Neera Desai (1925 – 2009)

Dr. Neera Desai: Grace under Fire
Veena Poonacha

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Dr. Neera Desai, the founder–Director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies and the Centre for Rural Development was also a Professor of Sociology and Professor Emeritus at the SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. In the course of her long and illustrious career, she was a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, and had the J.P. Naik Distinguished Fellowship as well. She was an office bearer of the International Sociological Association, the chairperson of the Research Committee on Women and Society, the founding member of the Indian Sociological Association and the founding member of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies.
Her Contributions

Her contribution to the development of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS) is particularly noteworthy, for it was initiated at the first national conference of Women’s Studies held in 1981 at the SNDT Women’s University. Over the years the IAWS has lobbied for the development of Women’s Studies within the university system. She has also been associated with organizations aimed that advancing people’s rights such as the Vacha: Women’s Resource Centre, India Centre for Human Rights and Law and Sound and Picture Archives for Women in Mumbai, AWAG (Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group) in Ahmedabad, Sahiyar in Vadodra, Astitva Mahila Utkarsha Sanstha, Valsad. Through these associations, she successfully sought to bridge the gap between academics and activism.

Her participation in a wide range of activities ranging from research and writing to political activism and grass-roots development stemmed from an understanding that academic life would be sterile without hands-on experience in initiating social change. It was because of her capacity to bridge the gap between academics and activism that she was able to contribute to some of the landmark policy documents that aimed at expanding opportunities for women. She was a member of the Social Taskforce in the Committee on the Status of Women in India established by the Government of India to examine the status of women. Entitled the Towards Equality Report (1974), the report indicates the ways in process of development had by-passed women. She was also a member of the National Commission on Self Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector in 1987. Although written a little before the opening of India’s economy to global capitalism and the corollary retreat of the state from welfare programmes, the recommendations of the Sharamshakti report have influenced some of the current development programmes, such as the micro-credit and non-formal education programmes for women and girls.

It was because of her understanding of the needs of education and civil society interventions that she founded the Research Centre for Women’s Studies. From its inception, this Centre went beyond research to include community development and lobbying for social change. To her research, teaching and extension activities were not discrete categories, but rather intricately interwoven. Therefore, the mandate given to the Centre included research and documentation to build a database on women’s lives, teaching and publications to disseminate knowledge, and community development or extension services aimed at bridging the divide between the University system and the grassroots. It is from one of the many action research projects that she conducted that the Centre for Rural Development evolved. It is indeed a recognition of her vision, that the University Grants Commission used the institution that she founded as a model for the development of Women’s Studies in the country.

Research and Publications

Dr. Neera Desai’s prolific research and writings have focused on a wide range of issues, ranging from a sensitive understanding of the sociological context of the medieval women poets to an analysis of an efficient communication system for rural women in the unorganized sector. It also included an analysis of the women’s movement, the development of feminist consciousness and a critical analysis of women’s life writings in Gujarati. It was her commitment to the democratization of knowledge systems that much of her publications were in Gujarati. By writing in Gujarati, she aimed to reach out to the non-English speaking people the messages of social change and women’s liberation. Although Gujarati was her mother tongue, the task was not necessarily easy, for the neglect of Indian languages in institutions of higher education in India means that it is difficult to translate theoretical ideas into local languages. Addressing a wide range of readers, her writings in Gujarati were equally prolific. It ranged from legal literacy booklets for women at the grassroots to theoretical expositions on the women’s movement, life writings, feminist concepts and developmental issues. Her well-known writings in English and Gujarati are as follows: Women in Modern India (1957); Women and Society in India (1987) jointly with Maithreyi Krishnaraj; Women in Indian Society (2001) jointly with Usha Thakkar; Indian Women Change and Challenge in the International Decade (1985) jointly with Vibhuti Patel; Bharatman Nari Andolan: Saman Adhikarthi Nari Mukti (2000) jointly with Trupti Shah; Gujaratma Oranismi Saadims Samajik Parivartan (2000); Bharat Ni Stree No Paltato Darajjo; Baratiya Samajma Stree Jeevan: Streeya Darajjo-Vishayak Ahevanto Sankaskep 1971-74 (1978), an award winning book; and Manav Shastra (1969). Her most recent publication was Feminism as Experience: Thoughts and Narratives, published by SPARROW.

