Feminist activist Kamla Bhasin dies after long battle with cancer | Latest India News

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Famous feminist activist Kamla Bhasin died in the early hours of Saturday after battling cancer. She was 75 years old. Born in 1946 in the village of Shahidanwaali in Punjab (now Pakistan), Bhasin’s appeal lay in her ability to speak to a room full of “anyone”, as she once said: diplomats, viewers, feminists or children. The underlying message – conveyed to suit the audience listening to it – was always that of gender justice.

After working with a rural non-governmental organization called Seva Mandir based in Udaipur for four years, Bhasin joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1976 – a job from which she retired. in 2002. In 2004, she created Sangat, a South Asian feminist network supported by the Delhi-based feminist resource group Jagori which Bhasin created with other feminists including Abha Bhaiya, Runu Chakravarty, Gauri Choudhury, Sheba Chhacchi , Manjari Dingwaney and Joginder Panghaal in 1984.

In the ’80s and’ 90s, Bhasin was among the country’s main feminist struggles, from protests over dowry-related deaths to protests that led to changes in the way rape and sexual assault were prosecuted in the country. . She also contributed to the movement by creating brochures on feminism, patriarchy, violence, which have been translated into several languages ​​and formed the basis of women’s studies in several organizations. Over the past decade, she has also partnered with One Billion Rising, a movement launched by Eve Ensler to end violence against women.

Bhasin’s work at FAO took her across South Asia where she made long-standing friendships with other feminist activists. Part of Bhasin’s significant contribution to the feminist movement was to expand its reach beyond national borders.

Bhasin first visited Pakistan after partition in 1983 at the invitation of the Pakistan Family Planning Association to help them structure their work on women’s empowerment. She met famous feminist lawyer Asma Jahangir (deceased in 2018) and other activists from the Women’s Action Forum. During the 1980s, Bhasin and Nighat Said Khan from Pakistan, among others, helped women across the border bond: they met for workshops, discussed relevant issues and strategies protests that led the feminist movement in both countries, and most importantly, exchanged and re-wrote songs that would often be sung at these protests.

“Kamla was one of the pioneers of the women’s movement not only in India but also in South Asia. She had the amazing ability to communicate through verses, songs, poetry, visuals and texts, the most difficult concepts like patriarchy, feminism, masculinity, peace, non-violence, development from a women’s perspective. She has worked intergenerationally and many young feminists have been inspired by her across South Asia, ”said Jaipur-based Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the Rajasthan People’s Civil Liberties Union.

Bhasin’s ability to forge and maintain connections across borders was aided by his ability to versify and tell stories. She quickly gained a reputation as a songwriter and composer of children’s rhymes. Bhasin’s feminism was activism in practice; just as important was how it was done: women have to meet, talk, sing and laugh among themselves; the change, she once said in an interview with this writer, had to happen on the inside.

One of the songs Bhasin wrote in the late 70s and early 80s – “Tod tod kay bandhanon ko dekho bahnain aati hain … Ayengi, zulm mitaengi (break the chains that hold them back, look, the women have risen up … They will be the ones who will end the oppression) “- was inspired by popular Punjabi folklore and quickly became a staple in most feminist gatherings. Bhasin also brought protest songs feminists across the border. In an interview with the Hindustan Times in 2018, she recalled learning the slogan “Meri behane maange Azaadi” from Pakistani feminists. She then improvised the words, she said. “The words would change many times depending on what we are protesting against, discrimination on the basis of caste, injustice towards tribes or violence against women, ”Bhasin said.

Bhasin’s rhymes, including the famous Dhammak Dham, a children’s book published by UNICEF, and the poem “Kyunki mein ladki hun mujhe padhna hai / Padhne ki mujhe manahi hai so padhna hai (It is because I am a girl, I want to study / It’s because I’m not supposed to study, I want to study) ”- questioned stereotypes and gender norms. These rhymes were set to music and sold as audio cassettes and, later, Jagori CDs.

“Thinking back to my 30 plus years in the women’s movement, what I instantly remember are the songs of Kamla. These songs made me feel anger against patriarchy and the joy of brotherhood. Kamla’s songs broke binaries. It was not about victimization or agency. They were angry songs, sad songs, funny songs, and songs of passion. They showed us that we were not alone, that change was possible. Kamla was passionate, a real ‘zinda dil’, ”queer feminist activist Jaya Sharma said.

Bhasin’s appearance on Satyamev Jayate, a social issues show hosted by Aamir Khan, where she spoke about the need for a paradigm shift in understanding rape – not as the survivor’s loss of honor , but that of the author – was as important as his pioneering work. speech at the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995: Both were received with a standing ovation.

Bhasin is survived by one son, Jeet, a disabled person, and four siblings, including former Rajasthani politician Bina Kak. She lost her daughter, Meeto Bhasin Malik, who committed suicide in 2006. Bhasin’s funeral will be held on the evening of September 25 at the Lodi Road Crematorium in New Delhi.

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