Kamla Bhasin passed away in the early hours today ( September 25 2021) at the age of 75. She will be remembered by many people and several organizations in South Asia (and elsewhere) to whom she reached out at several levels with many-sided contributions.
She made valuable and original contributions to feminist thinking and theory, particularly in the context of South Asia. She has written several widely read and consulted books on this subject. She worked with several community organizations to take this and other work to a large number of people.
After her education in Rajasthan and Germany, she joined Seva Mandir organization in Udaipur. Later she joined the FAO office in Delhi to take forward gender issues at the level of South Asia. She fulfilled this responsibility very well and made full use of the opportunity to establish long-lasting friendships in various countries.
Once in Kathmandu for an RTI related training program, I was impressed by the presentations made by some young Pakistani women. I conveyed my appreciation to an elderly member of their team who was sitting next to me. He replied—In sabko aapki Kamla Bhasin ne sikhaya hai ( all of them have been trained by Kamla Bhasin from your country).
She had friends all over South Asia in very senior positions. Once when she called me to a small meeting of her select friends to take forward a South-Asia level initiative in Delhi , I soon learnt to some discomfort that the person sitting to my left was a former finance minister of Nepal and the one sitting to the right was from an almost equally senior position in Bangladesh! However being so well-connected did not at all affect her natural ability to mix up with ordinary people with ease. She could be sophisticated and rustic at the same time!
She was a great orator. Her keynote speech at an Azad Foundation function some time lasted for perhaps one hour, but there was never a dull moment. She started by asking why should girls be prevented from doing what boys do habitually. Then , right on stage and before the mike, she let out a very shrill whistle. Hundreds of girls whistled back. Others broke into laughter. Boredom was the last thing that could happen when Kamla was speaking.
Her big books are used widely in feminist discourse, but for our family an even more familiar book is the book of poems/songs written on Meeto a small girl child. We have been humming these poems ever since.This small, well illustrated book was inspired by her own baby daughter whom she loved immensely and brought up with great affection. The death of her daughter at a young age was the biggest tragedy of her life which affected her very deeply.
It is a measure of her firm beliefs and resolve that she could recover from this tragedy to continue her many- sided useful activities. Her last years were devoted more to the work of her organization Sangat.
I used to go frequently to meet her husband Baljit Malik at their central Delhi home as we were working together on a project on alternative media. During these visits I came to know Kamla well. At home and office when we met from time to time, she would often ask me about various organizations that were doing good work with the poor and tried to help them. These and later observations impressed me regarding how keen Kamla was to help various good causes.
I also met their daughter and son ( he was disabled by a vaccine reaction at a very young age). Both Kamla and Baljit were very kind to me personally. Their relationship was really very nice in those days and I was very sad when in later days things went wrong and they divorced.
Like myself, a very large number of persons will remember Kamla Bhasin as an inspiring human being and a kind friend who was never a bore. God, be warned, your heaven will soon be full of shrill whistles.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author, has been close to several social movements.