ISLAMABAD, July 28: The idealism to change the world and to make it a better place for the oppressed is one aim which has defined the life and times of author, song-writer and social activist, Kamla Bhasin.
On a recent visit to Islamabad, Kamla Bhasin, the South Asia Coordinator for “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” shared some of her life’s brief perspectives with Dawn.
Born in 1946 in Shaheedanwali, a place near Mandi Bahauddin in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Ms Kamla’s family migrated to India at the time of partition. She grew up in Rajasthan where her father, Dr Mangat Ram Bhasin, was serving in a rural village. After completing postgraduate education in economics from Jaipur, she was awarded a fellowship in Sociology in Germany.
However, the emotional bonds with the land brought her back to India in early 1970s. Inspired by realities and idealism of the times, Kamla then started to work at the grassroots level for the downtrodden and oppressed people of her country. She worked on a UN regional project for South Asia, interacting with NGOs and CBOs and formed linkages which persist to this day.
Ms Kamla visited Pakistan for the first time in 1983 on the invitation of the then minister Dr Attiya Inayatullah. After that, she has been a regular visitor to the country with two or three visits a year.
“I love to be in Pakistan where some of my closest friends are,” she said.
Apart from her activism for peace and feminism, Kamla tried her hands at song writing and authoring a number of books some of which have been translated into almost 25 languages. Kamla’s books including, Feminism and its relevance in South Asia, What is patriarchy in understanding gender, Women and boundaries, gave a new perspective to tackle policy issues related to gender imbalances in the society. The songs she wrote like Jago Ri, Chalo Dunya Badlain, became the anthem for activists striving for a change.
These days, her prime passion is the “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project.
“The project was initiated to raise the consciousness of the world to define peace in a much broader way, encompassing comprehensive human security.”
She siad: “Kulsoom Farman from Gilgit, who works with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), Asma Jehangir, Bilquis Edhi, Nigar Ahmed, Akhtar Riazuddin, Rubina Feroze and others make the list of 29 from Pakistan for the Nobel Peace Prize”.
The nominated women have contributed tremendously to their societies including 91 from India, 16 from Bangladesh, 12 from Sri Lanka and nine from Nepal, she said, adding, a book of 2100 pages would be published including two page profile of each of the 1000 nominated women from around the world.
Paying tributes to the contribution of women who have made it to the list from around the world, Ms Kamla proudly showed a copy of First City, a magazine published by Aruna Roy, a former ICS officer, which profiles some of the nominees. Of particular interest was profile of Ms Sharmila who has stuck to her convictions for the past four years by being on hunger strike against the Indian government’s actions in the Northeastern parts of the country.
Ms Kamla said the peace activist was being forced fed for the past four years but nothing has been able to break her convictions.
“If 30 per cent people do not have access to basic amenities of life or if minorities are not able to raise their voice like what happened in Gujrat, if women are raped in New Delhi or New York then it is not peaceful,” she said.
Ms Kamla said peace is not merely the absence of war but an all encompassing concept.
The 1000 Women for Peace Project emphasises the collective approach to peace, she said.
The project is to put pressure on Bush, Blair and Modi that ideas of violence are not tolerable anymore, she said.
Ms Kamla said the project began in 2003 based on the conviction that the commitment of women working for peace and justice should be acknowledged and made publicly known. It began as a Swiss initiative but has become a project supported globally, she said, adding the official nomination of 1000 women was handed over to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo in January earlier in the year.