DADI Lilawati — who had already earned the name and fame of a legendary figure in the education sector long before she died in Hyderabad on Wednesday night at the age of 101 — had been a source of inspiration for many, especially female students, teachers and social activists. She devoted decades of her life to the cause of education and welfare of the downtrodden segment of society. She also set an example of patriotism by not leaving Pakistan along with many of her relatives, who opted for migrating to India due to unknown fears.
Born on Dec 20, 1916, Lilawati had her education at Hyderabad. While at school, she also learnt music but did not involve herself deeply until she became a disciple of Master Joshi. When she was able to sing kirtans and bhajans properly, she developed a taste for music. After the basics and strenuous riyaz, she became quite proficient in music. In 1940, she became a music teacher when veteran nationalist leader G.M. Syed was the minister for education for a brief stint.
Dadi Lila’s family had strong belief in mysticism and that led them to become disciples of Sadhu T.L. Waswani.
In the days, more than half a century back, when no one even thought of women welfare or empowerment in this male-dominated society, it was Lilawati who was seen meeting and visiting people trying to convince them to send their female children to school and get them higher education too. It was the resolute will of Dadi Lila who dared and attained great success.
When she was transferred from Hyderabad to Mirpurkhas as an officer in the education department, she brought a number of girls from not only urban centres, but slums as well, to schools.
Dadi Lila belonged to an educated family of Hyderabad. Almost all her family members were engaged in business, education or bureaucracy.
She held various academic and administrative positions in the education department. She also served as the principal of the Govt Teachers Training College for Women, the only training institution for women teachers in Sindh. Finally she retired as the director (schools).
Partition displaced a large number of families. In the wake of unknown fear almost all of her relatives migrated to India but her parents decided to stay on. She used to strongly defend her parents’ decision and had always been saying to others that she was born on this soil and would die on this soil. She even did not visit India to meet her relatives who had migrated to that country.
A lover of music and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s poetry, she helped her brother, Tirathdas Hotchand, in his study of the life and music of Shah Latif in 1960s.
During her education in Karachi, she began singing from Radio Pakistan, Karachi, by the name of Lila Wadhwani. After her marriage to Dr Tulsidas Harchandani in 1951, she continued her musical sojourn.
Coming from a family of modest resources, she had an inclination of working for downtrodden women, especially imparting education to the girls with lesser means. With the help of her friends, she established the Madame Chatturbai Jotsingh Centre for Women, founded a Naari Sabha and a park exclusively for women. She associated herself with other organisations which were engaged in social uplift of women. In doing so, she did not think of religion, class and creed. This made the difference and soon it became the focus of attention of various other organisations pursuing the same objectives.
Dadi Lila also faced ugly situations and threats from tribal and feudal families who did not want their girls to get education.
After retirement, she undertook social work with more zeal and widened the scope of her struggle. This sent her to the Sindh Assembly in 1985 which helped here to get many schools established in the remote areas of the province. She got many closed schools reopened.
Dadi Lila also helped others establish hospitals and industrial homes for women in rural areas of Sindh.
Her contribution to the education, health and social welfare sectors will long be remembered.
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2017