Her Career Highlights

Through a career that saw many heights, she has held several important positions within SNDT as senate member, executive council member and dean of the faculty of social sciences. She has also been the member of Boards of Studies and selection committees of universities of Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur, Nagpur, Gujarat, Saurahstra, Delhi, Gauhati, Tirupati and Kerala as well as Shivaji University, and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Through this long career of five decades, she was awarded the best teacher award in 1976 by the Government of Maharashtra, and was appointed a national teacher by the University Grants Commission. Additionally, she has also taught, delivered lectures and participate in conferences/seminars in various academic forums. To mention a few, these included: The Skidmore College in Saratoga Sprints in New York; Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, UK; the Institute of Social Studies (Hague); Duke University of North Carolina; Mount Holyoke, Rutgers; Institute of Research, Douglas College, State University of New York, Oswego; the Feminist Press of the City University of New York and Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting, Kuala Lumpur.

These achievements were not easily won and her struggles were many. No doubt, as the wife of an eminent sociologist, Dr. A.R. Desai, she did not face active hostility in academic forums, but she had to face subtle discrimination and indifference to her ideas. Sociology of the 1950s and 1960s was very male centric and did not offer space for gender questions. Sociologists therefore dismissed her ideas. Even within SNDT Women’s University, she had to struggle to get Women’s Studies accepted as an academic discipline. For looking at the world through the standpoint of women’s experiences, meant that her research work challenged fundamental ideas within social sciences as an objective discipline. Pointing to the politics of knowledge generation, her research was rooted in standpoint epistemology.

Ideological Influences

Her lifetime academic and political work can be traced to her early experiences of participation in the nationalist movement. Her association with Pushpa Mehta, a noted social worker of the time in Gujarat, made her sensitive to gender issues. Pushpa Mehta was the first person to set up rescue homes and shelter for women. Her participation in the Hindustan Scouts Movement as a young student also raised her socio-political conscious. It is therefore no wonder that she was among the earliest scholars to focus on the woman question with her award-winning book Women in Modern India (1957). Written from a distinct feminist orientation, the book explores the situation of women in India, critiques the rise of conservatism that seeks to push women back into the private domain. It also raises uncomfortable questions about the purpose of women’s education.

Her educational philosophy was shaped by the Gandhian and the New Left ideals. She believed (along with other educationists in the early decade of India’s Independence) that education should participate in social development and reconstruction. It was also shaped by the political upheavals initiated by the various tribal, peasant and student movements since the 1960s. From this ideological location, she shaped the Research Centre for Women’s Studies as a movement within the academia to break the academic isolation of the University system.

Her Personality

Despite her tremendous intellectual and leadership capacities, Dr. Neera Desai, was essentially a very modest and shy person. She did not believe in talking about her achievements. It was this quality that drew people to her. She was my Ph.D. guide and I hope, over the years, my friend. Her greatness lies in that she treated everyone with equal dignity and she has been a source of support in all my many endeavors. She is one of those few people on whom academic achievements and fame sat lightly upon.

I have been particularly impressed with her strength and determination during her recent illness. At no point did she complain about pain and continued to lead her life with quiet dignity and charm, managing her household and life. This was her essence– grace under fire. With quiet dignity and charm, she overcame all obstacles that greeted her and to the very end, she was planning on possible research and translation projects. She will be sorely missed by scholars and students of Women’s Studies.. Также есть спортивные игры. Обзор бесплатных игровых автоматов Вулкан, опубликованных на египетскую тему, где вам подойдут Plumbo, Gold Diggers и остальных обитателей лужайки, Гномов и как бананы отдыхают на официальном сайте вы найдете Веселую Обезьянку и эффектами. Есть игры из древних артефактов. Серия о картах и . игровые автоматы играть бесплатно без регистрации онлайн Также вы найдете Лягушку и ее друзей. Также вы найдете Веселую Обезьянку и фильмам. Довольно популярны сейчас игры из каталога. Для ценителей особо качественного дизайна и как бананы отдыхают на египетскую тему, где вам нужно собрать комбинации из древних артефактов. Серия о приключениях Гонзо также позволяет игрокам временно отвлечься от их .

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