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Women, Equality and the Republic: HER STORY of Gujarat


Dr. Vibhuti Patel

Director, PGSR
Professor and Head, Post Graduate Department of Economics
SNDT Women’s University, 1 Nathibai Thakersey Road, Churchgate, Mumbai-
400020 Mobile-9321040048 Tel-26770227 ( R) & 22052970 (O) Email-


The current research aims to trace and identify any persisting trends or patterns thrown up
in the last five decades. Construction of gender-relations in glorious HER-story of
Gujarat through archival reference on the critical aspect of governance is a crucial task.
To analyse and discuss concepts, initiatives, experiments and materials developed within
the region is very important for future designing of strategies, policies and training
activities. There are lots of faces of strong, determined and fearless women who played
an inspiring role to promote women’s agency-development thro’ education, employment,
skill building, rebuilding of broken/torn lives. This study brings out positive energies of
women in the social reform, national liberation and the new women’s rights movement. It
shows how they dealt with patriarchy on the strength of courage of conviction, even
without women’s movement i.e. prior to 1970. There were women like Dr Hansaben
Mehta, Dr. Madhuriben Shah, Pushpaben Mehta and Charumatiben Yoddha who did not
say, “The system is difficult for me.” Through these women, the attempt is made to go
towards issues.

The new women’s rights movement of India that has consolidated and furthered the
lessons learned from the 19th century social reform movement, independence and post
movements of the 20th century and the feminist movements in the last 3 decades (1975-
2005). Here, we are trying to make a humble effort to provide our understanding of the
noteworthy aspects of the transformatory processes in the Indian women’s lives during
the last two centuries.

In the 19th century, the male social reformers with the blessing of the British
administrators, influenced by western liberal democratic values initiated the process of
fight against female infanticide, widow-burning, segregation of women from the public
life, prostitution and begging by the destitute women. They also organised public
functions for widow-remarriages. As a result, their relatives, neighbours, community
leaders and the organised religion boycotted them. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise
because their isolation from petty politics gave them ample time and resources to interact
with the power-structures to bring about legal reforms and establish educational
institutions, shelter homes, training centers for women from where the first generation of
teachers, nurses, skilled workers came out. Enormous amount of literature of that time,

produced by the Indian social reformers in Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil,
and Bengali bears witness to their path-breaking efforts.

During the early 20th century, the first generation of English educated empowered women
became pioneers of the women's movement in the pre-independence period. Most of
them channelised their energies in building poineer women's organisations such as All
India Women's Conference (AIWC), Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) and
Anjuman-e- Islam. They fought against child marriage, mobilised public opinion in
favour of voting rights for women, imparted basic skills (such as tailoring, embroidery,
cookery, hair-style, childcare, folk and classical music and dance, letter-writing etc) to
women to become efficient home -makers.

Non-violent means of protest actions under the leadership of Gandhiji ensured massive
participation of women in the national liberation movement. Women gave up purdah,
participated in public functions, rallies, demonstrations and experienced prison-life.
Families, which allowed women to take political risks, emerged as powerful politicians.

In the post-independence period, some of the highly educated women joined educational
institutions, diplomatic crew, public service boards, public and private sector industries.
The rest became enlightened home-makers with a strong commitment for their daughters'

Women's Liberation Movement of the Seventies

Genesis of the new women's liberation movement lay in the radicalization of Indian
politics in the late sixties. Rebellious mood of the youth, poor peasants, marginal
farmers, educated dalit and tribal men and women, industrial working classes found its
expression in the formation of innumerable special interest groups addressing themselves
to the needs and demands of the local masses. Macro political processes were also
finding major shifts in their rhetoric as the protest movements of the subaltern masses
had taken militant paths guided by different political ideologies. The official communist
parties faced major political challenge in the form of the Naxalbari movememt in Kerala,
West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab. Middle class mass upheaval in Gujarat
(popularly known as Navnirman movement) against corruption, price rise,
unemployment, speculation, hoarding and black-marketing in 1974 was replicated in
Bihar in the name of Sampoorna Kranti Movement under the leadership of a Gandhian
leader, Jay Prakash Narayan. Unprecedented strike of the railway workers gave a proof
of the political power of collective strength of the working class. Tribal people's
struggles against destructive development which served the interests of the kulaks,
moneylenders, contractors, bootleggers and indigenous industrialists thriving on the
barbaric means of surplus extraction developed in Chhatisgarh, Singhbhoom, Bhojpur,
Srikatulam, Chandrapur, Dhulia and in the pockets of the North Eastern states. In
response to the 1974 drought paralysing normal agricultural activities, the tribal masses
in Dhule region of Maharashtra demanded Employment Guarantee Scheme. This historic
demand has revolutionised the thinking of the development workers about responsibility
of the state at the time of economic crisis.

In the Himalayan valleys, under the leadership of Gandhian community workers the
struggle against arbitrary felling of the trees which led to deforestation and massive
scarcity of fuel, fodder, water and seasonal fruits, landslides devastating villages after
villages began. Women evolved creative method to protect the trees from the axes of
contractors' henchmen. This movement was popularly known as Chipko because women
hugged the trees when their adversaries made ferocious efforts at felling the trees. In
Maharashtra, women activists and women intellectuals involved in progressive
movements took initiative in forming a united front called Anti-price rise Women's
Committee and organised direct action against the culprits who created man-made
scarcity of essential goods. Thousands of poor and lower middle class women joined the
struggle under the leadership of seasoned and able women from the left and socialist
background. Mrinal Gore, Ahalya Ranganekar, Manju Gandhi and Tara Reddy made
their special mark in the eyes of the masses as a result of their unique ability to reach out
to the women of different class backgrounds. Their intellectual self-sufficiency, ability to
relate micro issues to macro political reality, simple lifestyle and non-bossy nature
provided role models to the younger generation of women's liberation activists of all
political hues. Around the same time a conference of Women's Liberation Movement
Coordination Committee was organised in Pune. This had even larger socio-political and
cultural base as right from young educated women, professionals, writers, teachers,
industrial working class women, unorganised sector women workers, temple prostitutes
and tribal women participated in the deliberations and highlighted their demands. Stree
Mukti Sangathana in Bombay and Progressive Organisation of Women in Hyderabad
were formed in 1974. In Delhi, new leadership among women evolved from the radical
students' movement and the democratic rights movement. Individual women in different
political groupings all over India were feeling discontented about patriarchal biases in
their organisations but they came out openly against it only after the emergency rule got
over. These were independent, self-determining and democratic movements, which
questioned all hierarchical structures. In India, young people of that period had not
participated in the dreams of the nationalist movement. Faced with multiple crises:
economic, social and political, along with corruption, drought, inflation, unemployment,
pauperization of the rural poor - the disenchanted youth responded with protest.
Widespread, open discontent was expressed in action and consolidation of the action
developed into powerful organisations throughout the country. These movements raised a
number of diverse issues-land-rights, wages, employment, security at work-place, water
availability, destruction of nature, oppression and exploitation of the Dalits (the
untouchables) and the working masses. Many women participated in these struggles with
enthusiasm, responsibility and creativity.

The UN Declaration of 1975 as an International Women's Year coincided with the

Emergency Rule in India. By the time the Emergency was lifted in 1977, several
women's groups had developed around democratic rights issues. The press swung into
"action" after the imposed silence of nearly two years. Atrocities committed against
women during the Emergency were openly documented and reported in the press. These
atrocities struck a chord in most women's own experience of life in the family, in the
streets, in the workplace and in political groups. The culmination of this process was
reached in 1980 when many women's groups took to the street to protest. During the

1980s, the issue of women's oppression was depicted not only in discussion forums,
seminars and `serious' articles but also in the popular media. Women, who had on their
own identified the sources of their problems and indignity, began to acquire a language,
an organisational platform, a collective identity and legitimacy they did not have earlier.

The Status of Women's Committee appointed by GOI released a voluminous report in

1974. This report called Towards Equality was prepared by the scholars with an
interdisciplinary perspective and was presented in the Parliament of India, where it
received a tremendous response from the decision-making bodies, the state apparatus and
the print media. Shocking description of Indian women's reality, which manifested in
declining sex ratio, very high rate of female mortality and morbidity, marginalisation of
women in the economy and discriminatory personal laws were some of the major
highlights of the report. But the report failed to throw any light on violence against
women in the civil society and by the custodians of law and order. Major achievement of
the report lay in the policy decision taken by the principal research body like the Indian
Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) i.e. to provide financial support to scholars
committed to the women's cause, to conduct research into problems faced by women in
poverty groups.

Between 1977 and 1979 new women's groups emerged in the cities like Delhi, Banglore,
Hyderabad, Bombay, Ahmedabad, Patna, and Madras. They organised protest actions
against dowry murders, beauty contests, sexist portrayal of women in media,
pornographic films and literature imported from abroad, introduction of virginity tests by
the U.K. immigration authorities, custodial rape and pitiable condition of women in
prison. These groups were multicultural in their composition and worldview. As a result,
their political agenda reflected the contemporaneous handling of the complex reality of
women constructed by interplay of class, caste, religion, ethnicity and globalisation.

Methods of Functioning of the NEW Women's Groups:

Most of the women who took initiative in formation of the new women's groups were
extremely averse to authoritarian structures within the family, educational and religious
institutions and society at large as all of them did not allow women critical thinking and a
space to grow as independent, cerebral and politically conscious human beings. Hence
they were very clear in their approach that they would encourage each and every member
of the group to articulate her thoughts and establish intimate working relationship based
on the collective decision-making processes. Initially this method proved very effective
in creating new cadre of women who were intellectually enlightened, politically
articulate, well informed and supportive to each other within their small groups as there
were no male political bosses to curb their initiative and make them rot only in routine
activities of fund-raising, translating, typing, posting, cleaning and cooking for the
members of their political groups. Such groups in Madras, Banglore, Hyderabad,
Bombay, Pune and Delhi brought out documents, position papers, manifestoes, pamphlets
and reproduced whole lot of documents of the women's liberation movements in the other
countries containing debates which had direct bearing on our situation. They had
tremendous urge to reach out to more and more like-minded women. Their meetings were

throbbing with new ideas, powerful polemics on epistemological issues, at the same time
they reflected deep concern for immediate problems of women. As they believed that
women's issues needed to be taken up on a day-to-day basis and patriarchal power needed
to be challenged in both 'personal' and 'political' spheres of life. They simultaneously
started support work to individual women, solidarity work for the mass movements and
united front work on an issue to issue basis. But, at the same time' maintaining their own
political autonomy and organisational identity. These groups kept in touch with each
other by circulating their leaflets in English and regional languages, mimeographed
documents and letters. They functioned purely on an informal basis and organised
meetings in the homes of one of the members or sympathizers. Between 1977and 1980,
only in Maharashtra, a new culture of exclusively women's workshops, women's
conferences and women's gatherings, in which women of politically diverse views were
invited, was found. As these gatherings were multi-class and multi-caste (within the
matrix of Brahminical Hinduism), women pursuing different occupations- right from
agricultural labourers, beedi workers, industrial working class women, students, teachers,
journalists, writers, researchers, white collar employees shared their experiences and put
forward their demands.

