Indien: Sheila Didi

Sheila Didi has fought injustice against women in many forms-at the workplace, as targets of communal violence, and as victims of domestic violence.

— Sheila Didi

Since her childhood, Sheila Didi (born 1928) has been a passionate supporter of causes: first, it was the cause of independence in Kenya, where she grew up; at university, she embraced students' and peace movements; in India, where she has lived for the past 50 years, Sheila has been a driving force in the trade union movement in the northern Indian state of Punjab. She has also fought injustice against women in many forms-at the workplace, as targets of communalism and armed conflict, and as victims of domestic violence.

As a schoolgirl born in Nairobi, Sheila Didi witnessed two independence movements. She participated in rallies in Kenya against apartheid and for independence. At university, in Cardiff, South Wales, where she studied economics, and while training to be a barrister at Lincoln's Inn, she was equally active. When, in 1956, Sheila came to live in India and married a trade union leader, her life changed, but her commitment and involvement in rights movements did not. She worked with her husband to mobilize women workers in the textile industry for better wages and service conditions. Her struggles bore fruit in Ludhiana. Sheila also worked among urban and rural women to make them aware of their rights, mobilizing them through the Punjab Istri Sabha, a branch of the National Federation of Women. In 1965, Sheila's husband became the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Punjab. In 1966, she shifted to Chandigarh, and began to practice as an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana high court. She had three children, all under the age of ten. But Sheila found time to organize a women's movement in the slums of Chandigarh under the guidance of the general secretary of the Punjab Istri Sabha. She became closely involved with the Punjab Istri Sabha Relief Trust, which helped widows and children affected by the now-defunct separatist struggle. As militancy abated, the movement's goals changed to equality, peace, eradication of poverty, democracy, secularism, and social justice. Sheila is involved with the Aruna Asaf Ali Memorial Trust (AAAMT), which coordinates schemes for the socioeconomic uplift of women, runs schools for street-children, a counseling center for marital and other problems, and conducts workshops for the poor.

Aruna Asaf Ali Memorial Trust (AAAMT)