“Because I am a girl, I must study.

To avoid destitution, I must study.

To win independence, I must study.

To fight frustration, I must study.

To find inspiration, I must study.”

(from the poem, “Because I am a Girl, I Must Study” by Kamla Bhasin)

These lines show the vigour and eloquence of a poet, a feminist, and a protester in Kamla Bhasin, who emerged as one of the most inspirational and prominent leaders of the women’s movement in India. Simple but profound, her poetry speaks volumes. Her influence on the feminist movement, her powerful writing, and her commitment to justice will withstand time. Bhasin’s contribution to literature is more than the thirty-something books she has published; her speeches and interviews incite ripples among the audience. She is an outstanding orator and singer, whose slogans are piercing and potent. Her criticism of patriarchy, rape culture, and the everyday abuse women face are intended to be provocative. She does not hold back from calling out the abuse women go through in their life, which is why she is one of the foremost feminist activists in India.

Before working for women’s rights, Bhasin focused on the alleviation of poverty and illiteracy while working at Seva Mandir. Bhasin’s experience with women from various villages in India helped in forming her opinions on women’s rights. She advocated for the rights of women no matter their caste, religion or status. She co-founded Jagori, a women’s resource and training centre, which focused on publishing books, conducting workshops and networking. She founded Sangat, a feminist network, to conduct workshops on understanding feminism and its need for the improvement of women’s rights.

Bhasin has given the world her poetry which is akin to a safe space for women. The poems written by her resonate with the people and her legacy will live through the words she left behind.

Her rewritten poem Azadi talks about being free from the shackles of patriarchy and violence and humiliation that women face. She improvised on the slogans by Pakistani feminists in protest of a political party. Bhasin originally used it as a protest against patriarchy but later added that it is for labourers, Dalits, and Adivasis alike. A live recital of the poem at ‘One Billion Rising from South Asia’ is a surreal experience, with the crowd chanting “Azadi” along with her.

Another powerful poem of hers is Because I Am A Girl, I Must Study, written as a reply to a father’s question on why should his daughter study when he has sons. Bhasin writes on the importance of education for girls, the need to teach them to stand up for themselves against the various problems they face because of their gender. These lines are like a dream come true, it speaks to the girls fighting for their rights starting at their own home. These lines perfectly portray how education opens the door to freedom for women.

While talking about her poetry, her nursery rhymes requires a special mention. Rewriting old children’s rhymes to make them more gender-neutral, Bhasin reverses the traditional roles of a mother and father. In her book Housework Is Everyone’s Work: Rhymes for Just and Happy Families, she attempted to change the family dynamics, with the father helping out with the housework and taking care of the children while the mother gets adequate rest. A father changing his child’s diaper or bathing them should be normalised, it is his duty as a father to do so. The poet also depicts the mother as an educated and working woman, who is not demonised for wanting space and rest.

Kamala Bhasin’s death is a shocking loss, but her words will keep her immortal in our memories. She will forever be known as a person who made a significant difference in the lives of the women in India. Although she will be missed, she will never be forgotten.


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