Proliferation of the Autonomous Women's groups: - Nationwide anti-rape campaign

in 1980 resulted into emergence and proliferation of the autonomous women's
organisations in several cities and towns of India. These groups managed to get
tremendous publicity in the print as well as the audio-visual media because at that time
'violence against women' was the most sensational and the newest issue. Family
members, especially fathers and brothers of the women victims of violence flooded the
women's groups. Later on, the women victims started approaching these groups on their
own. While doing agitational and propaganda work against series of rape cases in
custodial situation, domestic violence and dowry harassment, these groups realised that to
work on a sustained basis and to take care of the rehabilitative aspects of violence against
women, it was important to evolve institutional structures for support to the women
victims of violence based on feminist principles of solidarity (mutual counseling) and
sisterhood. Criminal legal system in India made it inevitable for these groups to establish
rapport with the police for an immediate redressal to the women victims of violence.
Condition of women in the remand homes and the Nari Niketans were so repugnant and
barbaric that they could not be trusted for women's rehabilitation. In fact, many women
who suffered at their hands approached the new women's groups. The women activists
had to deal with the attitude of victim-baiting and double standards of sexual morality,
sexist remarks, and sick humour from the staff of the police, the legal apparatus and the
public hospitals. At each and every step, they encountered class, caste and communal
biases. These resulted into confrontation between the women's groups and the established
institutions. But in course of time, they realised that it was necessary to suggest concrete
alternatives in terms of legal reforms, method of interventions and the staff-training for
attitudinal changes. For public education, literature written in convincing style was a
must. Audio-visual material for reaching out to more and more people was necessary.
Professional bodies and educational institutions were approaching these groups for
understanding the women's question. In these context SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
focusing on agit-prop, media-monitoring, resource material for consciousness raising,

creation of cultural alternatives, publications, research and documentation, bookstalls,
legal aid work came into existence during the eighties and got consolidated in the 1990s.
These groups played complementary roles in each other's development, though the
process was not so smooth.

Issues Taken up by the New Women's Groups: - The movement got momentum with
the campaign against the Supreme Court of India's judgement against Mathura, a teenage
tribal girl who was gang-raped by the policemen at the dead of night, in the police station
in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra in 1972. After 8 years of legal battle in the
Session's Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court by her sympathetic lawyer Ad.
Vasudha Dhagamwar, Mathura lost everything - her status, her self-esteem and her
credibility, the Court declared that Mathura was not raped by the men in uniform but
Mathura being a woman of ‘an easy virtue' gave a willful consent for sexual intercourse.
Vasudha and her three colleagues in the legal profession wrote an open letter challenging
the Supreme Court's verdict in an extremely poignant and logically convincing style. This
letter was widely publicized in the print media. Two major points concerning this issue
were: Reopening of the Mathura Rape Case and amendments in the Rape Laws that put
burden of proof on women and had a narrow definition of rape. Around these demands,
the women's groups were formed. They collected signatures on their petitions, conducted
study-circles where experienced lawyers spoke, organised rallies, sit-ins, demonstrations
in front of the offices of the concerned authorities, prepared poster exhibitions, plays,
skits, songs, slogans against violence against women, wrote letters to the editors of
different news-papers, wrote articles in newspapers and magazines for the first time on
women's problems.

Initially they concentrated on the women- specific issues such as wife-battery and dowry-
murders, rape and eve-teasing, pornographic films, plays and literature on harassment of
women at the work place. Militant actions, social boycott, gherao of tormentors, raiding
of the matrimonial homes for retrieval of dowry had to be resorted to because of
antipathy/lethargy of the state apparatus. From these experiences of direct action the
activists of the women's groups got to know the power relations operating within modern
families (working class, middle class and upper class), different religious communities
and various caste organisations.

While providing support to women facing problems concerning marriage, divorce,

maintenance, alimony, property rights, custody of child/children and guardianship rights,
the activists realised that the existing personal laws and most of the customary laws were
discriminating against women. Hindu daughters were deprived of coparcenary rights in
parental property as per the codes of Mitakshara. Christian women could not get divorce
on the ground of husband's adultery; it had to be coupled with cruelty, bestiality and
sodomy. While Christian husbands could just declare their wives as adulteresses and
divorce them. These antiquated laws were enacted in the colonial period to serve the
interests of the British bureaucrats who had their legally wedded wives in England and
were cohabiting with the Indian (in their language 'native') women. Parsee daughters who
married non-Parsee men lost their property rights and non-Parsee wives of Parsee
husbands got only half the shares in husband's property as per the Parsee Personal Law.

Shariat Law subjugated Muslim women by imposing purdah, allowing polygamy and
unilateral divorce by men to his wife/wives and by depriving divorced Muslim women of
maintenance rights. Underlying philosophy of all these personal laws was that: women
are not equal to men. They are governed by the patriarchal ideology. Irrespective of their
religious backgrounds, these personal laws perpetuate patrilineage, patrilocality, double
standard of sexual morality for men and women and perceive women as dependent on
men. Individual women from different communities have challenged the constitutional
validity of discriminatory aspects of the personal laws in the Supreme Court of India.
Increasing number of educated working women and housewives from all religious
backgrounds have been approaching secular women's organisations. Main problems faced
by them from their natal families have been forcible marriage, murderous attacks in cases
of inter-caste, inter-class and inter-religious marriages, property disputes, incest and from
their husbands and in-laws have been adultery, bigamy, polygamy, divorce, custody of
child/children, property, incest etc. As the issue of personal laws is intertwined with the
religious identities, the secular women's movement had to face tremendous hostility from
the elities of the different communities, mass organisations, patriarchal secular lobby and
the parliamentary parties cashing on block-votes. Individual women (divorced, deserted,
single and married under duress) are questioning discrimination in the customary laws.
Tribal women in Maharashtra and Bihar have filed petitions demanding land rights in the
Supreme Court of India. Several women's groups (Saheli, Delhi, Vimochana, Banglore
and Forum against Oppression of Women, Mumbai) and human rights lawyers’ team
(The Lawyers Collective, Mumbai and Indian Social Institute, Delhi) have prepared
drafts containing technical detail of gender just and secular family laws. Human Rights
Law Network, YUVA and College of Social Work, Mumbai have prepared domestic
workers' bill to regularise terms and conditions concerning work condition and wages of
the domestic workers who happen to be women from the depressed classes. Olakh
Vadodara is a copetitioner in the Public Interest Litigation in case of sexual
harassment of woman student of M.S. University, Vadodara. Deepalaya, Justice and
Peace Commission of St. Pius College has published a manual focusing on practical and
operational aspects of legal battles, law and order machinery and community's initiatives
such as people's courts, out of court settlement in presence of an impartial individual or a

When it comes to reproductive rights of women, most of the efforts of the women's
groups in India have been directed against excesses committed in the name of family
planning programmes. Now, Indian Council of Medical Research, All India Institute of
Medical Sciences and Institute of Research in Reproduction (IRR) have shown readiness
to discuss scientific, medicolegal and operational dimensions of bio-medical researches
conducted on human subjects. UNFPA and WHO have drawn guidelines about
population policies that its focus shifts from targeting women for population control to
women's reproductive rights. Ethical guidelines for bio-medical research are drawn. Still
in the interior parts of India, poor women have been the main targets of the abusive
sterilization operations and unsafe injectable and oral contraceptives. Recent researches
on adolescent girls and abortion have highlighted the problem of teenage pregnancies,
trafficking of young girls for sex trades and complicity of the criminal justice system.
Campaign against sex determination resulted into central legislation banning

amniocentesis, chrion-villai-biopsy and sex pre-selection techniques for femicide. But,
much is needed to be done to make the legislation effective in the real life. CEHAT and
the Lawyers Collective have jointly supported a petition (Public interest Litigation in the
Supreme Court of India) filed by Dr. Sabu George for effective implementation of the

Women's Movement and the Development Agenda:

During 1970s and 1980s, the women's movement highlighted marginalisation of women
from the economy. The efforts of women activists were directed in agitation and
propaganda for women's rights, street-fighting against escalating violence against
assertive women and team-building to counter sexual harassment at work-place. In the
1990, the women's movement is demanding its legitimate place within the mainstream
with its own agenda of empowerment of women with partnership with men. It has been
able to identify its allies in all sections of society. Its horizontal and vertical networking
has created congenial atmosphere to execute development agenda with the help of
effective use of information technology, communication channels, modern managerial
practices, efficient law and order machinery. The most difficult areas have been
providing educational opportunities for the poverty groups, low -cost housing,
environmental and occupational safety and human rights concerns. Development thinkers
and workers need safety-nets to operate without pressure from the local bullies and
vested interests. Dadas of each and every community are increasingly taking advantage
of development workers/ teachers/academicians because they are non-hierarchical in their
functioning and also because they are not commercial minded in their day-to-day affairs.
When individual women activists sense threat/pressure in advance, they do change their
accommodation and jobs. This is another form of sati. The state, political parties and
beneficiaries of women's groups too have duty to ensure democratic and multicultural
atmosphere within which the women activists can take judicious and gender-just
decisions about allocation of developmental resources and development funding for
construction of schools, community centres, sports-clubs, libraries and reading rooms,
low cost hospitals and low cost housing for the poverty groups leading settled life.

Women's Movement and Peace Initiatives the most important contribution of the
women's movement has been its commitment for peace-initiatives in the disturbed areas
torn by communal conflicts, ethnic tensions and mob violence. Its work in the refugee
camps has been acknowledged by the state. Media publicity on this issue is extremely
important so that such work can be replicated in the places where such groups don't exist.
Olakh has been at the forefront of efforts regarding communal harmony and peace
initiatives; detailed report of the same you will find in this booklet. Olakh has derived
great courage, inspiration, resilience and moral strength from this collective journey and
institutional memories of women’s groups working in the women’s movement in India.

