Ahilya Rangnekar, the firebrand leader of Communists and champion of women’s and workers’ rights in Mumbai, Dr Nalini Pandit, writer-historian who challenged established theories of Indian history, and Dr Neera Desai, pioneer in the field of women’s studies, had all attempted to change the basis for public debate on women’s issues in Indian society.
Speakers at a seminar organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) in memory of the ‘contribution of the three pioneers’ on Thursday said the basis had changed, but for the worse, and a new transformation was necessary.
“We earlier used words like oppression, exploitation and injustice when we spoke of women’s issues. We now say marginalisation. After some time, we might as well put them outside the ambit of society. The word empowerment has been thrust upon us, and we have internalised it because of the push of market forces,” Dr Vandana Sonalkar, director, Women’s Studies Centre, Dr Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, said.
Dr Sonalkar, who spoke on Dr Pandit’s writings at the symposium at the Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaya, Dadar, said they would help show the way to those who wanted to fight injustice. Dr Pandit, she noted, had highlighted caste and class issues and portrayed the past in a balanced manner.
“When talk is all about us versus them, it’s vital to read this,” she stressed. Dr Maya Pandit, professor at Hyderabad’s E.F.L. University, said she had learnt from Ahilya Rangnekar the art of speaking to women workers.
“I heard her speak to women farm labourers in Ichalkaranji in the early 80s in their own language. It was a lesson for me on how to bridge the divide between women who fight for the oppressed and the oppressed themselves,” she said.
According to Dr Pandit, there had been attempts to create an impression that women were doing well in the IT sector though their percentage was far from substantial.
Dr Vibhuti Patel, professor, SNDT Women’s University, said Dr Neera Desai had wanted women’s issues to be studied from the point of view of women. “Dr Desai had said education, training, documentation, research and action were the five things needed to examine these issues correctly,” Dr Patel said.