Archive for January 22, 2015

Obituary: Pravinaben Natubhai Patel (1935-2015)


“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow” —Maya Angelou

By Vibhuti Patel
My mother, Pravinaben Patel passed away on January 1 in Vadodara. She was 79.

She was a highly gifted and courageous lady with tremendous sense of humour and great will power. She was dignified, hardworking, compassionate, helpful person who found something good in every human being. Her life guided me to see a spark in every ‘ordinary’ human being that I met.

She assumed the role of renegade predecessor in our extended family due to her quest for independence and enchanted the younger generation with her free spirited adventures. She cultivated our interest in music, literature, art and craft, language learning, and most important, to respect all religions, cultures and lifestyles. She played major role in shaping my daughter’s sense of ethics.

She always stood by young couples ostracized by the community for their inter-caste and inter-religious ‘love marriage’ and came forward in providing moral and material support exhibiting great personal courage. Her demand for personal growth remained unfulfilled due to early marriage and motherhood, but she built so many people who aspired to achieve their dreams. She celebrated educational achievements of women.

My father had 18 transfers in Western, Northern, Eastern and North Eastern parts of India, burden of which she singularly shouldered. My mom had to manage her life by herself – my father was a civil engineer and had erratic and demanding work-schedule.

Response to sexual harassment
She would always confront anyone who made sexual innuendoes in the street, bus, train and in public places. She would loudly respond, “What is wrong with your hands? Why are they moving in a wrong direction?” Those days common way of sexual harassment of a woman walking or travelling unescorted by man was, “Want to come with me?” Without getting embarrassed she would look straight in the eyes of harasser and say, “Yes, I want to come with you along with my 3 children!!” And she would laugh loudly.

Unique bond with her Son-in-law
In 1977, I and Amar (Jesani) had court marriage (inter-religious) in Vadodara. She was extremely sensitive to my Muslim husband, who was looked at with suspicion by many of my relatives. She neutralized them by discussing his work for the toiling poor, workers and public health. She prevented violence by talking to all those who were instigating my young brother. Some highly educated uncles and aunties recommended conversion of my husband under Arya Samaj. My mother retorted, “How would you feel if you were robbed of your identity?” It is a different matter that both of us were atheist and would not indulge in religious conversion and our social life was robust with social movement community-activists from workers, women, tribal and Dalit movement.

When Amar was arrested as a convener of Textile Workers Solidarity Committee in Bombay, she lambasted me for not finding out in which police custody he was kept. I told her, “Hundreds of activists are arrested, he is not alone.” She said, “How can we sit at home? Let us begin our hunt from the nearest police station.” We both reached Dahisar police station. My mom started howling at the police officer and told him, “My son in law is a doctor, fighting for justice and workers’ rights for which he has been arrested. You should feel ashamed of your act that you are treating such a gentleman as a criminal. Now, find out for us, in which police lock up he and his comrades are.” The police officer made several phone calls and finally found out that Amar was in Jacob Circle police custody. Now, her agenda was to cook for Amar and his comrades. We rushed home, made Thepalas, muthia, sukhadi etc. Armed with food, we left home to meet Amar. Once we reached the police station, she gave a big lecture to the police officer on her son-in-law’s good work and lambasted them for taking away his spectacles. She demanded that we be allowed to give home cooked food to Amar and his comrades.

Support to Women’s groups
During National Conference on Perspective for Women’s Movement in India, 1980 and 1985, she cooked rice-based food-Pongal, masala rice, mixed vegetable rice for delegates from Southern states and brought at the conference venue with the help of my papa in huge vessels without anybody telling her to do so. Her logic was, “Women from rural areas of South India must be feeling home-sick and craving for rice.”

During 1980s, she would send food packets for women from rural and tribal areas who were in Mumbai to press for their demands such as employment guarantee, land rights, draconian forest laws, violence against women, and state support to single women.

Any activist who came to her home, tired, famished, hungry would not only get food and rest, but also care, nurturance and emotional solace from her. She knitted sweaters for several of my comrades in social movement. When they thank her for her selfless action, she would jocularly reply by quoting Gujarati proverb, “Educated like you prepare the balance-sheet while less educated like me stand by them with a lamp.”

She unconditionally supported Neeraben Desai, Sonal Shukla, Nimisha Desai and Trupti Shah. In Vadodara, she was a sympathizer of feminist organizations, Sahiyar and Olakh.