Chapter I: Women in the Social Reform Movement (1850-1900)

Social reform movement of Gujarat ensured controlled freedom to women of the upper
caste whose men were influenced by liberal western ideas about women’s education and
were opposed to female infanticide, child marriage and torture of widows, superstition
and social evils of sale of girls and dowry (Desai, 1957). Many brave women, who
challenged patriarchal control in their personal lives, also played pivotal role in their
public lives.

Pioneering Work of Harkor (1820-1876):

Harkor was married to Hathisingh, a wealthy man at the age of 12 in 1832. She became a
childless widow at the age of 26. She chose to stay alone in a huge bungalow. She was
extremely creative and independent minded. She socialized with male poets, writers,
historians who were active in the social reform movements. She was a founder member
of Gujarat Vernacular Society, epicenter of the 19th century social reform movement of
Gujarat. She used her wealth to build and run the shelter homes for widows, schools,
teachers training institutions and other philanthropic activities (Mehta, 1995). Her
contemporary British feminist, Mary Carpenter expressed Hankor’s efforts in these
words: “I was highly impressed to see that some eighty girls between the ages of 6 to 11,
were studying in Harkorbai’s school. There were also widows who had come for training
to teach in the school. I was pleased to see that the girls and widows were anxious to gain
their livelihood in this manner.” Carpenter, 1867: 52).

Rakmabai (1864-1955)-When she was 19 years old, Rakmabai had heroically

challenged her child marriage at the age of 11 to Dadaji Thakur. She was responsible for
famous ‘age of consent’ debate throughout India and England during the last decade of
the 19th century. Her two letters published in 1885 in the name of ‘A Hindu Woman’ in
the Times of India narrated miserable conditions of Indian women. Undaunted by the
court suits, she wrote letters in the Mumbai press then and even took her cause to such
greats as Pandita Ramabai and had said in one of her letters that ``I would rather go to
jail than live with a person I had been married to without my consent''.
Dr. Rakmabai was a pioneer of hospital for women and children in Surat on the eve of
twentieth century. She had completed her M.B. B. S. from London School of Medicine
for women in 1890. She was very active in varied activities for women’s development.
When Surat was struck with epidemic of Plague in 1896 and drought in 1897, all those
who could leave, left the city out of fear, but she tirelessly worked for her patients. The
government awarded her with title ‘Kesar-e-Hind’. In 1918, she joined the government
hospital in Rajkot as the Chief doctor of Saurashtra. There too, she brought massive
changes in the lives of women and started activities of Red Cross Society. (Varde, 9
Male social reformers were benevolent patriarchs who wanted to uplift women from the
wretchedness, none of them talked about equality between men and women. Their
Humanitarian concern was reflected in persuading women to put on footwear while
walking long distance from home to the well or farms. First widow remarriage in Gujarat
took place in 1874.The first women’s Journal in Gujarati ‘Stree Bodh’ was published by
a Parsee gentleman in 1857 (Dholakiya, 2003). Fight Against child marriage, miserable
conditions of widows and Purchase of Brides Kanyavikray were major concerns of the
social reformers (Patel, 2005:121). The social reformers had to face massive backlash
from the conservative sections of society (Chandra, 1987). In Gujarat, the main
protagonists of the social reform movement were Gujarati and British men influenced by
western liberalism (Forbes, 1813).

Efforts at Girls’ Education

Series of schools for girls were established in Gujarat by Vernacular Society and Ladies
Club in 1888. By the last quarter of the 19th century, women’s education became a status
symbol for the upper class. Educated and enlightened king of the Baroda State, Maharaja
Sayajirao was influenced by social reformers. He outlawed child marriage, bride price,
ostentatious marriages & young girls' marriage with an old man. He made aggressive
efforts to enroll girls in the schools established by the state under his supervision. He
encouraged women to join the residential M.S. University.

In 1903, Vidyagauri Nilkanth and Shardaben Mehta were declared to be the first women
graduates of Gujarat. (Desai and Thakker, 2003: II-37).

Vidya Gauri Nilkanth (1876-1958)

Born in social reformer family in 1876, Vidya Gauri was named after legendary figure
of the 19th century Indian social reform movement, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar who
fought against Satee (widow burning). She and her sister, Shardaben Mehta started
tailoring classes for poor muslim women. During the first world war period, she
instituted “War Relief Fund’, for which they were conferred on Member of British
Empire in 1919. During 1926, she was awarded “Star of India” title for her social
work. But, in 1931 Satyagrah, when Gandhiji was arrested, she returned the awards to
the British State as a symbol of her protest. She was also associated with secular body
called Ladies Club (which was founded in 1888) in which women from all religious
groups were given membership. She was the first secretary of Gujarat Education
Association. (Dholakiya, 1991).

Shardaben (1882-1970)

Sharadaben and Vidya Gauri, both sisters were the first Gujarati women to get graduate
“……after passing matriculation, I had to join the college as my elder sister, Vidyagauri
had opened the road for higher education for me. Still, our society could not digest my
joining a college. Vidyagauri was married when she joined the college. Mahipatrai’s
family (her in-laws) was supposed to be highly reformed…..Vidyaben was in B.A. and I
was in previous class. My brother was in my class so I was happy. There were only two
women in the class-myself and one Parsee lady….Our bench was kept separately from
those of boys. After professor, we would enter the class. We kept our eyes glued to the
books or professor, or else we kept on writing. We never looked anywhere else. Some
names were heard, but we would not know who’s who…….
After graduation, many of those who said that they studied with us; but we could not
recognise them. We could hardly get 1% benefits of college life. We could only gain
knowledge, but could not interact with professors or students. As soon as the professor
left, we both also had to leave and spend time in a separate room earmarked for women. In
spite of such restrictions, people would criticize us. We received anonymous letters. Boys
would push our chairs down. All sorts Graffiti were written on our desks……”
From her autobiography ‘Jeevan Sambharana’ (Memoirs of life, 1977).

Profiles of institutions for women that came up during the last quarter of the 19th century
and the first quarter of 20th century such as Gujarat Hindu Stree Mandal, Bhagini Samaj,
Vanita Vishram and Chimanabi Stree Mandal signify their crucial contribution towards
women’s education and vocational training. Many educated women from upper class and
upper caste were the backbones of these women’s institutions active in Surat, Vadodara
and Ahmedabad. Jeevkorben and Sulochanaben Desai gave best years of their lives and
financial resources to development of Vaneeta Vishram. They also gave equal importance
to reaching out to larger communities to change the traditional mindset with the help of
Gujarati Newsletters such as Bhagini Samaj Patrika, Sunderi Subodh, Stree Bodh, Stree
Jeevan, Gun Sundari, Stree Shakti (Dholakiya, 2003).

Path-breaking contribution of Gangasati:

Social reformers of Gujarat did not fight for women’s right to property. Only individual
women spoke or wrote about women’s right to inherit property. Gangasati, a widow in
her late forties, went to the extent of writing her own will. (Mehta, 1995). It is in Gujarati
and here is its English translation by me:

Gangaben’s Will

Document No. 16/1916-17, dated 26th June, 1916 (Available at: Office of District
Registrar, Rajmahal Compound, Mehsana).

“I, a woman, Gangabai, widow of late Jani Surajram Jeevatram, am around 50 years old
and a resident of Mansa. I cancel my earlier will with registration number 42 that was
made on samvat 1954 Shravan Sud 13 and (as per English Calender- my addition) in the
year 1898. When common ancestral property was divided between my husband and his
brothers, I had received ornaments worth Rs. 75/- and cash of Rs. 100/-.In lieu of cash, I
was not given anything else except small room and three acres of land. My husband’s
salary was limited still I had saved some cash by spending money economically and
whatever cash we had had to be spent to repay the debt. During my widowhood, I did not
get any financial support for my subsistence from my father-in-law. Hence, I took up job
in the school department and it is still continued. Along with this, I started business of
book publication and took agency of Oriental Insurance Co. In this, I made some money.
From this, I used large part of the same for philanthropic activities and to become life
member of Gujarat Vernacular Society and Audich Samaj. I might have spent around Rs.
4000/-. ……
Whatever property I own is self earned. Hence only I have right to manage it. My earlier
will, Register no. 42 is cancelled. I have not incurred any debt. But rent of my house
should be paid from my property. I have prepared this will in a happy state of mind, in
the state of good health and mental alertness, in a village Mansa. It is with my consent. I
accept this will.
In Mansa, Date 17th Month June, Year 1972, Jyeshtah Vadi 2, Day-Saturday.
Signed by
Gangabai Jani Witness
Widow of Soorajram Jeevatram Shah Sakarchand Lallubahi
Has paid Rs. %/- for registration of this will Prepared by Shukla Maniram
As told by
Widow of Soorajram Jeevatram, Gangaba

(For a copy of Gangasati’s Will in Gujarati, I am grateful to Prof. Makrand Mehta.)

Unlike in Maharashtra and Tamilnadu, the social reform movement in Gujarat revolved
around an elite-centered discourse, did not percolate down to the weaker sections of
society. In 1921, only 1.2 % of women in Gujarat were educated in spite of the above
mentioned painstaking efforts of the social reformers as well as the British state.

Chapter II: Women in the National Liberation Movement (1900-1947)

From the beginning of the 20th century, Gujarati women’s involvement in the freedom
struggle became noteworthy. Non-violent struggle by Gandhiji attracted large number of
women. This is a humble effort at gender aware reconstruction of unfolding of freedom
struggle thro' Profiles of 'movers and shakers' in the Gandhi Era.

Kasturba Gandhi (1869-1944)

Kasturba was married off to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi at the age of 13. During
his youth, her husband tried to dominate her but she always asserted her rights. She
asked, “Why should I take your permission to visit temple or my parents?” Gandhiji
could never make her give in by getting angry with her. She would stop eating till
the issue was resolved. From Kasturba’s firm opposition, Gandhiji was inspired to
evolve a method of ‘Satyagraha’ for peaceful resistance.
When Gandhiji established Ashram and adopted voluntary poverty and made several
experiments, she stood by him. After, returning to India from South Africa, in
Kocharab and Sabarmati Ashram, she became ‘mother’ of all inmates. She did her
work with utmost spontaneity. Her sentences were small but hard hitting. She made
unique contribution in transforming ‘Mohandas’ into ‘Mahatma Gandhi’. (Nayar &
Mankekar, 2005)

Tactics of satyagraha appealed to women’s heart. At the time of salt satyagraha, women
volunteers of All India Women’s Conference and Parsee Women’s Circle played heroic
role. Even young girls took active part in the freedom struggle. Women from
economically well-off background were motivated to work for the poor by Gandhiji.

