Singing and Spreading Radical Love: Kamla Bhasin (April 24, 1946 to September 25, 2021)

Firebrand feminist, activist, author poet, Kamla Bhasin, passed away on Saturday, succumbing to cancer

Kamala Bhasin
Image: Facebook/kamla.bhasin.7

Just a few weeks ago on September, firebrand feminist activist, author Kamla Bhasin shared happy videos of singing with her closest friends. Her frail body may have been weakened by cancer, but there she was, dressed in her beautiful clothes, singing loud and clear, revolutionary words set to catchy beats. Her social media page is a window to her thoughts and life, which were always inspirations even in the final days, for many of those who admired her work as an activist and wisdom as an elder from afar. For her hundreds of friends it was a place they would go to ‘meet’ her virtually and hear her sing, and share her comments and observations on events and situations as they unfolded. 

Kamal Bhasin, passed away on September 25, Saturday, succumbing to cancer. She was 75 years old. Kamla Bhasin’s close friend activist Kavita Srivastava, who was in fact singing along with her in the videos, shared the news of her passing, saying, “Her loss is a big setback for the women’s movement. One of the pioneers of the movement, collectively built the South Asian Feminist movement. Somebody who celebrates life, whatever the adversity,  will be missed by all. Condolences to her family and all her friends. Many of whom  were there with her till she breathed her last. Kamla you will always live in our hearts. In Sisterhood, which is in deep grief.” she shared.



That Kamala Bhasin had touched many lives was evident in the outpouring of messages that brought to life her iconic words once again in countless social media messages. Her words of solidarity with rape survivors ring the loudest, “If I am raped i do not lose my ‘hnour’. It is the rapist who loses their honour. My honour, the honour of my community is not in my vagina”. 



Then there are other words she herself wrote that show her sense of humour and humility, especially when reminded by admirers of her greatness. Such as, “You say I am an inspiration. I feel I am inspired. By Life. By love. By friendships. By caring…” and her sense of humour too. For instance, this quote, “AT this moment I am sitting on the toilet pot for the past 30 minutes. The medicines have blocked my system. I am being given the fanciest of purgatives by doctors. I use my own tricks… Today I am not going back defeated. How to pass time waiting, pushing? Writing to you all. Thank Feminism that we believe in… I can tell you now…the winner will be me, even though my rectum will be bruised… DETERMINATION ZINDABAD.” 

Bhasin, will be hailed as one of the most active, and eminent leaders of the feminist movement in India and South Asia. She advocated for equality. She would be one of the first to stand up and speak up for women, and was among the eminent feminists who had written to the Prime Minister against the targeting of anti Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) women protesters. Collectively they had denounced false narratives and the targeting of Muslim women activists. Kamala Bhasin always spoke up for everyone, she founded the feminist network ‘Sangat’, in 2002 that works for the rights and welfare of underprivileged women from rural and tribal communities. She has authored many books and was one of the first to raise the slogan of “azadi”against patriarchy.

“Kamla Bhasin, a friend and sympathiser of NFIW (National Federation of Indian Women )… She always recognised and respected our work. Whenever we ask her to be with us for any programme she never said no and without any hesitation she happily participated. You may remember that she was there at Jaipur Congress of NFIW for 2-3 days .She brought Eve Ensler to our Day and Night Dharna at jantar mantar. She was a crusader against Violence against Women and for love and peace. Huge loss to the women’s movement. On behalf of NFIW I too pay my rich tribute and homage to her,” stated activist and friend Annie Raja.

“Kamla Bhasin,dear friend, passes away, now a star in the south asian Firmament…” shared close friend Teesta Setalvad.



Other friends shared “gems from her Feminist Joke Book: ‘Mary conceived without sinning, Oh Lord, let me sin without conceiving’… ‘Men at work’ when men work, they put up signs, women work all the time” for that was Kamala Bhasin: a woman who laughed through her own physical and emotional pain, and always stood up in sisterhood to wipe a tear for anyone suffering.

One of Kamla Bhasin’s most powerful work is “BECAUSE I AM A GIRL – I MUST STUDY” these words have travelled the globe:

“A father asks his daughter:

Study? Why should you study?

I have sons aplenty who can study.

Girl, why should you study?

The daughter tells her father:

Since you ask, here’s why I must study.

Because I am a girl, I must study.

Long denied this right, I must study

For my dreams to take flight, I must study

Knowledge brings new light, so I must study

For the battles I must fight, I must study

Because I am a girl, I must study.

To avoid destitution, I must study

To win independence, I must study

To fight frustration, I must study

To find inspiration, I must study

Because I am a girl, I must study.

To fight men’s violence, I must study

To end my silence, I must study

To challenge patriarchy I must study

To demolish all hierarchy, I must study.

Because I am a girl, I must study.

To mould a faith I can trust, I must study

To make laws that are just, I must study

To sweep centuries of dust, I must study

To challenge what I must, I must study

Because I am a girl, I must study.

To know right from wrong, I must study.

To find a voice that is strong, I must study

To write feminist songs I must study

To make a world where girls belong, I must study.

Because I am a girl, I must study.”

And here’s another heartfelt tribute to a woman who lived to empower her sisters:

For Kamla ji… Rest in Power!

Penn Unbound, a song in Tamil and English, written and performed during One Billion Rising 2012. She made me sing it every single time we met…Strike..Dance… Rise… 

Excuse the bad rapping and emotional singing… she loved it, so here it is!

Love, gratitude, zindabad!

Radhika Ganesh, Chennai (Ek Potli Ret ki)


Kamla’s friends are meeting just now in Jaipur. Where she went to school and college. Her hostel mates, university colleagues and mentors and all the young feminists who in the 70s and 80s and 90s who took inspiration from her. Her oldest friend Gerda Unnithan also joined her, who knew her since 61, when she was college sports captain.



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