Always a giver
Pravinaben was known as ‘giver’. When my father had to go to site, she would give food for both, himself and his driver. During monsoon, postman came to her asking for umbrella, if their footwear gave way, my mom would give him chappals or shoes. Whenever, a poor woman in the vicinity delivered a baby, she would make baby’s clothes, quilt and go to meet her even without knowing her personally. She taught ‘juvenile delinquents’ at remand home to cook, embroider, write and read. In spite of being in an extremely hierarchical eco-system of public sector, she treated everybody equally in terms of hospitality-officers, administrative staff and support staff. She stood by them in their difficult moments. She proactively broke caste barriers in her daily life that was covertly resented by her high caste friends. At the time of illness among her friends, papa’s colleagues, neighbours and domestic help, she would regularly send food she had cooked.

At the time of any calamity (flood, femine, riots), her home would be the centre for collection of food, medicine and clothes. In her daily life, vegetable vendors, milk man, raddiwala, fruit seller, postman, gardener, rickshaw drivers and needy neighbours received timely support from my mom in terms of school fees, financial aid for medical treatment, textbooks, uniform and ration. All of them had access to her kitchen. They would take water, snacks, and chocolate-ice-cream and make tea from kitchen when she would be grounded due to arthritis or asthama. This was strongly resented by her neighbours as they felt that she was spoiling them. They would complain to me, “Your mom does not lock the door, anybody enters the house, and one day your parents will be murdered!” I would say, “Even when anybody comes home to murder them, my mom would say, first you eat and relax, then you can kill us!”

In my upwardly mobile clan, she was the only one who had meaningful relationships with relatives and friends who were poorer, who were ‘country folks’, who lacked ‘sophistication’.

During last five years, each time I visited her, I noticed so many things missing from the house. Whenever I would ask for an explanation for missing clothes, utensils, equipments for exercise, wheelchairs, walker, walking sticks, etc; instead, in a Sufiana style, she would question me, “Have we become poor?” I would say, “No”. And matter would end there. She was a friend in need to her neighbours, acquaintances and like true Vaishnav believed in secret donation.

Body donation: Don’t wait for anyone
In 2007, she had made up her mind to donate her body after her death to the medical college. She also convinced her peers for body-donation. I prepared the document for my mom, my papa and my aunt, gave original to the hospital and carbon copy was give to them. In last seven years, they kept their papers in the drawing room, showed them to their neighbours and close relatives with an instruction that in case of death, they must immediately inform the hospital so that cornea donation can be done within 2 hours and body donation should also happen as fast as possible so that someone’s life can be saved with organ transplant.

In November 2014, road was getting constructed in their society. Around 15 tribal families were working in cold weather. She gave them shelter in the basement of her house, allowed them to bathe, cook and relax in the premises. She inhaled lot of carbon monoxide as a result of cooking on firewood by the workers, developed pneumonia and after a month long hospitalization, passed away on 1st January 2015. All of us were with her.

She will live in the hearts of all those who knew her as an example who did great service to the community even in her death by donating her body and eyes. As per her wish, no rituals for 13 days were observed; instead my brother instituted a Gold Medal for University First student in MA in Economics at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972. Currently she is teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai

Jasodhara Bagchi: Farewell to a phenomenal woman

Jasodhara Bagchi

Veteran feminist, academician and author, Jasodhara Bagchi, will remain an inspiration to many

By Juhi Jain
This is indeed a sad time for us feminists. We have lost many a stoic fighter who made inroads into the bastions of patriarchy – challenging hierarchies, demanding rights and fuelling winds of change. Jasodhara Bagchi, one such relentless feminist academic, critic and teacher, left us on January 9, 2015 morning in Kolkata at the age of 77. Jasodharadi was an inspiration, a stalwart and torch bearer of feminism in innumerable ways.

Jasodhara Bagchi was born in 1937, the only daughter of Presidency College Principal, Dr. J.C.Sengupta. After completing her English Honours from Presidency College, Kolkata she went on to do a second BA at Somerville College, Oxford and later completed her PhD on Walter Pater and late 19th century English literature at New Hall, Cambridge.

Most of her working life was spent as Professor of English Literature at the Jadavpur University which she joined in 1963, after a short stint of teaching at Lady Brabourne College. At Jadavpur, she combined activism, academic research and teaching, with an unfaltering pursuit of women rights, which she continued till her formal professional retirement (in 1997) and after that in her capacity as Emeritus Professor till the very end of her life.

While at Jadavpur, Jasodharadi completed her research on the 19th century English and Bengali literature, especially focusing on writings by women writers. In addition, she also undertook research studies on Reception of Positivism in Bengal, concept of motherhood and Partition of India.