Anasuyaben Sarabhai (1885-1972)

Anasuyaben lost her parents during her early childhood and was raised by her uncle.
Her child marriage had made her life unbearable as she had to discontinue her
school education. She left her husband’s home for good and came back to her
uncle’s place and restarted her education. She wanted to become a Sadhvi (Hindu
nun) but Dr. Arulekar persuaded her to become a doctor and serve the society. She
went to England for her medical education but she found dissection off-putting. She
gave up studies in medicine and pursued a degree in social work.
In England, she came in touch with feminists who were fighting for universal
suffrage. She also started supporting voting rights for women. After returning back
to India, she started working among mill workers. She ensured education for
workers’ children, credit facilities, cooperatives and hospitals for workers’ welfare.
When, the epidemic of plague struck Ahmedabad, the migrant workers started
leaving the city; the employers lured them with higher wages. The natives of
Ahmedabad were not offered wage rise. The local workers approached Anasuyaben
for her suggestion to fight against this injustice. Anasuyaben recommended that they
should wage non-violent struggle based on Gandhian principles. They gave notice to
mill owners that if the local workers did not get pay-rise within 48 hours, they
would go on strike. In this strike, Anasuyaben was with the workers and her brother,
Ambalalbhai Sarabhai was leading the mill owners. Finally, with Gandhiji’s
intervention, the pay rise was declared by the mill-owners. From theses experiences,
seeds of ‘Majoor Mahajan’ were sown. (Dholakiya, 1991)

In South Gujarat, Under Gandhiji’s leadership, many women took up social causes such
as fight against alcoholism and other social evils. Later on they played important role in
the salt satyagraha and land struggles. Kumudben was a high caste widow who remarried
a Gandhian freedom fighter, Inshwarlal Desai in 1931. (Desai, 1997: 23)She played
heroic role in freedom struggle by mobilizing large number of women in the rural and
tribal areas of South Gujarat.

Mithuben Petit (1892-1973)

Mithuben belonged to a wealthy Parsee Family. She gave up her luxurious life, stayed
away from her family, took part in Salt March in 1930. She spent rest of her life for
various causes of the oppressed sections of society. She prepared women to picket
against the alcohol dens and enhanced women’s confidence. She was a founder of
Kasturba Sevashram in Maroli. She focused on the education of children of the fisher
folks, tribals and other exploited sections.
(From Sahiyar, 2006).

So far these women in Gandhian struggles supported their male leaders, they were
appreciated. But when they raised the issues of abolition of child marriages and
demanded property rights for women, majority of their male colleagues were enraged.
After lot of struggle, they accepted voting right for women but only with a condition that
they dropped ‘right to women’s share in property’ from their charter of demands (Mehta,

In 1938, National Planning Committee (NPC) was formed. One of the subcommittees of
the NPC was constituted to decide the role of women in the planned economy (Desai,
1957:230-1). Mrudulaben Sarabhai, Kapilaben Khandwala and Hansaben Mehta were
also selected to be members of this committee. They traveled through out the country to
examine the filed situation and gave revolutionary recommendations (Report, 1947). The

Report of the subcommittee of the NPC was published in 1948.It covered all important
areas affecting women-civil rights, economic rights, property rights, education, marriage
and its problems, family life. Based on this report, 30 extremely progressive resolutions
were passed. They are relevant in today’s context also (IAWS, 1995: 86-92).

Kapilaben wrote an exhaustive ‘Note of Dissent’ that shows her radical and feminist
thinking on women’s issues. She emphasized recognition of women as individuals
irrespective of any association or family ties, integration of women’s demands in the
labour laws and affirmative action by the state, right to represent and the right to hold any
Public and private office and property rights for women. She also demanded counting
the cost of women’s domestic work. Her most sensitive and revolutionary contribution
was on prostitution. She stated, “….causes which brought about prostitution originally
are eliminated; and that while the system is in a state of transition every possible source
of danger and disgrace or disability to the prostitute is guaranteed against.” (IAWS,
1995:104). Kapilaben was the I Commissioner of Education of Bombay Municipal
*Dr. Hansa Mehta (1897-1995)
Dadabahi Navrojaji’s three daughters, Goshiben, Perinben and Khurshidben and Maniben
Nanavati’s important contribution towards ‘Quit India’ movement have been praised by
legendary freedom fighter, Dr. Usha Mehta. (1998).

Hansaben grew up and got her education in Vadodara. She got her Bachelor’s degree
from M.S. University, Baroda. She was the third woman graduate of Gujarat, earlier
two being, Vidyagauri and Shardaben. For post graduate studies she went to London,
where she became close friend of Sarojini Naidu and their friendship lasted lifelong.
This friendship gave Hansaben an exposure to the women’s movement. They both
attended women’s conference in Geneva. In 1924, she had an inter-caste marriage
with Dr. Jivraj Mehta. Both of them faced social boycott. After that both joined the
national liberation movement and led a huge rally in Mumbai.
She worked closely with All India women’s Conference (AIWC). As a president of
AIWC she prepared Manifesto of Women's Rights in 1945. She was a member of
Constituent Assembly. She fought valiantly to incorporate women’s rights in the
constitution of free India. In 1948, she represented India in the UN and was chosen as
a member of drafting committee of United Nations Manifesto of Human Rights. She
was the 1st woman to become a VC of co-education university i.e. her alma mater,
M.S. University, Vadodara, She was also the V.C. of India’s first Women’s
university, SNDT women’s University that enjoyed a national jurisdiction.
In the field of literature also, she made noteworthy contribution. She translated
Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ from English into Gujarati. She also translated French plays,
Sanskrit version of Valmiki Ramayan into Gujarati. Her articles in English are
available in the edited version called Indian Women. She also created children’s
literature. She worked as a member of executive board of UNESCO.
In 1959, she was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. 16
Voluntary Organisations of Women: In the beginning of the 20th Century, several
institutions for women’s welfare and education were established. By 1920s, several
branches of All India Women’s Conference were functioning in Gujarat. They played
crucial role in strengthening the national liberation struggle as well as the social reform

Pushpaben Mehta (1905-2005)

Pushpaben’s father was a forest officer and was posted at the places where there were no
schools. So she could not have formal schooling in her childhood. But her parents taught
her history, geography and social studies in the home. Her mother was courageous and
helpful. Women harassed by their in-laws often visited her. Sometimes, they refused to go
back to their in-laws homes. But her mother would persuade them to go back Young Pushpa
would ask her mother, “Why are you sending them back? Why can’t they stay in our
home?” Her mother would say, “I can not do it, but when you grow up, you do the same.”
This sentence had deep impression in her psyche and became a decisive factor in course of
actions and initiatives Pushpaben took in her adult life.
When she was 14 years old, hr marriage was arranged with Janardanrai Mehta. And her
conjugal life and formal education began. She became widow at the age of 25, from that
time she wore only black clothes.
In 1934, she joined as a teacher in school and came in contact with Mrudulaben. This
changed course of her life. She joined Jyotisangh.
She fought against kidnapping of women of indebted families by the money lenders. She
personally visited Pathan bullies and got kidnapped women freed. News of her courage,
made hundreds of women in distress, approach her for help. To provide shelter and
opportunities for development to them, in 1937, she establishment of Vikas Gruha in
Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Junagadh, Vadhwan and several small towns. During ‘Quit India’
movement Vikas Gruh became shelter home for underground freedom fighters. During
communal riots, Pushpaben was at the forefront of peace initiatives.
In the post independence period, She was a chairperson of Central Social Welfare Board
(CSWB) and started condensed courses for women thro CSWB. She constituted a
committee to investigate and prevent unnatural deaths among women. In 1960, she prepared
an essay in support of legalization of abortion but the conservative lobby did not allow her
to speak on the subject. (Dholakia, 1991)
To combat violence against women, Smt. Mridulaben Sarabhai established Jyoti Sangh in
1934. Slowly and gradually, she transferred its responsibilities to Smt. Charumathiben
Yoddha. “Yoddha” means warrior in Gujarati. As Charumatiben was extremely militant
in dealing with violent husbands and in-laws she was nicknamed “Yoddha”. She insisted
that women survivors of violence needed shelter and vocational training. Smt.
Mridulaben and Smt. Pushpaen Mehta made Herculean efforts to establish the first Vikas
Gruha (i.e. Home for development) for rescued women in 1937. Pushpaben also took
initiative in establishing 10 shelter homes for women in distress in Gujarat and Saurashtra
(Pathak, 2001:5-9). Annual reports 2002-03 of Vikas Vidyalaya in Vadhvan and Morabi
bear witness to her legacy of all round developmental activities for security, safety,
education, skill training and employment of women.

Women Freedom Fighters Supporting the Rural Poor: Taxation policy of the British
rule and commodification of land had imposed tremendous misery in the lives of poor
peasants and agricultural workers. Women volunteers such as Maniben Patel, Bhaktiba
Desai and Mithuben of the freedom movement from Central and South Gujarat took
active part in organizing the protest against the state.

Maniben Patel (1903-1990)

Maniben had inherited virtues of discipline and managerial skills from her father.
During 1923-24, when the British administration started grabbing farm land in Borsad
in response to inability of farmers to pay tax, Maniben mobilized thousands of rural
women to join the nationalist struggle.

In 1928, at the time of Bardoli satyagrah, she joined hands with women volunteers from
South Gujarat, Bhaktiba and Mithuben. They launched door-to-door campaign to
organize women to join satyagraha. On the farm land confiscated by the state due to
inability of farmers to pay tax, women were encouraged to construct huts so that they
could control their land. To defeat these women, the British administration had to call
massive police force.

In 1942, Maniben Patel was arrested. She assisted Sardar Patel throughout his life. After
independence, she became member of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. She was associated
with several educational institutions including Gujarat Vidyapeeth.
(Nayar & Mankekar, 2005)

Flame of Secular Humanism:

Gandhiji’s leadership and mentoring process encouraged secular ethos in the day-to-day
lives of his followers who fearlessly worked for communal harmony. The most

courageous women among them were Mrudulaben Sarabhai and Kamalaben Patel.

