A Progressive Woman

Pushpa Bhave was born in 1939 into a progressive middle-class family. Her grandfather had given up his inheritance and did not want anything to do with the deeply religious beliefs of his Hindu ancestors.

Bhave's father was a similar man. He was committed to education and encouraged his children to study, read and explore ideas. Bhave went to Elphinstone College in Mumbai and did her Masters in Marathi literature and then in Sanskrit from Deccan College, Pune. Subsequently, she specialized in linguistics. 

As a student in Elphinstone College, Bhave became aware of the divide between the political aspirations of the upper classes and that of the masses. She also came under the influence of Sher Amar Sheikh, an activist and folk artist. This put her in touch with theatre artists with Leftist ideologies, who were part of the legendary Indian People's Theatre movement. The theatre movement - both stage and street - was extremely vibrant at that time. 

It was her commitment to progressive values that made Bhave join the Samyukta Maharashtra movement in 1956. Spearheaded by S M Joshee, the movement aimed at lending voice to the aspirations of the peasants and working-class people of Maharashtra. In 1957, Bhave participated in the Goa Liberation Movement, aimed at liberating Goa from the colonial domination of Portugal. 

In the early 1960s, Bhave focused on working with dalits (the lowest in the caste hierarchy), influenced greatly by Gandhian ideals of village reconstruction. Along with her colleagues, she organized a series of 15-day camps for rural girls in Pune. During the camps, they would read to the girls and make them conscious of their rights. Through this process of village reconstruction and empowerment of women, she gradually came to participate in the Dalit Panther movement. 

This period of Bhave's work, from the 1960s to the 1970s indicates the growing radicalization of her political ideology: She had moved from the ideology of eliminating caste discrimination in the villages, to a position of endorsing the political aspirations of the Dalit Panther movement. 

Bhave was even jailed for her commitment to the Dalit struggle when she led the group that wanted to rename Marathawada University as Ambedkar University. This transformation in her political ideology emerged out of her understanding of the prevailing caste discrimination in the country. It led to her working with Baba Adavav to organize the Hamal and Mapadi (head-loaders and sweepers) workers' movement. 

Apart from the caste oppression factor, these workers were exploited financially. The women, mostly sweepers in granaries, for instance, were not paid wages. They were merely allowed to pick the grains that had fallen on the ground as their wages for sweeping the floor. Bhave's awareness of the struggles of these women also made her organize the women beedi workers of Nippani, who were exploited by the contractors.

Bhave also led protests against the devadasi (temple prostitutes) system. The ancient devadasi system is well embedded in the Hindu religious fabric. While working with the devadasis, Bhave challenged the feudal structure in society and challenged the criminal-politician nexus, which benefited from the system of selling women in the name of religion. 

Bhave's understanding of politics further sharpened during the Emergency in 1975, when her home offered shelter to many underground political workers like Mrinal Gore and Pannala Sura. Like a sponge, she soaked in the thoughts and ideals of the political activists she gave shelter to, and gradually became an important member of the underground opposition to the Emergency. 

This political training prepared Bhave for one of the most critical and fiercest battles of her life: Her campaign against the rightwing Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra. In 1990, Ramesh Kini, an ordinary citizen living in Bhave's neighborhood in Mumbai, was asked by his landlord to vacate his house. When Kini refused to vacate, the landlord was believed to have used his Shiv Sena connections to intimidate him. Kini refused to bow down, and was murdered. The local police, apparently influenced by the Shiv Sena, claimed that the post mortem report indicated it wasn't a murder.

However, Bhave rallied the entire neighborhood and forced a local doctor to conduct a second post mortem, which conclusively proved murder. Her case was so strong that Supreme Court lawyer Soli Sorabjee - who later was appointed Attorney General of India - represented Kini's family without any charge.

Although the Shiv Sena's influence is said to have prevented proper police investigation, the fact that Bhave, a lone woman, took on the political powers of the state inspired many others to follow her lead. Again, during the 1992 communal riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Bhave was at the forefront opposing the riots and challenging the power of rightwing forces. She used, as during the Kini case, the Gandhian principle of peaceful resistance. 

