By Harihar Swarup
Poet, author and a pioneer of the woman’s rights movement in South Asia, Kamla Bhasin is dead after a short but spirited battle against liver cancer. She was 75. Bhasin remained committed to the causes she fought for until the very end, participating in an online meeting from her ICU bed just hours before her end.
Bhasin had two children with her late husband—a daughter Meeto, who died by suicide in 2006, and a son Jeet, 42, who has cerebral palsy and is dependent on caregivers. Those close to her say that she was a dotting mother and worried about her son’s future in her last days.
Born in 1946 in Pakistan’s Shahidanwali village, Bhasin completed her graduation from, Jaipur, and post-graduation from Rajasthan University, before moving to Germany to study sociology. After returning to India , she worked with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization for 25 years. During this time , she reached out to women across India as also other countries of South Asia,
Bhasin was founder of Sangat, a South Asian feminist network, and co-founder of JAGORI, a women’s resource centre Also, she was the organizer of . One Billion Rising campaign, besides being associated with several other organizations. She is known for improving and popularizing in India the “Azadi” slogan, which was picked up from Pakistani feminists, as well as for her poems written for children, the most noble being “Because I am a girl, I must study”. She wrote more than 30 books on women’s rights and eight children books, along with several songs and poems.
Jagori said in a statement: Through her songs and posters, she has reached millions of activists and energized protests…..Using simple language to demystify concepts, she was able to reach out to the ideas of feminism and patriarchyto lay person without jargon.
Her friends and comrades remember her as a feisty, positive and warm person who wished to celebrate life—no matter it threw at her.
Activist Kavita Srivastava was among friends who visited Bhasin in her Anand Lok residence multi times in last few months when her treatment began. They would sing and share stories.
“She was enjoying every moment, even towards the end. She would tell a lot of stories. She was concerned about people incarcerated even in the end she was thinking about others. She was told by an admirer—you’re going over emperor of maladies. She wrote back ‘no’ I don’t think so, but I will not treat it as a defeat. I will just transcend into another world”.
Kamla was one of the pioneers of the Indian feminist movement since the 70s. She was active during the Mathura rape case, the Shah Bano, as well as anti-dowry, anti-rape movement. She was a South Asian feminist icon, not just an Indian icon. She helped build bridges between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Writer and publisher Ritu Menon, Bhasin’s co-author of ‘Border and Bounderies: Women in India’s partition’ said Bhasin’s, legacy was “enormous”.
There was a quality to Kamla that was exceptional. To be touched by her love was to experience something unique. That warmth she radiated, it encompassed almost everything she came in contact with. Her legacy is in the song she wrote, the slogan she raised, the connections she made, the heart she touched, the issues and campaigns she fought. It’s generosity, the spontaneity, warmth and intelligence of her struggle. That is her legacy for the subcontinent. (IPA Service)