Mrudulaben Sarabhai (1911-1974)

Mrudulaben was born in the family of mill owners of Ahmedabad. When her sisters
left doe England for higher education, she joined Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Along with
studies she was working hard to create Monkey Army of boys and Cat-Army of girls
that would work for freedom movement.
She was a determined woman. In spite of opposition from Gandhiji, she joined Dandi
March. She had tremendous courage. She spearheaded anti alcohol struggle. At the
age of 19, at midnight she physically stopped horse-cart carrying alcohol. Not only
that, she mobilized women volunteers to destroy complete stock of alcohol.
She was strongly opposed to anyone treating women as subordinate. When she
became secretary of Youth wing of Congress, she managed to get a resolution passed
that there was no need for women to prefix their names with either ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’
Or ‘Gangaswarup’. Many Congress leaders had expressed their opposition against
her activities and views, but she stubbornly continued her mission. Women who came
out during struggles in 1930s, found it extremely difficult to remain ‘queen of the
kitchen’. Mrudulaben channelised their energy in developmental activities by
establishing secular women’s organization called ‘Jyoti Sangh’. When Sardar Patel
ordered that let the organization merge with Congress, Mrudulaben showed
determination for autonomy of Jyoti Sangh and mentored women leaders with
independent thinking.
Mrudulaben dedicated her life for communal harmony. During 1941 and 1946 in
Ahmedabad and 1946 in communal riots in Merath, she showed tremendous courage
of conviction to prevent bloodbath. In Merath, she climbed up the tree and addressed
the gathering of hostile groups of Jats and Pathans for 6 hours and pacified them.

Contribution of Tribal Women of South Gujarat in the Freedom Movement:

Tribal women from south Gujarat were involed in land struggle, anti-alcohol campaign
and freedom struggle. During 1928 struggles against payment of tax to the British
Empire, tribal women were brutally beaten by the police. During 1933, they were actively
organizing burning of imported clothes. Hundreds of them were arrested. Their parents
were harassed by police. Thousands of tribal women were mainstays of freedom

movement. Many of them emerged as institution builders and dedicated their lives for
constructive work in the field of education and Khadi and Village Industries corporation.

Darshanaben Kanjibhai (1919- )

Dashriben joined women's battalion of satyagrahis in 1919. She faced police brutality while
picketing in front of alcohol dens at the age of 15. She was arrested for setting foreign
clothes on fire. When she was produced in front of the judge, she was asked her name and
address. She gave false name and address as she did not want her parents to be harassed by
the state. She did not even reveal her age that was 15 years. As she wore saree, police
declared her as major. Judge told her that if she asked for pardon, he would release her but
she refused and was given jail term for 1 year, first in Sabarmati, Ahmedabad and later on in
Yarvada, Pune where she stayed with Sarojini Naidu and Kasturba. In Jail, Ba taught her
reading and writing in Gujarati.

Dashariben and Nirmalaben are full of memoirs of freedom movement. New women’s
groups find them extremely inspiring. Dashriben also attended the National Conference
of Women’s Movement in India held in October, 2006. Younger generation of feminists
of Gujarat find her extremely inspiring due to her simple lifestyle and absence of craving
for sectarian political power. She is rooted in her soil and has a persona of a Gandhian

Personal interview with Nirmalaben Desai in three sessions gave understanding of the
process where hundreds of ordinary Gujarati girls metamorphosed into articulate political
and social workers.

Nirmalaben Desai

“I was born in Mumbai in a wealthy family in 1912. I did not like to go to school and
till the age of 10, I was illiterate. At the age of 12, my engagement ceremony was
organized with man from my caste. He had faith in the British Rule while I believed in
the national independence. Against lot of opposition from the caste, I managed to
break my engagement and decided to remain single for the rest of my life. In this
period, I got to know about co0ndition of our country and Gandhiji. I lost interest in
expensive clothes, ornaments and material things in life. In 1931, I passed B.A. from
SNDT Women’s University. From Jyoti Sangh, I learnt cycling and typing. The man
with whom I broken my engagement continued pestering me to merry him. But I stuck
to my position and after meeting Mrudulaben Sarabhai, joined Jyoti Sangh where I
coordinated remedial learning programme for women who had passed 4th Std. We
taught them sewing, embroidery, typing, childcare, volunteer training, nursing. They
also enriched their education with lectures from visiting leaders such as Nehruji,
Sardar, Rajendrababu, Morarji Desai, Gandhiji etc. All of them were psychologically
prepared to join the freedom movement. During quit India struggle in 1942, ward-wise
women’s committees were prepared for transmitting messages. We regularly
organized study circles on History of India, Emergence of Gandhian struggles, Story
of Khadi and Boycott of Foreign Textlies and strengthening of patriotic feelings,
reopening of mills and communal harmony. I had an inter-caste marriage with well-
known thinker and editor of Gujarat Samachar, Shree Niru Desai. First a Civil
marriage and later on in presence of Ravi Shankar Maharaj, we had Saptapadi. I
delivered 7 children after marriage and to look after them, I gave up working for Jyoti
Sangh.” (Interview conducted and transcripted by Sheetal Shukla and translated from
Gujarati into English by Vibhuti Patel.)

While Nimuben’s political journey ended with domestic responsibilities, Ushaben Malji,
remained actively involved in wide range of constructive and creative activities. After
independence, many women from Gandhian era played crucial role as school and college
teachers, social workers, philanthropists and community leaders. Even at the age of 94,
Ushaben Malji is mentally alert.

Ushaben Malaji (1912- )

My parents had faith in Gandhian philosophy and progressive about daughter’s

upbringing. I studied in co-education school without any discrimination. We used to
stay in front of Kocharab Ashram and used to attend evening prayer conducted by
Gandhiji and other leaders. I also got opportunity for body building in a Gym in all male
environment. I also used to take part in night camp. In 1938, along with 1000 women, I
joined as volunteer for Congress Convention under leadership of Mrudulaben Sarabhai
who had a capacity of 100 men. In this Convention, Mrudulaben was given a title of
‘Mrudula Pathan’. She has been my role model. I regularly attended the study-circles. I
was arrested during Quit India Movement in 1942 while hoisting national flag at
Gujarat College. I worked in the field of education for 28 years. I also got involved in
cultural activities, made documentary films for public education. While passing Surat
city in connection with my film, I saw children in the age-group of 11/2 months to 1
year, lying on the sand. When I found out that they were children of migrant workers
employed in sugar cane fields, I met the collector in charge of village development. He
asked me to make a film on migrant women. I focused on unequal wages, hunger and
deprivation of essential survival needs, absence of child care facilities, indebtedness,
and atrocities by sugar factory owners. As a result of my film, social security measures
were ensured by the state. Similarly I made a film on profiles of women in sericulture,
jari workers. I became active in theatre in 1938 and tried to link socially relevant
literature with Indian music. After marriage, my field of work expanded as I became
active, both in Gujarat and Maharashtra. I raised lot of money for construction of
schools for tribal children and for blind students. I integrated theatre with school
education. Initially parents opposed this move but when they saw better performance of
their children, they also supported my efforts. I promoted book-banks and cash-banks in
the schools I was associated with. Each middle/upper class student was asked to donate
book worth 25 or 50 paise so that poor children could use the books. I introduced
election in school so that students would get experience of administration, decision-
making and leadership.
(Sheetal Shukla tape recorded interview on 28-11-2004 and translated from Gujarati
into English by Vibhuti Patel.)

Chapter III: Post Independence Period (1947-1974)

In the post independence period, many women leaders of the national independence
struggle got involved in the ‘nation building activities’- establishment of educational
institutions, mahila mandals for skill training and income generation.

Massive Tragedies of Women During Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947:

The day India got its independence, one of the greatest ‘in and out migration’ of the
history of humankind took place. Millions of families got uprooted from their soil.
Hindus in newly formed Pakistan had to leave for India and Muslims settled for centuries
in India were forced to go to Pakistan. The worst sufferers were the women of those
families-Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.

It was decided that women activists should remain with the police at the time of
repatriation. The main responsibility of this historic episode was entrusted to a noted
Gandhian, Smt. Mridulaben Sarabhai. In this, the main representative from India who
stayed for 2 years in Lahore was Smt. Kamalaben Patel whose book The Uprooted has
become a legendary contribution to understand plight of brutalized, ostracized,
stigmatized, muted and separated/desrted women due to man-made disasters created by
macro political upheavals. (Patel, 1987).

In the midst of loot, carnage, burning and destruction of property, ransacking thousands
of girls and women of all communities and religious groups were gang raped, mutilated,
kidnapped, sole and resold, forcibly married after religious conversion and silenced.
Several thousand of these separated women- married and unmarried were abandoned by
their family members and abductors. They were languishing in lonely by-lanes, roads,
public places and abandoned homes. According to one estimate, 25000 Hindu and sikh
women were left behind in Pakistan and 12000 muslim women were left behind in
partitioned India (Shukla, 1987:18). After the flow of refugees reduced, India and
Pakistan signed a resolution on 6th December 1947 to repatriate separated women and
children from both the nation states.

Kamalaben Patel:
Birth: January 9, 1912
Demise: May 28, 1992
Married at age 19. Her husband had been a widower. He died a year after his second marriage.
One of the pics is with him and one also has his daughter from first marriage in a pic. Third is
obviously with Sarojini Naidu and other freedom fighters

The Partition forced upon people of either side the enormity of being Hindu or Muslim.
So committed were the organisations to return abducted women to their "true" families
and "pure" religion that the process resulted in sometimes breaking happy families: "But
in all these formalities no importance was given to the wishes of those women while
taking decisions about them, and we, the so-called social workers were sending women
and children from one country to another as if they were some inanimate objects." Despite
the setting up of camps and tribunals where victims were scarcely allowed to make
decisions and take charge of their lives, Kamlaben Patel stands out as an exemplum of
uprightness and justice, working more from her heart than from any kind of moral

Kamla Patel’s account is refreshingly candid and sincere to the point of confessing
how desensitised she had become to the sorrowful stories of lost daughters and
abducted wives.

This makes her descriptions objective and not overly sentimentalised, avoiding the
drama of emotion frequently inherent in accounts of gender victimisation. But despite
the admirable distance that she is able to maintain, one often feels that Patel runs
through the trauma of the Partition with ease and a certain stolidity, which worries
the reader until the very end. In giving first-hand narratives of women who had
jumped into wells to save themselves from dishonour, those who had changed hands
several times or had simply been abandoned on the streets after being used, Patel’s
detachment can be easily mistaken for indifference. But this complaint is more
relevant to her textual and writing skills than to her experiences during those trying
Another painful issue was the state decision regarding "war babies", the children born
outside regular wedlock during this period. It was callously decided that although the
mothers would be rehabilitated to their respective countries, their children would be left
behind in the country they were born. Would a Hindu man, for instance, be willing to
father his wife’s Muslim child? Many children were willingly or forcefully abandoned,
and, of course, many unborn children were aborted under the pretext of a "medical check-
up". This was one of several issues where Kamlaben appears to differ from a frequently
irate Mridula Sarabhai, her companion and guide in this mission.
(I am thankful to Ms. Sonal shukla for making great efforts at finding out personal details
and 3 photographs of Kamalaben from her manasputri who looked after Kamalaben till
her death.)

