Heed her wake-up call

ACE ACTIVIST

Sabina Martins knew she had finally won her family’s approval of her activism work when her mother came home one day and proudly declared that she finally got her passport after having been given the run-around by officials for days. The words that galvanised the officials into action were, “Do you know who I am? I am Sabina Martins’ mother!”

Sabina says her family was initially very reluctant to accept her love for protest marches because girls marching on the streets was frowned upon by society. “I got a whacking once. My mother even grounded me,” she recalls.

Sabina founded Bailancho Saad (Women’s Wake-Up Call), a non-funded volunteer collective, 25 years ago. From the time she joined the Progressive Students’ Union as a 15-year-old college student, Sabina’s resolve to work for the underdog has only grown. She has been knocked unconscious by a police baton and she has faced the prospect of arrest yet she has soldiered on. Along the way, her family’s scepticism turned to grudging respect at first, and then to open admiration.

Fuelling the fight

“We fought for a women’s police station and got it after 10 years. We fought for the women’s commission and got it. Today, if gender is on the agenda in Goa, it’s because Bailancho Saad had a significant role to play in that process,” says Sabina.

She says her greatest achievement has been to help build a sense of security among women in Goa. “An 80-year-old woman once called me up and said, ‘Today, I did Bailancho Saad. I asked her what she meant and she said she protested outside the house of those who wanted to dispossess her of her own home and got her key back. To me, that is empowerment.”

Sabina explains that Bailancho Saad’s work began with women in distress approaching them for help, such as a woman who had needed help requesting the court to grant her a sewing machine from her former marital home.

“That’s when the conversation began. We take on individual cases and from these, we get insights into problems, and then lobby for policy changes, legal amendments, and to put systems in place. There are issues like violence, bigamy, the impact of development, alcoholism, casinos, trafficking. The list is never-ending.”

I ask Sabina what other women activists can learn from her experience. She cautions that it’s a long road ahead because although women feel empowered in their own spaces, gender sensitivity is still missing, even in mixed-gender progressive circles. “If you look at photos from agitations, you’ll see a sea of women. But decision making is still not a domain of women,” she argues.

Sabina also knows that the real challenge is juggling priorities and balancing work and personal time. “You infuse energy and spirit into a cause, if you yourself have it. So, it’s important to stay focused, healthy and active,” she says.

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