

But seriously speaking, the damage to the structure has been severe, and the Public Works Department says it will take them about 4 months to do their bit. In the meantime we taken temporary measures so we can begin to use the office in some form… so we actually have bricked up some sections and got ourselves a door with a lock to secure the place as ours!And we are now getting our first cabinet and bookshelf from friends.

But there is still a lot to be done: Civil works, re-furnishing the place, cataloguing and reprinting documents, scanning and uploading them, etc. Many of you have made specific offers and we will be sorting through our mails to get back to you for that…

Other help:

Physical work: For those of you who can help with sorting documents etc, we plan an intense spell again this coming week – so do call Vani @ 9891128911 to tie up. Once this work is done, we should be able to ask you all to dive into your archives for documents/reports etc we can’t trace at all…

Donations: Many thanks to all of you who have already made invaluable contributions, but we’re still quite short of our needs, so would be great if those of you who would like to donate, do it now, so that we can stop worrying at least on that one account.

Cheques: All cheques [personal ones only, of course] need to be in the name of ‘Saheli Women’s Resource Centre’ and sent with a letter/email stating they are meant for “rebuilding Saheli” along with your address and phone number/email to:

Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
C/o Ms Satnam Kaur
P-9/B, Ground Floor
Jangpura Extension
Near Eros Cinema
New Delhi 110014
Ph: 9899212066

Bank Transfers: If this is easier, drop us a line and we’ll send you the details.

Cash donations, of course, you can give to any Saheli you know or meet…

All donations to Saheli are exempt under 80G, and yes, and new receipt books have been our first ‘print’ job, so expect them in the mail!

Thank you once again for your continued support, love and solidarity and hope to see you soon under the flyover.

All of us in Saheli

Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
Above Unit 105-108
Defence Colony Flyover Market
New Delhi 100 024