Pursuing her dedication and interest in women’s studies, in 1988, Jasodharadi laid the foundation of the School of Women’s Studies at Jadavpur University; she became its first Founder-Director a post she held until retirement from university service.

Jasodhara Bagchi was appointed as the Chairperson of the West Bengal State Commission for Women on which she served from 2001 to 2008.

Prominently known for her leftist views, she was also a founder member of the feminist organization Sanchetna, in Kolkata. She was committed to mobilization for the women’s movement lending her voice to countless struggles of women for rights and dignity.

A pioneer in her field, Jasodharadi, was instrumental in initiating the publication of Bengali Women Writers Reprint Series, a monograph line dedicated to publishing new editions of writings of/by women in an effort to document and showcase their unrecorded and hidden works, history and pursuits.

A feminist author and critic, she wrote extensively on various social and women’s issues from a feminist-left perspective. Her book “Indian Women: Myth and Reality (1989) is considered a path breaking critical treatise on many pressing issues related to Indian women and their lives. In addition she has also edited several volumes on women’s personal histories.

Her latest book Parijayee Nari O Manabadhikar (Migrating Women and Human Rights), was termed as “politically controversial” and hence its launch at the Kolkata book fair was stalled. While the details of the “controversial nature” are not explicitly spelled out, knowing Jasodharadi’s critical positions vis-a vis women’s rights, violence and entitlement issues, it is not surprising that she had face the displeasure of those in position of power and authority. The book has however been released in a small private gathering.

More recently, Jasodharadi registered her protest and spoke out vociferously in support of students and, against Jadavpur University Vice-Chancellor and management for their anti-student stand and highhanded attitude in dealing with the student protests at the university campus during September 2014. She was part of the five-member team of Emeritus Professors that met West Bengal Governor and University Chancellor to demand appointment of a more “able” Vice-Chancellor for the Jadavpur University.

Another fascinating facet of Jasodharadi’s much loved personality was her passionate and melodious singing, which was hugely appreciated wherever she went, not only in Bengal but also in various South Asian forums where she conducted workshops, gave lectures and shared her academic thinking. Credit is also due to her for the vast repertoire of songs and verse that she stored in her memory and produced on request at such gatherings.

Jasodhara Bagchi remained active till her last days, having completed a draft of a monograph on motherhood just before her illness. We salute and remember her with fondness and affection, as a pillar of the women’s studies movement in India, and a towering source of strength for her colleagues and students alike.

Statement by Indian Association for Women’s Studies here

Farmers across Gujarat being detained

Gujarat- farmers-arrested

Red carpet for national and international corporate honchos, iron fist at farmers?


While the Government of Gujarat is splurging on the jamboree called Vibrant Gujarat it is a crime to raise the issue of farmers’ suicides and low cotton prices. The totally non-political ‘Sanyukta Khedut Sangharsh Samiti’ had planned to make a peaceful representation before Gujarat Government on 11th Januaray, 2015. Farmers were setting out for the Action spot in their thousands. In a wanton display of its paranoia as well as dictatorial tendencies the Government first tried to scare away bus and other transporters. They attempted to force them to cancel farmers’ bookings. Farmers demonstrated their resolve by finding other means to reach the appointed spot. Thousands of farmers are being detained in tens of places across Gujarat. First, Mr Shivlal Vekaria (ex-MP) and Chandulal Shingala were detained in Rajkot. Hundreds of farmers started being detained in various districts. In the dead of the night – around 12.30 am – Sagar Rabari and Lakhan Musafir were arrested. Other prominent farmers being detained include Mansukhbhai (Rajkot), Pradyumansinh and Ramdevsinh Chudasma (Dholera), Mahendrasinh Karmariya, Nipul Patel, Yakub Gurji (Bharuch), Lalji Desai (Becharaji-Mandal). The Mansa MLA Mr. Amitbhai, Dehgam MLA Kaminiben and Jashubhai Rana of Gandhinagar have also been arrested.

The farmers’ demands were simple and basic.
1) Support Price for Cotton at 1200 / 20 kg, and Rs. 1000 / 20 kg for groundnut.
2) No de-commanding of Narmada waters and diverting it to industries.
3) Repeal of draconian anti-farmer laws such as Special Invest Region Act, and Gujarat Irrigation Act.
4) Immediate withdrawal of the Ordinance making the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act meaningless.

It has become the standard practice for the Government of Gujarat to clamp down on demands of the poor and toiling people of Gujarat rather than addressing. This Government believes in ruling via Ordinances on the one hand, and organising public relations jamboorees – all at Tax Payers’ expense.


Persis Ginwala, Rajni Dave, Anand Mazgaonkar