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Vidya Bal, veteran social activist and feminist writer no more

Stalwart social activist, feminist writer and journalist Vidya Bal, who was a tireless crusader for gender equality, passed away at a private nursing home in Pune on Thursday. She was 83.

According to sources, she was unwell for the past month and had been undergoing treatment.

Active in the social field for more than half a century, Bal was a towering personality in Maharashtra’s progressive milieu, articulating her ‘socialist feminism’ through her trenchant journalism in magazines such as Stree (‘Woman’) and Miloon Saryajani (‘All of us together’), which she founded in 1989.

Born into a traditional middle-class family and married at the age of 18, Bal’s socialist orientation began when she joined the editorial staff of Stree in 1964 after a stint at the Pune division of Akashwani in the late 1950s.

At Stree, Bal came into her own with her powerful and sensitive elucidation of the myriad problems and issues facing women, especially in the State’s rural hinterland.

Unlike some thinkers, she did not just satisfy herself with expressing her thoughts and penning articles - she launched social platforms such as the Naari Samata Manch, started awareness campaigns and personally toured villages with a single-minded determination to awaken society to women’s issues and the prejudices faced by them.

With a view to pushing her investigation into problems afflicting women and attracting a wider readership, Bal launched her own monthly, Miloon Saryajani, which not only gave space for women’s issues but documented travails that men too face.

Noted writer-activist Kiran Moghe said, “Her passing away is a personal loss for me. We all lived in the shadow of Ms. Bal’s guidance and her campaign to strive for equal rights for both men and women will never be forgotten”.

Against the backdrop of the recent temple entry agitation, Bal, along with lawyer Neelima Vartak, filed a PIL plea in the Bombay High Court in 2016, demanding the enforcement of a law permitting temple entry and worship for all in Hindu religious places.

“Her passing will undoubtedly leave a huge void in the struggle for women’s rights in Maharashtra and the country. Her labour of love, Miloon Saryajani, will forever remain a powerful voice for women to express their thoughts,” said Avinash Patil of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), with whom Bal had a fruitful association.

From agitating for better sanitation facilities for women to championing euthanasia, Bal’s erudition, seemingly inexhaustible energy and dignity touched and endeared all those who came in contact with her.

Nandini Jadhav, who heads the Pune branch of the MANS, said: “I met Vidya tai at her Prabhat Road residence just before she was admitted to the hospital…even though she was ailing, she was full of ideas and we spoke for nearly four hours, reflecting on women’s issues and the way ahead. She was the last of a dying breed of social crusaders…I think the best way to preserve her memory is by carrying her work forward. We have that huge responsibility now”.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Vidya Chavan described Bal’s death was “truly a sad moment”. Bal was active till her last breath, Ms. Chavan said.

Bal’s mortal remains were kept at her Prabhat Road residence for admirers to pay their final respects. The cremation will be be at the Vaikuntha crematorium.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 7:27:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/veteran-social-activist-and-feminist-writer-vidya-bal-passes-away/article30691306.ece

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