Picture Credits: SheThePeople
Kamla Bhasin, a robust Indian feminist activist, an articulate writer, poet, social scientist, and an iconic leader who called herself a part of 'The Midnight Generation’, breathed last on Saturday morning and left for her heavenly abode at the age of 75. As per reports, she was diagnosed with cancer a few months back.
She was born in Shahidaanwali village in Punjab (Pakistan) in 1946 and grew up in a rural setting which helped her witness the plight of women and the hardships faced by them. She completed her graduation in Rajasthan and went on a fellowship to the University of Münster, West Germany, where she studied Sociology of Development. Her desire to effectively transform knowledge into implementational actuality drove her back to India.
Hence, she started working for Seva Mandir, which works primarily in natural resource sustainability. There she was introduced to the realities of the caste ridden Indian society and learnt about how discrimination manifests itself even in governance. Later, in the 1970s, she became a towering figure in the women’s movement in India and the larger South Asia. Her work focused on gender, education, and human development.
She was best known for her work with Sangat - A Feminist Network that organized workshops on understanding feminist theory and instilled femininst awakening among the massses. She has authored many outstanding books like Laughing Matters (co-authored with Bindia Thapar), Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, Understanding Gender, What is Patriarchy?, to name a few.
Apart from these achievements Bhasin is widely applauded for her poem, ‘Kyunki main ladki hoon, mujhe padhna hai’. The ‘Azadi’ slogan, which she picked up from Pakistani feminists, was improvised and popularised in India by her.
Bhasin was a champion of women's rights and lashed out against capitalism as the perpetrator of patriarchy. She argued that capitalism amplified the concept of ownership in the nature of the modern family. She believed neoliberal capitalism to be a facade that in the name of women’s freedom aspired to sustain its own selfish interests. For her, the pornography industry and the cosmetics industry made use of women in the garb of providing them freedom, to fill their own coffers. Moreover she believed that such industries reduced women to their bodies, dehumanizing them, and perpetuated a culture of violence and abuse, or as she put it-"So once you are a body – what's the harm in raping you or groping you?”
However, this view has been criticized by some sex-positive feminists who state that anti-pornography feminist discourse ignores and trivializes women’s sexual agency.
Nevertheless Bhasin has, undoubtedly, been successful in stirring up debates and discussion on this otherwise neglected front.
She believed that "India needs a cultural revolution". She showed her resentment towards the redundant social customs and beliefs that confine South Asian women within the patriarchal setup. She emphasized on the malleability and evolution of culture. According to her, “Cultures don’t make human beings, human beings make cultures”
Kamla Bhasin has inspired many. Dr. Ambreen Ahmed, who worked with her for more than 20 years called Kamla "amazingly unique" and an individual injected with "love, laughter, honest dialogue."
Today we can proudly say that Kamala Bhasin continues to live through the desire for emancipation in millions of us. She continues to live in her poems, books and slogans. She continues to live in the legacy she has left for the entire sub continent. In her words,
‘Freedom comes at a cost. Most of the time, it is not monetary, and it has been paid by most of us but ‘to not stop’ has kept us going. We need to keep going.’
She inspires us to ‘keep going’ no matter what.
By Ishi Chauhan
Ishi is a second-year student of Political Science. She is an avid reader and has a penchant for keeping herself abreast of contemporary socio-political developments.