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India: Kamla Bhasin: Feminist, poet, protester, secularist

Sunday 26 September 2021, by siawi3


Kamla Bhasin: Feminist, poet, protester, secularist

Special Correspondent
New Delhi

September 25, 2021 17:28 IST
Updated: September 25, 2021 17:45 IST

Kamla Bhasin. File | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

She placed gender in systems and structures which abled gender imbalance

A feminist. A regular, diminutive figure at several protests in Delhi. An occasional appearance at music concerts, if time allowed her. A song writer whose songs have been a source of inspiration, sung across borders that divide. A poet whose verses are adrenalin shots for women. A secularist to the core. Call her a force of nature if you will. In her 75 years, Kamla Bhasin was more than just a friendly, smiling face. She represented and touched women struggling for a toehold in public places denied to them, moving on in her later years to question the state and governments for their inability to put an equitable system in place. Quiet, firm and unrelenting, her passing away today found an outlet on Twitter where women acknowledged, in 147 characters, the debt they owed to her.

“You may go into a village with an idea or a plan. But only if you’re willing to learn and be educated by the people you are there to serve, will you make progress. When you’re willing to listen to them, you will begin to see their reality, how caste and class operate, and how inequitable society is,” she had shared in the course of an interview.

A developmental sociologist and author, she embraced feminism in the course of her journey across rural Rajasthan, after she returned from Germany in the 1970s. Bhasin’s travels through the countryside opened her eyes to the real world far removed from Delhi offices. The founder of women’s organisation Jagori, her energies were initially focussed on smashing the patriarchy responsible for the dismal state of women. Graduating further, she placed gender in systems and structures which abled gender imbalance, and moved a full circle to question the state and elected governments for perpetuating inequalities.

The 1990s reform saw Bhasin connecting the dots between gender disparity and an unrelenting system, which often found an expression in songs that became popular. People could relate to the home-spun quality of her verses, shorn of highfalutin words. She took on multinational soft drinks manufacturers that drained out water from lakes, depriving people from accessing potable water — all of this found an expression in ditties penned by Bhasin.

Making time in her life for women, and acknowledging the contribution of men who have furthered the cause of equality, embracing secularism as the life-breath of democracy, Bhasin will be certainly missed by half the population that makes up India’s numbers. The other half, too, will feel her absence.