Ahmedabad: Renowned women’s rights activist Ela Bhatt, the founder of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), died here on Wednesday due to age-related issues, her associates said.
Bhatt, 89, a Padma Bhushan recipient, was a pioneer in the field of women empowerment and had received international recognition due to her work.
“It is with profound grief that we announce the passing away of our beloved and respected founder, Smt. Elaben Bhatt, a pioneer in advocating for women workers’ rights, we strive to carry her legacy forward,” SEWA Bharat tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled her death.
”Sad to know about the death of Elaben Bhatt. She will be remembered long for her work for the promotion of women empowerment, social service and education among the youth. Condolences to her family members and admirers,” Modi tweeted in Gujarati.
Bhatt is mainly known for her work through the Self-Employed Women’s Association or SEWA, a trade union of women working in the unorganized sector, which now has two million members. Bhatt was born in Ahmedabad on September 7, 1933.
After a short stint as a college teacher, she joined the legal department of the Textile Labour Association (TLA), one of the oldest unions of textile workers in Ahmedabad, in the 1960s. Her association with the TLA led her to organise self-employed women who worked in textile markets. In 1972 SEWA was established with Bhatt as its general-secretary.
SEWA’s work gradually expanded to cover the poor women working in other unorganized sectors too. It also started a cooperative bank and pioneered the microfinance movement. Bhatt, who was inspired by Gandhian ideals, also served as Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith, a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad, till October this year before resigning on health grounds.
She had been nominated to the Rajya Sabha and also served on the Planning Commission. Bhatt was also one of the founders of Women’s World Banking, Women in Informal Economy: Globalising, Organising (WIEGO) and International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet).
Besides Padma Bhushan and Ramon Magsaysay award, she had also received the Right Livelihood Award, Niwano Peace Prize and Indira Gandhi International Prize for Peace.
Bhatt had also been a member of The Elders, a group of global leaders including Nelson Mandela and former US president Jimmy Carter which aimed to promote peace. She is survived by her two children, Amimayi Potter and Mihir Bhatt, and four grandchildren.
“One fails to not only put her in a category to address, but one also fails to find words potent and pithy enough to describe and approximate her work and thoughts,” her grandson Rameshwar Bhatt said.
She lived by Gandhian principles all her life, he said.