Remembering Kamla Bhasin: Rest In Power!

Kamla Bhasin one of India's foremost feminist died in the early hours of 25th Sept 2021. A women's rights activist, her life is a testimony towards her work on gender and women's rights.

Kamla Bhasin one of India’s foremost feminist died in the early hours of 25th Sept 2021. A women’s rights activist, her life is a testimony towards her work on gender and women’s rights.

In April 24th 2021, she celebrated her 75th birthday where she shared that it was pockets (or the lack of them in women’s clothes) that influenced her initial thoughts against patriarchy!

She was founder and adviser of Sangat, a South Asian feminist network that is focused on creating knowledge and building narratives & courses around feminism, human rights and sustainable living. She was also associated with Jagori Resource and Training Centre, New Delhi, and Jagori Rural Charitable Trust. She was also the South Asia Coordinator of One Billion Rising, a global campaign dedicated to ending rape and sexual violence against women.

Today, India lost a passionate and fierce critic of patriarchy!

An inspiring woman and activist

Kamla called herself a social scientist by training and spent close to four decades engaged with issues connected to development, education, gender and media. She was born in 1946 in Rajasthan and her childhood she often would share was one where she never conformed to gender norms. She climbed trees and played with boys and also dressed in boys clothes.

Kamla travelled to Germany for her higher education. She decided to come back to India to work towards the welfare of women. As a feminist she often proclaimed that “feminism was an ideology and an action programme against patriarchy”.

She began working in 1972 with a voluntary organization in Rajasthan and within four years was working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN where her work was largely around supporting NGO initiatives for development and empowerment of marginalized people particularly women, in South East Asia and South Asia. Her work largely revolved around organizing trainings, workshops to help facilitate networking between NGOs.

A powerful voice against patriarchy

As a vociferous voice against patriarchy she believed that patriarchy was about power, of power of men over women. Her defense was crystal clear when she asked people if they believed in the Constitution of India, then they essentially needed to believe in the equality of men and women. She said, “if patriarchy is a virus, the Constitution is a vaccine”.

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Kamla’s poem “Kyunki main ladki hoon, mujhe padhna hai” (Because I am a girl I must study), is a celebrated piece of feminist work apart from her other written work including books for children that have been translated into 30 languages.

Some of Kamla’s noteworthy authored works (some co-authored) include Feminism and its Relevance in South Asia (1986), What Is Patriarchy? (1993), Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition (1998), Exploring Masculinity (2004), Laughing Matters (2005) among others. A firm believer of celebrating differences that nature has accorded us, Kamla recently penned two books called Satrangi Ladke and Satrangi Ladkiyan (published by Pratham Books) to challenge gendered stereotypes.

Kamla had candidly often mentioned that she was “one of those women who became a feminist before she heard the word and even before her there were many others” who thought like her. In her discussions and talks around feminism, Kamala was often asked about feminism to which she replied saying that that feminism was about challenging inequalities and denial of rights and that feminism only aimed to create equality in the society.  I share a few lines from her Hindi poem (translated into English by Sunita Bhadauria) speaks of the resilience of women:

We, women, are like roots
and we have roots of our own too
We stand tall on these roots
And because of them, we have fought and silently marched ahead
They cut us from above
We expand and spread from below.
We will continue to connect and unite with roots close to us
and will shake the foundations and structures of their oppression.

These lines will resonate with all  feminists, as we continue to connect and unite to work towards true equality!

Today, India lost a passionate and fierce critic of patriarchy! From all feminists in the world we say, Rest in Power, Kamla!

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Varsha Pillai

Varsha Pillai is a former television journalist who quit the fast lane in media when she moved to the erstwhile 'laid back city' called Bangalore. She earnestly believes that she can ‘write stories that people read more...

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