My association with Kamala Bhasin, to whom Dalit women’s lives were more precious

By Martin Macwan*

It was sometimes may be 10 years ago or more that I received a mail from Kamala Bhasin, asking me if I could be a guest speaker for a day to a workshop organized by her organization Sangat for women from different walks of life from south Asian countries to speak on the subject of Caste. It was my first personal meeting with her though I knew her from reading her book, “Sparshbhed” along with some of her poems including ‘Ulti sulti mitto’. At Dalit Shakti Kendra and Navsarjan, we used Kamala’s books as more than a training material.

There have been other occasions later when I have been treated like a family member at more Sangat workshops. Kamala did join the Dalit Foundation Board for a brief period and I met her occasionally as member of the Jagori. But to know her, one had to meet her outside the narrow walls of the organizations.

Her identity has been predominantly that of a feminist. Little has been known that she brought in the realities of caste within the narrow boundaries of feminism to broaden the same. She sensitized women that the lives of Dalit women were more precarious than lives of women who did not face the caste brutality.

Like a student she sat for the whole day when I spoke on caste in the Sangat workshop to ask questions and to learn. Whenever I met her whether in the workshop or the board meeting or a visit to her home that warm hug of a mother always awaited.

A woman of a little body frame she was a source of tremendous power and love to all who interacted with her. She led thousands of women to raise their voice against inequality and yet she shared with them without mincing words how she continued to be humiliated as a woman in her personal life. She became part of the person sitting with her in the room. This is a tragedy and loneliness that many people are confronted with in their lives after dedicating their life for the cause of social change.

She revolted and refused to be confined to the narrow walls of feminism to make it women versus men. She was a visionary and humanist, and in her world, everyone had a place. She was outspoken because she was completely honest with her. She was humble to admit her ignorance or to express apology if she ever hurt anyone.

Kamala was one tall person in the narrowing world of activists which also have been characterized with increasing intolerance towards the divergent views of others. She was convinced about the power of love to change the human minds. She was deprived of the love and tolerance in her last days of life which throughout her life she gave it to all those who she came across and associated with. She was reminded of her caste which she never ever cared for. 2All her life she was an embodiment of what she stood and lived for. She never said a word about how hurt she felt but the pain she carried was present in the tears of her close colleagues who remained with her in her last days.

Did she ever claim that given all her life-long experiences her was the last word? NO. She always promoted young minds to discuss and debate and she participated like an ever- young mind.

*Founder, Navsarjan Trust and DSK, trustee, Janvikas

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