Bhave was subjected to threats and intimidation, particularly during the riots. But she did not buckle. She immersed herself in investigating the Jalgaon and Parbani scandals, involving the enticement of young girls through blackmail and coercion by local politicians. 

Bhave is also a trustee of the Social Gratitude Fund, which supports activists who do not wish to take funds from international agencies. Currently, she is a member of People's Forum for Peace and Justice, National Council (India) and the Joint Committee (India-Pakistan), all of which aim to establish cordial relationships between India and Pakistan.

The Social Gratitude Fund, in fact, was established through the contributions of the people of Maharashtra. Significant among them are film and stage actors Dr Shreeram Lagoo and Nilu Phule.

Besides establishing herself as a distinguished academic, Bhave has also been examining socio-political processes through the lens of gender. Her activism among women bearing the double burden of caste and gender brought about her feminist consciousness. This is reflected in her teaching and research. Currently she is campaigning to introduce a bill in Parliament to prevent the dedication of young girls and boys into any religious sect. She feels that only an adult person should have that choice, and parents cannot have the right to dedicate their children into their own religious ideals. 

Bhave's idealism and tireless optimism have inspired many of her students - Medha Patkar, Santaram Pandare and Nikhil Wagle - to do their bit for the world. Through her five decades of advocacy, writings, and social and political activism she has made a major contribution to the development of grassroots democracy in the country.     


More by :  Subhash Arora

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Views: 3338      Comments: 6

Comment Vijay D Pandit ,pushpa bhave was not a born brahmin her maiden name was Sarkar a highly illstratious family her sibllings were extremely intelligent and both parents were educators ,she was a neighbour and an aunt ,maushi was a simple person ,she fought for what she believed in ,though I never agreed being right winger I respected her views

Seema Goray
03-Oct-2020 07:20 AM

Comment Of course, she is a hypocrite of the first order. What is her maiden surname? I suppose she was born in a Brahmin family. But then why she did not marry someone from the so-called lower communities? and married a KoBra.?

Vijay D Pandit
14-Jun-2016 23:59 PM

Comment I apologise in advance for the acidic language that I would be using.
Pushpa is a rotten hypocrit and a filthy parasite in a society who thrives on false social unrest. She has a bloody habit of raking up irrelevant issues and shooting to the public attention using such points as launching pads.
Her views have always been prejudiced and they lack rational,open, fair minded and liberal analytical backing. She has tried to malign the social image and standing of someone because of personal vendetta and illogical bias.
For instance, she had unsuccesfuly tried to defame the late Shiv sena supremo Thackeray because he had voiced his opinions about communists in a mocking fashion.
There are several other instances about her stupid and selfish behaviour.
If someone wishes to get in deep to explore more about this woman, feel free to mail me as I think it is improper to state a load of misdeedz of Pushpa in public as I do not belong to her league of scoundrels.

Shahu Kulkarni
28-Sep-2013 12:50 PM

Comment Hi I am Neela Chipalkatty. I was at Ruia College in 1972-1976.
Pushpa Bhave was my Marathi Professor.
I would like to contact her regarding her Peace and Justice commitment.
Best Regards

