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Remembering Geeta Das

Geeta-Das

All India Progressive Women’s Association’s (AIPWA) honorary president Comrade Geeta Das passed away on 24th October at the age of 78

By Kavita Krishnan

I first met her when I was a student in the 1990s. A small, feisty, lively woman, who moved busily, like a bird. A face full of warmth and feeling. And speaking to her, I never felt the distance of age between us. For me, a JNU student, she felt like a kindred spirit, whose sensibilities matched mine and that of so many women much younger than her.

She was born in 1936, on 15th September, in Faridpur district of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Her education was disrupted after Class VIII. Years later, after her marriage, she felt a burning determination to educate herself further and stand on her own feet. She completed her matriculation (Class X) and passed her teacher’s training (for primary school teaching), with a gold medal. She then worked as a school teacher.

Many members of her family were leftist activists. She felt deeply against injustices, and for the rights of the oppressed. From 1967 onwards, she was passionately involved in the Naxalbari movement, helping to pass messages between comrades who were underground. Since then, she remained a committed activist of the Communist Party of India (Marxist /Leninst).

She was among the founding leaders of the Progressive Women’s Association (PWA) and the founding President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) when it was formed in 1994.

I especially miss Geeta Di in the times we’re in, when Hindutva fundamentalists are resurgent and are openly attacking women’s freedoms. With what energy Geeta Di did battle with those self-declared custodians of ‘Indian culture’ and ‘Indian women’!

Geeta Das confronting the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, after he stopped a woman scholar from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas

Geeta Das confronting the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, after he stopped a woman scholar Arundhati Roychoudhury from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas

One memorable occasion was when she along with other activists confronted the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, when he stopped a woman scholar Arundhati Roychoudhury from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas. (This was the same Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati who just a few days ago said Dalits should not be allowed to enter temples.) Geeta Di, then President of the West Bengal PWA, along with the Secretary Chaitali Sen, stormed a press conference of the Shankaracharya and heckled him, forcing him to drop his posture of paternalism and expose his true, menacing colours! Geeta Di’s courage in storming a room full of the Shankaracharya’s own cohorts, to assert women’s rights, is an inspiring memory.

Age did not stall or stale Geeta Di’s fighting spirit, even as her body became increasingly frail. She also served on the CPI(ML)’s Control Commission.

I recall the last time I heard her speak in public – at the AIPWA West Bengal Conference in 2010. She spoke about the situation of under-paid and over-worked working women, and peasant women resisting land grab in the State. She said, ‘Some say I am a feminist. Well, I am, indeed, a feminist! Shouldn’t we all be, as long as injustice against women remains a reality?’

Geeta Di, your courage in your own life, your spirited presence in women’s movements and the Left movement, will always inspire us. I hope there will always be a bit of you, alive and fighting, in all of us!

Kavita Krishnan is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA)