By Kalpana Mehta
Davinder Kaur, a Saheli since 1982, passed away on 30 May 2016.
Davi came in touch with us when she left her marital home and two children to lead her life on her own terms.
In her practice she embodied many cherished feminist concepts – concept of sisterhood, non-competition, unconditional love, generosity and great sensitivity towards the underprivileged.
She had been married off by her parents, as soon as she finished her schooling, to a man nearly ten years older than her and had two children in quick succession. She struggled within the marriage for her independence and got a job in the external affairs ministry. There she came in contact with the Left and Dalit movement and this politicization led her to rebel from her family in 1982.
Davi’s personal rebellion was a common practice of the times in our circle and faltering and finding oneself in a hostile world was a personal as well as political struggle. For her, the rebellion away from the tradition was also marked by smoking and keeping her hair short considering that she was born a Sikh.
She joined as a volunteer and then took a break from her job to work full time in Saheli. In Saheli, her empathy with women in crisis remained a valuable asset. She would spend endless hours smoothening ruffled feathers. Her open house (or room) witnessed many stormy meetings and hectic work. She was a perfectionist and methodical in her work and would not move till she clearly understood what she was dealing with –not a cut-paste person.
Her exposure to the world had been very limited and when Sahelis went to Bombay in 1984 for a national meeting it was the first time she ever sat in a train. It was amazing that this woman then went to Africa, Latin America, Europe and dealt with the world, learnt many languages and was a much respected employee in the Ministry despite going late to the office every single day.
Her political involvement did not follow such a smooth path. She continued to enhance her understanding but it could not materialize into practice as spaces became less open to ideas. Though till the end she remained an honest foot soldier and was ready to translate any material into Hindi, edit and proof read all materials, take care of Saheli accounts, give her house for meetings and when she could afford, give donations – she would express her views only in more personal settings.
Her generosity knew no bounds and she always had the energy to make everyone feel at home and was always very welcoming of activists. Many of us outsiders visiting Delhi always knew that we had a place of our own there which Davi kept up.
While the common people of her office could sense and value her uncommon potential, from the feminist movement she got no such recognition. She was occasionally perturbed about it and expressed that too only privately.
Her death is a personal loss to many of us who lived in Delhi and other places who she brought together; her death is also a tremendous loss to the feminist legacy of sisterhood that she kept alive.
Kalpana Mehta is a founder member of Saheli, an autonomous feminist collective in Delhi