DR RATAN BHATTACHARJEE
Her death even at the age of 75 is a big setback for the women’s movement in India and the South Asian region. She celebrated life whatever the adversity. She was the icon of the Feminist movement.
She was a gender activist, an advocate of social justice in South Asia – scholar, poet, friend, and comrade. All will miss her absence as she touched them with her work, her life, her love. She lived at a time when the world was changing after the Mandal Commission protests and the demolition of Babri Masjid, and new voices, both radical and conservative, were becoming louder.
Kamla Bhasin, screamed “Azaadi” against patriarchy. Decades that she lived resonate with this slogan and with Bhasin’s Understanding Gender the slogan turned to a theory. There was much talk about feminism if it meant being anti-men, anti-marriage, and anti- family; if it meant women should have more power than men if it meant equal economic opportunities if it meant being non-religious if it meant women in cities are more enlightened than those in rural areas, if it meant gender justice was more important than fighting caste oppression if it meant reservations for women in buses and the Parliament if it meant rejecting motherhood.
Bhasin had replied to all these questions. She refused to give up in any situation. Her famous poems ‘Umadti Ladkiyan’ and Kyunki Main Ladki Hoon, Mujhe Padhna Hai’ later got echoes in the loud cry of Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai for whom the pen is a sword as Brecht told it long ago.
Today when Kabul University under the Talibani Fatwa banned women from studies, we need the absence of Kamala Bhasin and her voice. She was a Rajasthani woman born on 24 April 1946 and today Rajasthan allowed child marriage in passing the bill towards this end. We do not know what Sangat will do now in her absence.
A social scientist by training, she was actively engaged with issues related to development, education, gender and media over 35 years and she began work for the empowerment of the rural and urban poor in 1972 with the voluntary organization in Rajasthan.
She worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. She wrote the fiery lines, “A father asks his daughter: Study? Why should you study? / I have sons aplenty who can study. Girl, why should you study? “In the same poem, the daughter gave her bold reply: For the battles, I must fight, I must study/ Because I am a girl I must study.”
She being a feminist did not ignore family life and the simple joys that the husband and wife enjoy as parents. In one of the poems titled ‘Soap and Bubbles’, she depicted a picture of a father: Soap and bubbles, shampoos and showers/ He loves the water, Preeto ours. / Mother feeds him/ Father bathes him/ I amuse and /Entertain him/ Soap and bubbles, rinse and shine/ He loves a wash, this brother mine.”
This clearly gave us a picture of a happy family and such pictures are there in the Hindi Book titled ‘Geela Chotu’. She was creating awareness among children from a very young age. Interestingly enough in advanced countries, parents use potty training books to create such awareness in babies below two years. In spite of her fiery poems, this soft side of Kamal Bhasin as a woman cannot be ignored.
She had infectious laughter though she was the loudest voice for breaking shackles to build a new world. Her activities made her a beacon of feminist hope as she wrote “Tod ke bandhanon ko dekho behne aati hai..aayengi Zulm mitayengi.. yeh to naya zamana laayengi.” These poetic lines instilled vigour into the feminist movement in India and other South Asian countries in the 1070s.
In an interview given to Katyayani Chowdhury, she said that the word ‘feminist’ means anyone who is against sexism and discrimination against women. It is women’s perspective on the world. Here she defines the term ‘masculinist’. In her view all religions are masculinizing, medi is masculinized and this entire world is masculinist. She says, ‘I don’t know any feminist in South Asia who says the opposite of Patriarchy is a matriarchy. If patriarchy is a sickness, matriarchy would be a sickness.
We don’t men to dominate, we don’t want women to dominate. So we are not exclusive at all.” This is a new definition of Feminism given by Kamala Bhasin. She was aggrieved to say that ‘patriarchy controls our bodies. We are not allowed to go out we are not allowed to play outside, we are not allowed to dance in public alone, and we are not allowed to do exercises.”
“She angrily asked the interviewer: Have you ever seen a woman playing carom on the roadside like all the Nepali men are sitting and playing? So, games are denied to us. Then our bodies are covered. If we are in a family, our bodies are covered, dupattas, saris, covering our breasts, covering our faces… But if we are not family women then we are uncovered by patriarchy – naked dances in Bollywood, on the television. So- the body is controlled by patriarchy.
Kamala Bhasin rightly pointed out “UN says – out of every 3 women, 1 woman is violated. In the world, there are 7 billion women and men, half of them are women, out of the 3.5 billion women, a billion women are being violated. They are suffering violence. This is why our campaign – One Billion Rising- because 1 billion suffer, so a billion people- 100 crore- people need to rise up and say – NO More. Enough is enough.”
As the feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir puts it, “One is not born a man but becomes one, one is not born a woman but becomes one.” This is also the view of Kamala Bhasin. So she was not to be called a so-called Feminist but a humanist who was protesting against all dominations be it by men or by women. Freedom of human being was her ideal. In her absence, this ideal will be a precious legacy for generations to come.
Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is a poet cum columnist and senior academician based in Kolkata. He can be reached at: [email protected]