Neela Chipalkatty
16-Jun-2013 12:54 PM

Comment I live in Dhenkanal ,Odisha,a social worker , work for rural based women for their sustainence, . I have been ill behaved by a wealthy bus owner who eventually the house owner of my institue. I am attaching the story which would explain the entire event .
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am so helpless and clueless that I am often at loss to decide what I should do. I do not even know whether I am right to write this letter to you. But I believe that somebody some where must understand my suffering and extend a helping hand to give me justice. To explain myself, I am Smitarani Samal ,at Green House, Gandhimandir Road Extn. Meenabazar , Dhenkanal, a social worker and professionally a beautician. I am associated with “Soundarya”, a N.G.O engaged in rehabilitating rural young girls those are aggrieved and under privileged . I used to give them opportunity to train them in candle and papad making, music , house keeping, salesmanship, primary beauty care . I had quasi commercial institute , named Soundarya Beauty Parlour, at Laxmi bazaar , Dhenkanal , which also a training institute for these girls to hone their skill. The wife of the house owner Mrs. Anita Behera, who was my client and offered to open this institute in her shop room. Since I had a close relationship with her and we often meet in social gathering I did not insist for a written agreement , however an oral agreement took place and I was handed over the shop for the purpose.
Mr. Bijay Kumar Behera , the husband of Mrs. Behera who had a office near my institute used to collect house rent from me. One day , I had been to his office to hand over the rent . While taking money he caught hold of my hand and behaved vulgarly. I shouted at him , threw the money at him and came out . One of our trainee who accompanied me to Mr. Behera had seen the incident through the corner of the door. I tried to resolve the issue with the help of his wife, few common friends and one D.S.P named Mr. Ajaya Pratap Swain who eventually was known to me through Mrs. Behera in a social gathering in her house during a Durga puja. I know taking the issue to Police and Media might initiate a bad propaganda. However, Mr. Behera was furious after the issue and insisted me to vacate his premises immediately. I told him politely that I may be handed over my security deposit before I hand over the room to him . He neither refunded the amount nor allowed me to take my belongings .Even he shamelessly keep on sending message of sending trainee girls to him if I at all want to continue in the premises. He claimed his close nexus with Town Thana , Dhenkanal through DSP Mr. Swain and threatened me to harass in all means. He started doing his criminal activity to the extent of piling laterite stones (building block) in the entrance of my institute.. I brought this to the notice of the Town Thana, Dhenkanal in the form of an FIR. Instead of registering the FIR, they forced me to sign an agreement of vacating the room within three months. I brought this to the notice of the then S.P. Mr. Gajaviye and D.I .G Ms. Santosh Bala . They helped me by directing the town thana to resolve the issued as per law. I filed a civil suit for my right. Unfortunately, one point of time both the officers were transferred and DSP Mr. Swain took over as SDPO , Town Thana. In absence of S.P. and with the allegedly help of Mr. Swain Mr. Behera increased his criminal activity like breaking the asbestos roof of the institute in the process spoiling the valuables inside the institute, throwing human stool in front of the entrance, passing vulgar comment to me and the trainee girls and making anonymous late night calls on my mobile . Then he stole the outdoor unit of an A/C installed the institute and broke open the institute and stole the valuable things inside. As a law abiding citizen I tried to inform police every time, but in turn they harassed me , even did not register my FIR. I was forced to lodge complain case against these eventuality in SDJM court. Court directed the Police Station for inquiry and instead of talking to the alleged criminal the I.O harassed and intimidated me. I have few documentary evidence and witnesses against her (I.O’s) behaviour. I fail to understand being a girl should we be dealt with like an object. The said house owner being an wealthy bus owner can twist the law enforcing mechanism in his favour? Should I succumb to his vulgar intension to continue in his house ? Should a police officer behave / influence the investigation the way Town P.S. , Dhenkanal , Odisha behaved. Last but not the least , the media which is a watch dog against social evil should interfere to bring out the truth in to the limelight. I have represented before President of India, C.M. Odisha, State Human rights commission, State Women Commission, Dist Collector , Dist S.P alike, but unfortunately every process ends at town P.S. , whose activity is questionable.
With a hope that somebody , somewhere would help me to get justice.
Smitarani Samal

want Pushpa Bhave,s advice

smitarani Samal
13-Sep-2012 06:14 AM

Comment I live at Chinchwad, Pune. Me and my wife are being harassed over a decade by our neighbours. I wish to meet Pushpa Bhave personally or meet any of her close colleague at Pune to begin with. My phone no. is 98908 19014.

16-Jun-2011 03:30 AM

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