Iconic Indian women’s rights activist Kamla Bhasin, also very well-known in Pakistan, has passed away of cancer at the age of 75.
According to reports, the activist was fighting cancer for a while and finally succumbed to its vicious throes yesterday, on Saturday. She will be remembered for her slogan “Azadi (freedom)” used by Pakistani women against the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq.
Thanks to that slogan, Kamla Bhasin also caught the attention of people at Jadopur University in Kolkata in 1991 when she played a drum while chanting it. Women gathered around her and also joined in the chant which demanded freedom from patriarchy.
That slogan of freedom has now become commonplace at almost every student protest, also having been raised in 2016 by Kanhiya Kumar, a student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University, calling for freedom against discrimination, Brahmanism, and poverty.
These slogans were also later raised in the anti-CAA-NRC protests against India’s new citizenship laws. They’ve even become part of pop culture under Ranveer Singh’s rap artist film Gully Boy, in a song sung by Dub Sharma.
Kamla Bhasin was also a well-known poet, active since the 1970s. She was born on April 24, 1946, in Mandi Bahauddin District, now in Pakistan, and moved with her family to Rajasthan after the independence of the Indian subcontinent.
In an interview with The Quint in 2019, Kamala Bhasin said she first heard the slogan among feminists in Pakistan in the 1980s.
She stated, “Pakistan was ruled by Zia-ul-Haq at that time. The first group that stood against Zia-ul-Haq was not a political party but a group of Pakistani feminists.”
“In one such meeting, I was present and there they chanted the slogan,” he said. The slogan was “Freedom! We will carry on!”.
Inspired by this slogan, the activist also wrote a poem based on it.
“I know a lot of women who have a completely patriarchal mindset, who are totally against women, and I also know men who have fought for women’s rights all their lives,” she said. She also stated that “feminism is not biological, it’s an ideology”.
During the South Asian One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women, she read her most popular phrase, “Freedom from patriarchy – freedom! Freedom from unending violence – freedom! For self-expression – freedom!
After leaving the United Nations in the 1970s, Kamla Bhasan devoted her full time to Sangat – A Feminist Network.
Her death was mourned all across South Asia and her last rites were performed at the Lodhi Electric crematorium in Delhi.
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