Indian Women’s Studies Pioneer Dies


Book by Neera DesaiFrom Feminist Daily News in the USA:

June 29, 2009

Indian Women’s Studies Pioneer Dies

Neera Desai, PhD, a pioneer of women’s studies in India, died of cancer at age 84 last week. Dr. Desai founded India’s first women’s studies program, the Research Center for Women’s Studies at SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. She also served as head of the Post-Graduate Department of Sociology at the university.

Desai promoted women’s rights in both academic and political spheres. She was a member of the Status of Women in India Committee, which published the Towards Equality Report in 1974. She was also a trustee of the Center for Education and Training, a division of the India Center for Human Rights and Law. Desai published several books and research reports on women’s issues, including Women in Modern India, Feminism as Experience, and Feminism in Western India.

Professor Vibhuti Patel, who worked with Desai at the university, told the India Express, “I had been working with her since 1977. In all these years that I had known her, I thought of her as a warm person who was forever motivating and ever ready to experiment with new ideas…She started work in this field in the early 50s and for over two decades fought a lone battle to raise awareness about the same till the 70s when she began garnering support from several quarters.”

Feminists India Network writes of Desai, “Working on women’s issues and feminism across the social categories of tribe, caste and class, she will always be remembered as a major institution builder at the dawn of the women’s studies era.”

Media Resources: India Express News Service 6/27/09; Feminists India Network 6/28/09

Veteran Indian communist leader Jyoti Basu died on Sunday aged 95: here. And here.

Reporting on a global campaign for women’s rights in India: here.

4 thoughts on “Indian Women’s Studies Pioneer Dies

  1. In Vadodara, I used to attend study circle of Dr. A.R. Desai since 1970, during each Diwali and Summer vacation, on Marxism. In the process we got introduced to his wife, Dr. Neera Desai in 1972. We invited her to our organisation Study and Struggle Alliance and she spoke to us about Status of Women in India Committee. When Towards Equality Report came out in 1974, she gave a talk. Till then my reading of Women’s Liberation was only about Western feminists such as Eveleen Reed, Mary Alice Waters, Kate Millet, Betty Frieden and Simon de’ Bouvoir. She was happy that I had translated several essays of Reed in her book “Problems of women’s Liberation”.

    When life became difficult for me in Vadodara due to my marriage with my comrade who happened to be from a Muslim community; Dr. A.R. Desai suggested that I could move to Mumbai. He convinced my mother that my life would be peaceful and productive in Mumbai. Trusting his words, I boarded the train with him and came to his house. Both Neeraben and her son Mihir welcomed me, introduced me to Mumbai, guided me, drew maps to negotiate different suburbs of Mumbai and explained intricacies of the suburban Railway system. I stayed with them for a week and emerged as a well-informed Mumbaikar. Neeraben’s house was my second home-in times of ill-heath, ups and downs in life and for emotional support. Intellectually charged environment, their interest in music, art, poetry, songs, vegetarian cuisine, political thinking served as a tonic for a young political activist like me.

    It was in 1979, when I went to see her with Madhu Kishwar, armed with the first issue of Manushi, she confronted us sharply. In the reading list published in Manushi, we had mentioned Altekar, M.N. Srinivas and all those who had published books on women. We had an animated debate on their works. She gave us a copy of her book, Women in Modern India. After reading it, my relationship with her took 180 degree turn. From a sympathiser of the left movement, she became a fellow feminist. She also taught us that we needed to get out of abstractions and generalisations and needed to examine our own reality and evolve the intellectual tools rooted in our society. She also convinced many women activist like me that for an effective women’s movement, we needed strong analytical skills and must orient our energies towards women’s studies. To construct knowledge on women with women’s sensitivities, sensibilities and women’s prism, we needed five arms-Panch Mahabhootas- Teaching, training, documetation, research and action. Young women activists and researchers named her as “mothers of women’s studies” as she was always available to 4 generations of women with her wisdom, intellect, information, advice and sharing of experiences. What we liked in her was the relationship of mutual respect, she never preached. With her there was a bond based on equality.