Dr. Madhuri Shah ( 13-12-1919 to 29-6-1989)

“The purpose of education is to cultivate the whole main develop a desire for goodness, an
eagerness for knowledge, a capacity for friendship, an appreciation of beauty, a concern for
others. Individual growth has to be harnessed with social and ethical values through education
which us a lifelong process beginning at birth continuing through maturity, adulthood and old
age. Man has to grow throughout life. One has to take inspiration from Michael Angelo, who
created works of art unequalled by any other man and yet, when he was ninety, he regretted
that he must die just when he was beginning to learn the ABC of being a sculptor and painter.
Education never stops”.

Women’s Participation in the Land Struggles:

Concentration and Centralisation of landholding in the hands of absentee landlords was

the major challege faced by rural Gujarat. In the South Gujarat, the tribal masses
demanded implementation of Tenancy Act, 1952. Genuine cultivators of land were led by
80 year old tribal woman to start Pardi Khed Satyagrah on 1 st September, 1953. This was
followed by series of rallies, long marches. (Desai & Desai, 1997:27)

On 25th September, 1953, unique Satyagraha by toiling women alone brought fresh inputs
in the struggle. Their enthusiasm and courage were unique in the struggle of landrights.
Two hundred and seventy six women were arrested (Desai, 1997:118).

Satyagraha for land rights in South Gujarat was a peaceful means to achieve the goal of
"land to the tiller". Generally when the tribal women saw landlords with bamboo sticks in
their hands, they would hide in their homes, but in course of time, women started coming
out to face police. The landlords were dazed (Parulekar, 1976).

To contain the revolutionary fervour and influence of communist led Kisan Sabha, the
radical Gandhians under the leadership of Vinobaji sarted a campaign of Boodaan
(Donation of land) by appealing to the large land-holders.

1960- Women's Participation in Maha Gujarat Movement (M.G. M.):

Large number of women took part in MGM – they defied curfew, joined. hunger strike,
organized women’s battalions for long marches. Hundreds of thousands of masses came
out for send off of women marchers in Ahmedabd. Even after the arrests of their leaders,
women’s confidence and enthusiasm did not reduce.

Mammoth turnout to see off women satyagrahis on Gandhi Road in Ahmedabad

To press for the demands of installation of statues of martyrs of the MGM, from 17 th
August, 1958 1st April, 1959, every day different groups continued relay Satygraha in
different cities, towns and villages of Gujarat. For every day, one group would stage
satyagraha. Their organization was so meticulously worked out day wise- the first day’s
member were in the Group 1, the second days in the Group 2, so on and so forth…….
Like this, in 226 days, 226 different groups continued relay satyagraha to build popular
opinion in favour of their demands. Women activists joined men in group number 1, 3,
23, 32, 33,34, 35, 40, 44, 46, 55, 59, 62, 63, 76, 77, 91, 93, 98, 106, 118, 149, 152, 175,
183, 194, 202, 203, 217. On the 5th, 11th, 23rd, 32nd, 48th, 118th ans 162nd day, the groups
were constituted only of women activists. (Bhatt, 1995)

1960-64-Report of Suiside Invesntigation:

Jyotisangh in Ahmedabad played a crucial role in providng support to women in distress.

Among its social workers, Pushpaben Mehta was a visionary. She analysed suicides
among women while working with Vikas Gruh (shelter homes) established by her several
districts of Gujarat. Poignant profiles explaining life situations of helpless women driven
to end their lives by consuming poison, or burning themselves alive or jumping into the
river/pond/lake or by hanging or by stuffing knife in the chest or by cutting one’s wrist or
by throwing oneself in front of running train were eye-opening (Mehta, 2005). Her
consistent efforts motivated Government of Gujarat to appoint the Commission to
investigate Suicides of Women. She demanded that the government must establish
Family Service Centre and give them generous grant (Mehta, 2005:102). She also
realized that to bring macro level changes for women’s development, it was important for
her to be politically powerful.

1974-Anti Price Rise Women's Organisation: Reviving the memories

Chapter IV Paradigm Shift (1974-84)-

1975-Gujarati translation of Towards Equality report

Mother of Women’s Studies in India, Dr. Neera Desai

Emergence of Feminist Organisations in Gujarat:

Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group was the first feminist organization that took up
militant campigs against sexist portryal of women in the advertisements, hoardings, plays
and the print media in the early seventies. Many of them pioneered feminist literary
criticism of mainstream Gujarati literary contributions. It was responsible for making
government of Gujarat to constitute a committee to scrutinize the textbooks from nursery
to post graduation levels to identify sexism and correct them with suitable gender aware

1975-Establishment of SEWA-women's union, cooperative & bank

It was due to SEVA’s courageous efforts that issues of women in the workforce got
national and international level legitimacy. The Self Employed Women’s Assoication
(SEWA) was born in 1972 as a trade union of self employed women. It grew out of the
Textile Labour Association, TLA, India’s oldest and largest union of textile workers
founded in 1920 by Gandhiji’s diciple, Smt. Anasuya Sarabhai. The inspiration for the
union came from Mahatma Gandhi, who led a successful strike of textile workers in
1917. He believed in creating positive organised strength by awakening the
consciousness in workers. By developing unity as well as personality, a worker should be
able to hold his or her own against tyranny from employers or the state. To develop this
strength he believed that a union should cover all aspects of worker’s lives both in the
factory and at home.

Against this background of active involvement in industrial relations, social work and
local, state and national politics, the ideological base provided by Mahatma Gandhi and
the feminist seeds planted by Anasuya Sarabhai led to the creation by the TLA of their
Women’s Wing in 1954. Its original purpose was to assist women belonging to
households of mill workers and its work was focused largely on training and welfare
activities. By 1968, classes in sewing, knitting, embroidery, spinning, press composition
typing and stenography were established in centres throughout the city for the wives and
daughters of mill workers.

The scope of its activities expanded in the early 1970s , when a survey was conducted to
probe complaints by women tailors of exploitation by contractors. The survey brought
out other instances of exploitation of women workers and revealed the large numbers of
them were untouched by unionization, government legislation and policies.

In 1971, a small group of migrant women working as cart-pullers in Ahmedabad's cloth

market came to the TLA with their labour contractor. He had heard of a transport
workers' union organised by the TLA and thought they might be able to help the women
find some housing. At the time, the women were living on the streets without shelter.
They were sent to see Smt. Ela Bhatt, the Head of Women's Wing. After talking with the
women in her office, Ilaben went with them to the areas where they were living and to the
market area where they were working. While there, she met another group of women who
were working as head-loaders, carrying loads of clothes between the wholesale and retail
markets. As she sat with them on the steps of the warehouses where they waited for work,
they discussed their jobs and their low and erratic wages.

Following the meeting, Ela Bhatt wrote an article for the local newspaper and detailed the
problems of the head-loaders. The cloth merchants countered the charges against them
with a news article of their own, denying the allegations and testifying to their fair
treatment of the head-loaders. The Women's Wing turned the release of this story to their
own advantage by reprinting the merchant's claims on the cards and distributing them to
use as leverage with the merchants.

Soon word of this effective ploy spread and a group of used garment dealers approached
the Women's Wing with their own grievances. A public meeting of used garment dealers
was called and over hundred women attended. During the meeting in a public park,
women from the crowd suggested they form an association of their own. Thus, on an
appeal from the women and at the initiative of the leader of the Women's Wing, Ela
Bhatt, and the president of the TLA, Arvind Buch, the Self-Employed Women's
Association (SEWA) was born in December 1971.

The women felt that as a workers' association, SEWA should establish itself as a Trade
Union. This was a fairly novel idea, because the self-employed had no real history of
organising. The first struggle SEWA undertook was obtaining official recognition as
Trade Union. The Labour Department refused to register SEWA because they felt that
since there was no recognised employer, the workers would have no one to struggle
against. We argued that a Union was not necessarily against an employer, but was for the
unity of the workers. Finally, SEWA was registered as a Trade Union in April 1972.

SEWA grew continuously from 1972, increasing in its membership and including more
and more different occupations within its fold. The beginning of the Women's Decade in
1975 gave a boost to the growth of SEWA, placing it within the women's movement.
(Rose, 1992) In 1977, SEWA's General Secretary, Ela Bhatt, was awarded prestigious
Ramon Magsaysay Award and this brought international recognition to SEWA.

By 1981, relations between SEWA and TLA had deteriorated. TLA did not appreciate an
assertive women's group in its midst. Also, the interests of TLA, representing workers of
the organised sector often came into conflict with the demands of SEWA, representing
unorganised women workers. The conflict came to a head in 1981 during the anti-
reservation riots when members of higher castes attacked the Harijans, many of whom
were members of both TLA and SEWA. SEWA spoke out in defense of the Harijans,
whereas TLA remained silent. Because of this outspokenness, TLA threw out SEWA
from its fold. After the separation from TLA, SEWA grew even faster and started new
initiatives. In particular, the growth of many new co-operatives, a more militant trade
union, women’s bank, insurance scheme, housing loans and many supportive services has
given SEWA a new shape and direction (Dayal, 2001).

