Remembering our feminist heritage – Satyarani Chadha and Shahjahan Apa

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Sheba Chhachhi, artist, feminist and chronicler of feminist struggles, immortalized Satyaraniji and Shahjahan Apa in this image of an anti-dowry protest in 1981. Satyaraniji is in front, Shahjahan Apa on the right, behind her.

For those of us who came into the women’s movement in the 1980s in Delhi, the memory of Satyaraniji’s determined visage is a perennial source of energy and inspiration. In 1979,  her daughter Kanchanbala, twenty years old and six months pregnant, was burnt to death following harassment for more dowry in her marital home. After her death, Satya Rani Chadha began a long battle for justice.

With the support of the parents of more than 25 other dowry death victims, Satyaraniji embarked on 21 years of sustained legal activism and court cases, which led to many landmark judgments and fundamental amendments in the criminal law. In 1987, Shakti Shalini, a Delhi-based organisation that helps and motivates other parents of dowry victims to fight this social menace, was formed jointly by Satyarani Chadha and Shahjehan Aapa. 

Satyarani Chadha passed away this week, and Shahjahan Apa in October last year.

Here is Paromita Vohra’s interview with Satyaraniji in Unlimited Girls:

This portrait of Satyaraniji by Sheba Chhachhi (1991) captures both her determination and her disillusionment

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Said Indira Jaising on the Feminists India list:

She went a disillusioned woman. We argued her case in the High Court. After 22 years the High Court held that her son-in-law was guilty of abetting the death of her daughter. However, he absconded and never saw the inside of a prison. I met her after the judgment. Her last words to me were”I will never set foot in a court room again.”

Kiran Shaheen paid tribute to Satyaraniji on Feminists India list:

I was with Business India Television ( TVI channel ) in mid nineties. I thought of making a documentary on the dowry cases in minority community following a news of disappearance of seven Muslim women withing 1-3 years of their marriages in old Delhi. During my recce ,friends in the women’s movement suggested that I should definitely talk to Satya Behan too and I went to meet her in her Bhogal office. A sad but determined grey haired Satya ji was there with at least a dozen of young girls from the neighbouring workers’ colonies who had come to her with their problems and this brave woman was engaged in resolving them.
During the interview she was disappointed with the judicial system as still the justice had not been rendered to her daughter. Once she broke down and I remember that all of us present there were in tears.

Salaam to Satya Behan for she is the first one to shake the streets of Delhi with her slogans.


8 thoughts on “Remembering our feminist heritage – Satyarani Chadha and Shahjahan Apa”

  1. Thanks for posting this story on Satyarani ji and Shajahan Aapa. It refreshed our memories of the times when Delhi witnessed large scale protests against dowry deaths. It spread to neighbouring cities too. This two-women army was soul of the movement. Our street theatre group, Nishant grew with this struggle. Despite such a heroic heritage we are faced with a bleak scenario. Recent judgement of the Supreme Court against strict dowry/violence laws is a great set-back. It is second killing for all those brides who were tortured and killed for dowry.


  2. I remember meeting both of them in late eighties participating in protest meetings and also interviewing them for my research. Such feisty ‘ordinary’ women who were so different in their views on women’s issues from ‘others’. They theorised and strategised through experience. Their anger, disappointments and commitment symbolized coalescing of personal and political! End of an era!! My homage to both of them…


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