    Neera Desai was one of the founding members of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies, Gujarat Association of women’s Studies and Maharashtra Association of women’s Studies. In 1981, under her leadership, the first national conference on women’s studies was organised that set the tone by NETWORKING among academicians, researchers, teachers, students, administrators, policy makers and political activists for women’s cause. Everyone was touched by her simplicity, hardwork and spirit of voluntarism. Especially for all those who had the opportunity to work with her—under her so closely found that she was such a source of knowledge, warmth, understanding, depth, guidance and dependability. She bonded very well with Veena Mazumdar, Kumud Sharma and Latika Sarkar from CWDS.

    Neera Desai was one of the founding members of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies, Gujarat Association of women’s Studies and Maharashtra Association of women’s Studies. In 1981, under her leadership, the first national conference on women’s studies was organised that set the tone by NETWORKING among academicians, researchers, teachers, students, administrators, policy makers and political activists for women’s cause. Everyone was touched by her simplicity, hardwork and spirit of voluntarism. Especially for all those who had the opportunity to work with her—under her so closely found that she was such a source of knowledge, warmth, understanding, depth, guidance and dependability. She bonded very well with Veena Mazumdar, Kumud Sharma and Latika Sarkar from CWDS.

    On April 3, 2008, Neeraben along 5 outstanding women who have contributed immensely to Women’s Studies in India was felicitated by Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The Centre had also prepared lovely panels on each of them capturing rare pictures profiling their contribution and milestones in their lives. She had health problems and looked pale but, as always, she spoke with stoic conviction on theoretical issues, research methodologies and epistemological challenges faced by women’s studies and women’s movement in the 21st century.

    Dr. Neera Desai passed away on 25th June, 09 at the age of 84. During last week, in Mumbai, Vadodara, Mysore, Chennai, Ahmedabad small and big memorial meetings were attended by four generations of women who had one thing to say, “We will celebrate life and work of Dr. Neera Desai, Mother Goddess of Women’s Studies in India.”

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  2. P.S. 1 / Asian Sec. / 26-1-2010
    Doc. No.: 1/1/2010
    AAPSO Statement

    On the death of comrade Jyoti Basu

    Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization deeply mourns the passing away of veteran Indian statesman Comrade Jyoti Basu. It will be very hard to fill the vacuum created by his death. Com. Basu joined the Communist Party and the Communist Movement at an early age and never ever wavered from the path of Marxism. But the fact that he commanded respect from one and all cutting across narrow party lines speaks volumes for his charismatic personality.

    Jyoti Basu died at the ripe age of 94 after suffering from brief illness. A shining chapter of Indian politics has closed with his death. He joined India’s democratic electoral politics by entering the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in the year 1957 and continued to return to the house in successive election. In 1977, he became the chief minister of the CPI-M led Left Front government and led the state for the next 23 years. He remains the longest serving chief minister of any state or any party in India. During his long years in office, Jyoti Basu introduced many progressive and people friendly policies, plans and programmes. The programme of land distribution to share-croppers was no less than revolutionary and for that he and his government got universal acclamation.

    Com. Basu could have become the first communist prime minister of India in 1996 when no party was able to get a simple majority in the general elections and as one of the most respected and acceptable leaders, he was approached to take this coveted position. But in the true spirit of a people’s politician, he left it to his party to take a decision and abided by it when the CPIM decided against the offer. Such was his strength of character. The renowned historian Arnold Toynbee once said in some other context that politics in order to redeem itself needs leaders with exceptional qualities. Com. Jyoti Basu was one such leader.

    AAPSO pays its homage to the departed soul, offers condolences to the bereaved family and to left parties of India for this irreparable loss.

    Ahmed Hamrouch Nouri Abdul Razzak Hussain
    President Secretary-General

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  3. Pingback: Indian politicians condone rape | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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