A social scientist by training, Kamla Bhasin has been actively engaged with issues related to development, gender, education, media and others since 1970. Currently, she works with Sangat – A Feminist Network as Adviser as well as JAGORI, A Women’s Resource and Training Centre and Jagori Rural Charitable Trust as an active member. She is the South Asia Coordinator of One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end violence against women and girls; Co-Chair of the worldwide network Peace Women Across the Globe; and member of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR). Prior to this, she worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for 27 years.
Kamla Bhasin is deeply engaged with issues related to gender, development, peace, identity politics, militarization, human rights and democracy and seeks to explore and articulate connections between these issues and to promote synergies between different movements. Kamla Bhasin has written extensively on gender, women’s empowerment, participatory and sustainable development, participatory training, media and communication.
Why even educated people don’t think that women are equal to men? Feminist Activist, Kamla Bhasin brings out interesting arguments on the issues of women empowerment, equality, justice, intolerance feminism and many other similar issues, in an exclusive interaction with Nitish Raj of The Policy Times.
Q. Do you think that we need to empower men to empower women?
KB: We empower that group of people who are at the moment disempowered because of socio-cultural, economic & political reasons. If we look at men and women anywhere in the world, it is women who are disempowered. So I really don’t think its’ necessary to empower men to empower women. We need to empower women to create equality in families and in the society.
Q. Even within educated citizens, women are not equal to men in minds and thinking. What is true definition of equality between men and women?
KB: The assumption that educated people are more equal in respect to gender is itself wrong. Among the less-educated, working class, Dalits, Adivasis men and women both work outside. These women do not have the luxury of being only housewives According to my observations, poor, working class, Adivasi and Dalit women are freer than upper-middle class and rich women. The body language of a working-class woman is that of a free woman. They are more equal than propertied, educated, rich women.
Q. How does feminism benefit both men and women?
KB: The belief in the equality of men and women is feminism. A man or a woman can both be feminists. A woman can be anti-feminist. If women and men are equal then both of them will be free. Today boys do not have the freedom to do what they want because they are pushed by the society to do manly things and women are also not free in this patriarchal society. Feminism will benefit both men and women, our families, society and nation.
Q. How much disparity of regions have gone against a universal enactment of any policy for the welfare of the marginalised?
KB: No policy should be made at central level. How can we sit in Delhi and make the policy for the whole nation? I believe that every district should have their own policy. The development and gender policies are like a tree and should be rooted in the local situation and to the needs of the local people. I believe that every policy should be locally suited and the masses of that region should have a say and I believe in participatory policy making and participatory democracy.
Q. How have the ethnic difference between two groups acted as a barrier in the development of a particular region?
KB: I don’t think ethnic differences have acted as a barrier. If we respect all ethnicity and when ethnic groups are not empowered and other ethnic groups try to manage their lives then only ethnic groups can be considered a hurdle. All ethnic groups need to participate in decision making process about their regions and resources. They know best what their needs and possibilities are. I believe that ethnic diversity is our asset.
Q. How difficult it is for an NGO to inject the modern-thought process in the common masses who have been accustomed to traditionalism?
KB: The assumption that the educated people are modern is itself questionable. Fighting for justice is modernity. The people who do not want to give equality to the common masses are not modern. If the world is still living, in my opinion, it’s not because of the people using the fancy technologies but because of the ordinary people who are real global citizens. They do not leave a big foot print on our ecology.
In India, all the struggles for equality, justice, for saving rivers and forests, are led by ordinary people. It is the rich and educated who are for building destructive damns, who are spreading inequality, who are polluting with their big, diesel cars.
Q. Why is the recent vibe and perception of intolerance that we see rising in India? What is the solution?
KB: I feel that India has been one of the most tolerant countries. I don’t know any other country in the world where at one time a Hindu woman was the president, a Muslim was a vice-president, a Sikh was a prime minister and a catholic woman from Italy was the head of the biggest party. In USA they have not had even one non-Christian president or vice-president. In England it is the same.
Due to the rising inequality in society, insecurity is increasing in today’s world. So when insecurity increases, then some leaders play divide and rule games. So, I feel that there are mainly economic reasons and love of power of some groups, behind this rising intolerance. To remove intolerance we need to have equality and punish those people who spread violence in the name of religion. The elected people need to respect and follow the Constitution and act according to the Constitutional values.
Q. Do you think only monetary factor can be the deciding factor for women empowerment?
KB: No! Cannot be. Women’s economic empowerment is essential but is not enough. Many women who are earning fairly but culturally they are still considered inferior. We need cultural and social empowerment and equality along with economic empowerment. We need to change the understanding of men that men are superior. A married economically independent women is supposed to support her in-laws even if they don’t need her help. A married woman is not allowed to help her natal family even when they are poor and need support. These are cultural inequalities. We need equality in all areas of life.
Q. Please share some success stories of Sangat?
KB: Sangat’s main work is capacity building, organizing workshops and trainings for the people working for justice, human rights and equality. My main work is to sit with those people and talk to them about human rights, gender, patriarchy etc. I can’t give success stories like I educated thousand children or I made a well, etc. We work on consciousness raising, awareness building, networking with different NGOs. Our work is more on the clarity of issues of human rights, democracy, gender equality, caste equality, class equality, writing slogans, writing songs, etc. We also support networking between like minded activists working for justice and equality.
Q. Why you chose Sangat over UN to empower women. Couldn’t you have done more for women being with UN?
Ans. I have worked with United Nations for 27 years. That work gave me the freedom to the neighbouring countries but the work was exactly the same, what I am doing today. The work was capacity building, training NGOs people. I preferred to work directly with the people who are working at the grass-root level. World Bank people normally work at policy level, sitting in capital cities. I am not a policy maker. I am an activist and a trainer who does workshops and trainings. I also think that the World Bank is NOT working for the poor. It has been and is controlled by the rich countries and by the rich people. I preferred to work with people who work with people. Before joining United Nations I used to work for an NGO called Seva Mandir (1972-75) in Udaipur and now I work with Jagori , an NGO.