ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ela Bhatt (1933–2022)

An Ongoing Journey

The passing of Ela Bhatt leaves a certain void. This obituary is a refl ection upon the style of leadership that she provided for civil society intervention in empowering poor women in the unorganised sector. Elaben’s ideological position is located in the Gandhian frame of bringing about fundamental changes while continuing to engage with the system. She internalised the essence of Gandhian thought and interpreted it in her own fi eld of action, and demonstrated that this interpretation was effective for the cause espoused.

With the passing of Ela Bhatt (Elaben as she was fondly called) on 3 November 2022, there is a sense of void, which makes us reflect upon the quality of leadership provided by people inspired by Gandhian thought. Elaben possibly had some brushes with the Mahatma in person, but was greatly inspired by his ideas. She was mentored by Anasuya Sarabhai, started her career in the Textile Labour Association (TLA)—an org­a­nisation that claimed its constitution was drafted by Gandhi—and her last appointment was as a chancellor of ­Gujarat Vidyapith, another Gandhian institution. With TLA she got her foundational training and with the Vidyapith it was a crowning glory. The life in-between was the most interesting and purposeful. In this obituary I will try and look at what she chose to do, the instrumentality she used and the nature of engagement she had in her multiple initiatives.

Elaben was like Gandhi in many ways, small and rather uninspiring personality, always down to earth, managing most of her work by herself, travelling around in a private autorickshaw when in Ahme­dabad and with a small backpack when travelling out, and wearing the handspun. Possibly, Gandhi was a better public speaker than Elaben. She believed in a multifaith prayer, which was a morning ritual followed by all the organisations under the umbrella of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). These org­anisations were no different in the values they stood for and the methods that they adopted. While the canvas of Elaben was much smaller than Gandhi himself, her life was a fairly good interpretation of the Gandhian way of speaking truth to power.

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Updated On : 21st Nov, 2022
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