About the Author: Aishwarya Bhuta, a student of M.A. in development studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, reminisces her experience of meeting with Kamla Bhasin.
Dissent, revolution, and change never came from arm-chair experts in closed chambers; they have always emerged from the grassroots. A number of grassroots activists have contributed immensely to the success of women’s and feminist movements and their voices have echoed across divisive walls and glass ceilings to shake the very foundations of patriarchy. One such feminist activist is Kamla Bhasin didi (and not ma’am) with whom I had the pleasure of meeting on the 1st of July.
I was pursuing my B.A. in social sciences from Tata Institute of Social Sciences when my teachers, Dr. Sai Thakur and Dr. Byasa Moharana, first introduced us to Kamla didi’s books and TED Talks. Her writings taught us the ABC of gender, sex, sexuality, masculinity, patriarchy, and feminism. Every time I read, watched, or listened to her, I felt inspired. So when I came across Internshala’s Intern with Icon 2019 and saw that she was one of the icons, I was thrilled. I applied immediately and answered the question ‘What would you ask Kamla Bhasin if you get a chance to meet her?’. I had never imagined that I would be able to meet her, but to my surprise, I was informed that I was selected and would have to travel to Dharamshala to visit Jagori Grameen, an NGO founded by Kamla didi. It wasn’t easy and I had to fight many battles, but I knew I was going anyway!
I was accompanied by two members from Internshala. From the moment we reached Jagori, I knew we had stepped into a different world altogether. There, people were friendly and welcoming and never for a second did I feel that we were strangers in that land. No sooner did Kamla didi see us than she greeted and welcomed us warmly. Over breakfast, I chatted with a few other members of the NGO who acquainted me with the working of Jagori. My first interaction with Kamla Bhasin was in the veranda of her house. It never felt like I was meeting her for the first time. As she narrated different stories about her life and work, I could feel her energy being passed on to me. Each story was more powerful than the other. This was the day when I understood what “personal is political” meant. Here was a strong woman who had dedicated her life to the cause of feminism, people’s movements, and development of marginalized communities. In the evening, we were introduced to Khadija didi, a lawyer based in Delhi who is closely associated with Jagori. She took us for a quick trip to McLeodganj, a popular tourist destination known for its Tibetan settlements, monasteries, and the Dalai Lama temple. I was truly overwhelmed with the love, kindness, and warmth that people exuded there.
The next day, we got an opportunity to attend a 4-hour-long session of a fifteen-day workshop organised by Sangat, a feminist network led by Kamla didi and Abha didi. This session on violence was taken by Abha didi, the co-founder of Jagori, and Khadija didi. There were forty participants in the room including fifteen people who came from Nepal. While people shared their accounts of having experienced violence, a strong bond of solidarity was built among all of us. As we shared our stories, we felt each other’s pain and realized that we were not alone. We sang songs of hope and promised to keep fighting.
Hum ladenge saathi… udaas mausam ke khilaaf
Hum ladenge saathi… aazaad ichchha ke liye
Hum chunenge saathi… zindagi ke tukde
Hum ladenge, hum ladenge, hum ladenge, hum…
This was indeed one of the best sessions I had ever attended and was truly a life-changing experience. After the session, I visited Abha didi’s house where she enlightened me about her early motivations and struggles. I learnt how they encourage adolescents, women, and communities to fight patriarchy and develop their potential. People at Jagori strived to build a more equitable society and to make the world a better place. More importantly, they were fighting against hatred with love. Every single person there taught me something new about the world and humanity.
We packed our bags with a heavy heart. I did not want to return to the drudgery of everyday life, but I realized that I would have to go back and face the world out there in order to carry on the movements that Kamla didi, Abha didi, and so many others have spearheaded. There are more goals to be accomplished and more history to be made. As Dumbledore rightly said – “It was important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.”
Thank you, team Internshala, for this wonderful opportunity. More power to the struggle for justice, equality, and humanity!