28 February, 2021

‘Poverty Is Violence With Tacit Consent’

Glued to Gandhism, Ela Bhatt believes the principles are even more valid now

Photograph by Jitender Gupta
‘Poverty Is Violence With Tacit Consent’

She grew up in Ahmedabad during the heady days of India’s freedom struggle and, as a 14-year-old, rose to answer Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Rashtra Nirmaan or nation building. Now, at 83, Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association of India), believes that the country has lost the opportunity of real freedom or ‘poorna swaraj’ Bapu had envisaged.

“Gandhiji wanted each and every person to experience freedom, but that is not the case. Uska anubhav sab ko nahi ho raha (not everyone is experiencing it). A lot needs to be done,” says Bhatt, the recipient of Outlook’s SpeakOut Lifetime Achievement Award. The “gentle revolutionary”, as she is known, the diminutive Bhatt continues to strive for the Gandhian ideal of self-sufficiency and a more just society.

Jyoti Macwan, general secretary of the 1972-formed SEWA, says she does not have to read about Gandhi to know what he stood for. “We at SEWA see Ela ben living by those ideals. Through her, we understand Gandhi,” she...

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