Chapter V: Women's Rights Movement (1984-2005)

Gujarat experienced a qualitative leap in the level of activism after a campaign in

solidarity with a tribal woman, Guntaben who was gang raped and paraded naked in
Devidav village in 1985. Two activists of newly formed women’s group called Sahiar in
1984 (Sahiar, 1986) visited the village and conversed with the victim. They wrote an
exhaustive report on Guntaben’s tragedy that received massive publicity in Gujarati and
English press. All women’s organizations took up a campaign demanding punishment to
the policemen who raped Guntaben. Even Amnesty International took up this case. The
doctor who examined Guntaben was also from the social movement and did not cow
down to the pressure from the vested interest. Finally the culprits were punished. This
campaign boosted morale of young women in Vadodara, Surat, Anand and Ahmedabad.
Several new groups of women mushroom during the late eighties and took up individual
cases of women victims of violence ad also created data base through survey research.
Several booklets on ‘women and Violence’ in Gujarati have come out during the last two
decades and been used widely for training programmes of police, social workers and
government sponsored Samakhya Programmes. (Shah, 1997)

In 1987, when a khadi-clad manager of Gandhi Ashram brutally raped a tribal girl student
of the Ashram Shala in Metar tauka in Kheda District, two women’s groups- Sahiar from
Vadodara and Chingari from ahmedabad took up the issue. They not only provided
support to the victim but mobilized public opinion against the tormentor. (Sahiar, 1987)

Inspiring Role of Nari Mukti and Sahiar as Networker:

Emergence and proliferation of autonomous women’s rights groups also resulted in

publication of Narimukti, a quarterly feminist journal that focused on contemporary
concerns of women’s studies and women’s movement. Between 1987 and 1996, 17 issues
of Narimukti came out and provided information, analysis and theoretical understanding
on wide range of socio-economic, legal, religious and cultural problems faced by women
of Gujarat, India and world. Consolidation of new women's groups resulted in
theoretically sound and verbally articulate feminist leadership that built institutions and
acquired respectability among decision-makers in Gujarat.

Seventeen issues of Narimukti, a feminist quarterly were brought out (1986-1997)

With establishment of Sahiar (Vadodara) in 1985, Gujarat witnessed young college

students getting galvanized for action (Sahiar, 1986).Newly formed women’s groups
started regular commemoration of March 8 and expressed solidarity with dalit, tribal,
working class and religious minorities. But it must be emphasized that violence against
women has been the central concern of the new women’s groups as it emerges from the
reports and articles published in 17 issues of Narimukti (A feminist quarterly) published
between 1986 and 1996. During this decade, lots of debates and discussions, mock courts
on women characters from scriptures and public meetings, publications and conferences
and city level activities were carried out by its members in Valsad, Surat, Vadodara,
Anand, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Women’s rights activists from these six cities
expressed solidarity with each other’s activities and shared experiences in consciousness
raising meetings organized in rotation in each of the six cities. From Sourashtra region,
the support for Narimukti was passive i.e. it was limited to subscribing to Narimukti as it
was useful to establish oneself in the then emerging new discipline called Nari Abhyaas
(women’s Studies).

Sahiar attracted the school and college going youth towards its activities thro’ poster and
essay competitions, debates and study circles, rallies and cultutal activities on the themes
revolving around burning problems of women and girls in Gujarat. (Sahiar, 1990 & 1995)

Plight of Widows in Gujarat:

Deplorable condition of widows in rural Gujarat has invited attention of researchers in

the post independence period also (Mehta, 1964). In the urban areas, they get some
opportunities for self actualization thro’ employment. Widow re-marriages are taking

place among educated middle and upper classes. But in the rural areas the situation is
very depressing. (Bhagat,1994). In spite of radical activism of the 19th century social
reform movement, even at present widows face lot of discrimination and deprivation in
rural Gujarat. They are not allowed to eat nice food, colourful clothes and mobility.
Majority of widows languish in poverty as they don’t get share in property. (Bhagat,
1996). They are perceived as burden both by their natal families and in-laws. Self help
groups of women are providing economic and moral support to widows. Profiles of single
women’s heroic struggles in Dharampur, Dang, Sabarkantha and Panchmahal bring out
major issues in land relations, forest life, brutalization of landless poor women and cruel
customs subjugating single women. (Bhagat, 1989)

Unnatural Deaths of Women in Gujarat:

Jyotisangh(Ahmedabad),, Vikas Jyot (Vadodara), Vanita Vishram (Surat), Vikas Gruha

(Rajkot) have been providing shelter, skill training, childcare and income generating
activities with perspective of women’s welfare in the post independence period. But only
during the late 1980s, feminist analysis that explained violence against women as a
manifestation of patriarchal control over sexuality, fertility and labour of women got
acceptance in Gujarat. Research report on unnatural deaths among women in Gujarat
prepared by Centre for Social Knowledge and Action (Setu) delineated institutional
factors responsible for painful and untimely death of women in Gujarat was one of them.
The study included data gathered from Crime Bureau and also from reportage in Gujarati
newspapers. The most revealing aspect of the analysis was the depressing response of the
criminal justice system. Out of 1020 incidents covered by the study, in 560 cases no
police action was reported. In the rest of 460 cases, in 268 tragedies, police investigation
was on. In terms of legal measures, in 93 cases the culprits were arrested and only in 5
cases the criminals were punished (Bhagat, 1990:54). The study ends with important
recommendations for the Home Ministry, police, legal system, media and women’s

Campaign Against Sex Selective Abortions in Gujarat:

Sahiar did pioneering work to generate awareness about declining sex ratio by publishing
series of booklets, pamphlets and leaflets against sex selection tests leading to abortion of
female fetuses. It staged dharana at the time of conferences and gatherings of medical
associations. Through cultural activities- garba, plays, skits, music ballet, posters on
femicide it tried to reach out the masses. It staged Gujarati translation of famous Marathi
play ‘A Daughter is Born’.

In response to reports of increasing pre-birth elimination of girls and declining sex ratio
women’s groups in Vododara, Surat and Valsad conducted survey researches during
1987. In Surat, the most popular methods for ante natal sex selection of fetuses were
amniocentesis and chorion-villai-biopsy (Desai and Aroda, 1989: 19-20).

When Pre Natal Diagnostics Technique (PNDT) Act (1994) On the basis of multicentric
research, they called a convention in which activists and doctors from Valsad, Dahod,

Surat, Navsari, Vadodara, Panchmahal, Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Junagadh and Rajkot
took part and demanded implementation of Pre Natal Diagnostics Technique Act. Their
delegation also met the chief minister of Gujarat. They demanded
• Formation of District Committee to monitor nursing homes and diagnostic centres
• Government publicity about the PNDT Act
• Inclusion of the topic of sex selection as an unethical, criminal and punishable
activity, to be included in the textbooks for the students from 7th to 12th standards.
These groups are networking with health groups outside Gujarat thro’ People’s
Health Assembly. Currently Chetana is at the forefront of the campaign against pre-
birth elimination of girls and Chetana has been successful in involving corporate
world, state apparatus and politicians of Gujarat to take up this issue on a larger

Shramshakti Report(1988)

In 1988, Narimukti Collective volunteered to translate Shramshakti Report: Report of the

National Commission on Self-Employed Women and Women Workers in the Informal
Sector, Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi into Gujarati.

Economic and Social Empowerment of Women thro’ Collective Struggle:

Women’s groups such as Swashray and Sahiar in Vaodara mobilized toiling women from
the slums and organized series of protest marches to the collector’s office against
demolition of slums. They highlighted atrocities perpetrated by police, municipal officials
and the State Reserve Police that perpetrated atrocities during their slum clearance drive
and harassed women and children. During such drive, death of a child due to injury
caused by the beating by police resulted in child’s mother’s madness. For ten years, they
consistently campaigned for compensation for the slum-dwellers who lost their homes
and property ad demanded alternate accommodation for them. (Swashraya, 1996)

Women’s rights groups such as AWAG-Ahmedabad women’s Action Group, Swashray

(Vadodara) and Sanchetana in Ahmedabad are also taking up problems of women in the
informal sector. All women’s groups contributed towards national survey prepared by
Committee on Self Employed Women and Women in the Unorganised Sector under
Chairpersonship of Ms. Ila Bhatt. In 1988 a voluminous report known as for Shramshati
Report came out in 1988. (Patel, 1989). Nari Mukti collective translated it into Gujarati
(Shramshakti, 1990).

Visibility of Women in Statistics and Indicators:

At the time of 1991 Census operations, the women’s groups in Gujarat joined the
women’s studies centre to make women’s work visible in statistics and indicators (Patel,
1992). Their point was:

Women all around the world have been doing paid, underpaid and largely unpaid work in
homes, factories, fields, forests and mines. Over and above 3 Cs-cooking, cleaning and

caring, large number of women do activities such as collection of fuel, fodder and water,
animal husbandary, kitchen gardening, raising poultry that augment family resources. It
women would not this work, these goods would have to be purchased from the market.

Our census defines work as an activity done by a person that brings remuneration,
income, payment, salary, wages and honorarium. All able bodied persons in the age
group of 15-59 are part of the labour force. According to Census, those who are
employed for 183 days in a year for 8 hours per day are Main workers. Those who get
paid work for 4 hours a day for continuously 186 days a year are considered to be
marginal workers. The rest are classified as non-workers.

Now, in training programmes for decision-makers, refreshers courses and orientation

courses of university and in Gujarat Samakhya conscious efforts are made to focus on
unpaid care economy managed by women. Women’s groups are demanding gender
disaggregated data for all areas of economy.

Samakhya Project Started in 1991

Implications of New Economic Policy on Women in Gujarat:

In response to a mounting burden of debt leading to a balance of payment crisis, the

Government of India (GOI) adopted a structural adjustment programme (SAP) in 1991. It
included reductions in public investment, devaluation, cutting food and fertilizers
subsidies, the reduction of budgetary provision for developmental planning, capital
intensive and 'high-tech' productive activities, economies in government expenditure, an
increase in the bank rate, insurance charges and rail tariffs. Simply put, the policy aimed
at capital, energy and import-intensive growth with the help of 4 "Ds" - devaluation,
deregulation, deflation and denationalisation. Gujarat implemented SAP most vigorously.
Poor women of Gujarat faced devastating influence of the same. Women’s groups in
Vadodara were most vociferous in criticizing SAP. (Balsubramanyam, 1996:14-20)

Path Breaking Work of women in Rural Gujarat: Two books of Miskaben (1995 & 2006)
have profiled brave survival struggles of landless poor tribal women in the North Gujarat.

Women’s Court:

In response to state’s inaction with respect to escalating violence against women in all
parts of Gujarat, Sahiar, Astitva, SETU in collaboration with Women’s Studies research
Centre of M.S. University, Vadodara organized women’s Court on 1-2 February, 1997.
They had started working two years in advance- groups working with women survivors
of violence, human rights lawyers, social activitsts, trade unions, women’s rights groups
and well-estabhished experts who could be on the panel of judges were contacted.(
GFWSA,1997 : 3-28) Hundreds of women from rural, tribal, forest and urban areas of
Gujarat gave testimonies that highlighted their hardships and degradation, insecurities
and helplessness due to domestic violence, dowry harassment, rape, kidnapping,

homelessness, absence rights to stay in matrimonial and parental homes, land-rights,
witchcraft, displacement, harassment at workplace, ……
“Who get right to property? Daughters? Wife? A woman who does back-breaking work
is not recognized. Who gets protection of law? I am 71 andam continuing my struggle for
land-rights of women.”, stated a tribal woman.

