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DC Edit | Ela's pioneering fight


Published on: November 3, 2022 | Updated on: November 3, 2022

SEWA founder & women's activist Elaben Bhatt passes away (Photo: Twitter/SEWA Bharat)

There is a huge informal work force of several million women in India who owe a deep debt to Ela Bhatt. The rich encomiums that flowed in the wake of her death at the age of 89 are an acknowledgment of the concept she pursued decades ago towards empowerment of women while leading her spartan life in the Gandhian way. She opened a path to women who were either in distress or bold enough to seek self-employment while still handling back-breaking housework and keeping the family glued together.

Bhatt’s early acolytes in the movement she started in 1972 may not have gone on to head industries that command billions of rupees in revenues as a few women have in the modern age. In fact, this may be a country which had the world’s second woman Prime Minister in Mrs Indira Gandhi after Sirimavo Bandaranayake of Sri Lanka had broken the glass ceiling in politics. But tending to millions of women needed a vision to empower them by showing a path to financial independence. This is where Bhatt shone most in pioneering the concept of microfinance way ahead of its time and bringing to Indian womanhood opportunities to earn a living.

The country is home today to many high achievers who have competed on an equal footing with men and won laurels in business and management. But the same cannot be said yet of equal opportunity without sex discrimination at every level of enterprise. What Bhatt did was to teach very early the importance of girls’ education and a path to basic financial independence. She won many awards and the admiration of the likes of the United States’ then first couple in the Clintons, but it is her actions empowering the disadvantaged and women in distress that will remain etched in history.