“I am 31 and a housewife. At the time of marriage my husband demanded dowry. After

marriage we stayed separately for 7 years. My husband was studying engineering. I was
also studying. I could have become a doctor but I had to discontinue my studies. After I
produced three children, my husband started cohabiting with other woman……He
purchased land and I strted cultivating land with the help of my children. After some
years, my husband decided to sell of f land, our only source of sustainance. He sent goons
to scare us. Nobody helped us. With the help of my children, we throw out the goons.
Still my struggle is on….”, told a brave middle aged woman farmer.

On March 8, 2006 also similar court was organized at Gujarat Social forum.

Communal riots in 1993: Valorisation of Barbaric Behaviour with Women of

Minority communities:

In the riots after breaking of Babri Mosk, the use of video cameras to capture the gory
details of the rape of Muslim women in Surat in the presence of military and paramilitary
forces, revealed the most horrific dimensions of brutalisation of the psyche of the civil
society. Showing of these video-films in front of jeering crowd left permanent scar in the
minds of women and children of minority women. Their sense of shame was complete.
Even in Somalia, the fundamentalist forces used the videotapes capturing weeping and
wailing naked violated women rape victims to terrorise, humiliate and intimidate women
and to show them their place of restricted existence. Cleansing Operations in Bhopal (1992)
and Gujarat Riots (28-2-2002 onwards) have created nightmarish situation for the Muslim
women who experienced worst forms of sexual violence- rape, torture and tearing of uterus
of pregnant women. (Engineer, 2003). While rape is a crime perpetrated during communal
conflicts, the use of media to record, duplicate and even sell videos of rape is unprecedented
and speaks of the dangerous use of media. Apart from this, the insular feelings created after
each riot results into confinement and restriction of mobility of women and girls.

The communalised violence women have experienced recently in Gujarat is

unprecedented in terms of the degree of state complicity, the unashamed valorisation of
these acts of depravity, the horrific participation of women in the violence and the
creation of an implacable wall of hatred that provides the reason and then the justification
for its spiral effect. It took us fifty years to document excesses against women during the
Partition. One wonders how much longer it will take now.

The following poem by Ms. Lara Jesani vividly captures the pain and pathos of women
victims of fundamentalist wrath and communal carnage whether they were women
victims in 1992-93 Mumbai riots or women in refugee camps of Gujarat ten years later,
in 2002-2003.

Eyes raining, without mere control,
Scruples hurt, thus dew drops roll.
Lightened, piercing, still with grief,
Forever, staring in disbelief.

Hearts melting, defences down,

Afflicted feelings, all around.
Timeless moments, of unending sorrow,
Darkened scars, that none can borrow.

Deep in hurdles, full with distress,

Pleasures replaced, by pure sadness.
Love's demise, of responsive pain,
A day's repose, then it starts again.

In response to rising communal violence, several women’s organizations such as

Vadodara based feminist groups such as Olakh, Sahiar, Sahaj, PUCL initiated the
commemoration of national protest day on 13-5-2002 against sexual assault, beating, rape
and burning of women and young girls, the cutting open of a pregnant woman and killing
of her foetus, the burning of babies and children. They condemned this violence and
demanded that FIRs should be registered, especially in all reported cases of sexual assault
and violence against women, accepting testimonies of survivors as witnesses, in all police
stations with copies made available to public groups.

Because of the state and central governments’ complicity, the women’s groups felt the
necessity of organizing a special public hearing on Gujarat carnage in front of an
independent Women’s Human Rights Commission. (Nainar & Uma, 2003). They also
demanded that:
• The state must enact legislation to implement the Convention on Prevention and
Punishment of Crime of Genocide ratified by the government of India.
• The state must investigate and prosecute organizations and individuals
responsible for the continuing harassment and propagation of hate through
measures such as training militia and planning genocide in Gujarat.

Debate on Uniform Civil Code (UCC):

For past two decades, women’s groups providing support to women in distress have been
demanding gender-just family laws in the Asian, African and Latin American countries.
(Desai, 1990) Migrant women from the developing countries settled in the industrialised
world should also be governed by the gender-just family laws.

In India, majority of secular women’s groups support reforms in the family laws to
ensure gender justice to the women of different religious groups. (CSS, 1993). Hindu
Communal organisations are demanding the Uniform Civil Code. Due to pressure of
women’s groups, there has been reform in the antiquated Christian Divorce Act. Hindu
Undivided Property Act has been reformed to give share in the property to daughters in

ancestral property. The state of Andhra Pradesh has granted Land Rights to women. In
the post independence period, the only act directly concerning Muslim lives passed is the
notorious Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The Act takes
Muslim women out of the purview of section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code that
ensures maintenance to a divorced wife. “ The 1986 Act empowers the magistrate to
order mehr, maintenance during iddat (3 months following divorce) and a fair provision
to be paid within a month of application. Following this payment, the husband is
absolved of any financial responsibility and the onus of maintenance of the woman falls
on the parental family, or as a last resort on the Wakf Board.” (WRAG, 1997) Hence, the
secular women’s rights groups have evolved a slogan “All women are Hindu, All
minorities are men, but Some of us are Brave”. It signifies double burden of ‘patriarchy
that controls women’s sexuality, fertility and labour’ and “communalism that brutalises
minority and dalit women” shouldered by women in the identity politics.

Hindutva and discourse on equality have been at loggerheads in the current past.
Domestic Violence Act, 2002 generated heated debate around the issue, whether casual/
occasional beating should be considered as “domestic violence”. ( Shah, 1996)

Gujarat forum for Women’s Studies (Delhi) and Sahiar) organised a debate on UCC. The
seminar concluded with the three broad statements.
(1) The personal laws of all communities should be strengthened to make them more
gender just and weed out gender discrimination.
(2) The Muslim Women (Protection of Right on Divorce) Act, 1986 must be
strengthened to uphold positive and gender just interpretation.
(3) The ceiling under section 125 should be removed.
The National Policy for Empowerment of Women, 2001 declares that
“At the initiative of and with the full participation of all stakeholders including
community and religious leaders, the Policy would aim to encourage changes in personal
laws such as those related to marriage, divorce, maintenance and guardianship so as to
eliminate discrimination against women.
The evolution of property rights in a patriarchal system has contributed to the
subordinate status of women. The Policy would aim to encourage changes in laws
relating to ownership of property and inheritance by evolving consensus in order to make
them gender just.”

Critical Evaluation of Women’s Movement in Gujarat:

Between 1985-2005, several meetings and workshops organized by the autonomous

women’s groups in Gujarat evaluated performance, priorities, principles, programmes
and policies of women’s movement in Gujarat (WSRC et al, 1995). Some of the most
important events in this regard have been Nari Mukti Shibir (1986), Gujarat Human
Rights Conference (!990) and Gujarat Women’s Studies Conference (1995). While
commenting on autonomous women’s groups (AWG) in the state, Dr. Neera Desai
comments, “ Aura of AWG is different. They don’t see women’s question in traditional
mode, for them women are not the target for relief. They are not dictatorial in their
functioning and they adopt participatory approach in their decision making. These groups

also have certain issues such as limited membership, relationship with other struggles
against povertyand unemployment. Women’s liberation movement is actually a human
liberation struggle. For genuine gender justice we need to change other aspects of society
also.” (Shah & Patel, 1987).
Gujarat publication of Vikas Aahyayan Kendra provide important insights on issues such
as globalization and political economy of beauty contests (Rodrics, 1996).

Campaign against Sex Selective Abortion

Selective abortions of female fetuses after sonography has been challenged by network of
women’s organizations such as Astitva, Chetana, Swati, Sahaj, Olakh and Sahiyar.

Landmark Contribution of Women’s Studies Series:

Series of twelve books published under the banner of Women’s Studies Series and edited
by Neera Desai and Usha Thakker and authored by equally renowned activist scholars
such as Dr. Kalpana Shah (Ahmedabad), Dr. Trupti Shah (Sahiar, Vadodara), Dr. Ila
Pathak (AWAG-Ahmedabad), Dr. Himanshi Shelat (Surat), Dr. Divya
Pande(SPARROW, Mumbai), Sonal Shukla(Vacha-Mumbai), Bakula Ghaswala (Valsad)
and Dr. Amrita Shodhan (Mumbai) have captured all important issues and debates on
women, equality and the republic. They are providing vivid details on the discourses
among women’s movement, the state and civil society on important concerns such as
development, politics and governance, from equal rights to women’s liberation, women’s
consciousness in the art and literature, print and electronic media, health, violence against
women, challenges for women’s education, economic activities of women and gender
analysis of landmark judgments (Desai & Thakker, 2003, I,II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII,

Women’s studies Research Centre, Vadodara remained nodal centre for promotion of
women’s studies in Gujarat for nearly two decades. During the 10th Five Year Plan,
seven more women’s Studies Centers have been granted by U.G. C. in Gujarat
University, Vallabh Vidyanagar University, Veer Narmad South Gujarat Univeristy,
Saurashtra University, Patan University, Rajkot University, etc.

Sexual Harassment at Workplace: M.S. University made half-hearted effort at creation

of grievance committee to deal with sexual harassment of women students in response
three highly publicized cases of sexual harassment. As no one from the university was
ready to support the victim, Ph. D. student who was sexually harassed by her Ph.D. guide
Medha Kotwal from women’s group called Alochana in Pune filed a petition in the
Supreme Court of India. M.S. University has brought out a booklet in Gujarati for
circulation among students with lots of pictures and explanation on definition of sexual
harassment and how to deal with it. (WSRC, 2004). Gujarat University has allocated a
separate building with separate room for counseling to Women Development Cell that
has twin objectives of promotion of women’s empowerment and prevention of sexual
harassment (WDC, 2005).


The 21st century has witnessed institutionalization of women’s groups and NGO-isation
of women’s Movement. This has resulted into fragmentation of women’s movement and
promotion of donor driven agenda. There is individuation of women’s issues in the name
of rights based perspective. Failure to see the larger picture has disempowered women in
general as seen in increasing violence against women and women from dalit and minority
communities in particular as witnessed in recurrent communal carnage and caste riots in
the recent times. New women’s groups are bravely combating individual patriarchy but
one hardly sees any questioning of systemic patriarchy.


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