Neera’s unique combination of passionate activism and a deep academic commitment is behind her many roles as institution-builder, motivator, and researcher.
Working with the Srimathi Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University (SNDTWU), Neera Desai (born 1925) established two initiatives-the Research Center for Women’s Studies (RCWS) and the Rural Development Program (RDP)-that endure to this day. She is also one of the pioneers of the feminist movement. Over the years, she has been associated with a number of research and women’s organizations, and is a trenchant critic of the right-wing Narendra Modi government in Gujarat.
Neera Desai, doctor of sociology, was born into a highly educated and liberal family. Her education at some of the best institutions in the country exposed her to various intellectual currents, especially leftist political trends, which were prevalent then. In 1954, Neera joined the SNDTWU, establishing several new initiatives there, two of which were particularly significant-the RCWS and the RDP-as integral to the university’s grassroots activities. At the time, the feeling in the academy was that, since the Indian constitution guaranteed gender equality, and there were no visible barriers for women’s entry into higher education, having an exclusive women’s university was “unnecessary”. The SNDTWU groped for a new identity and rationale for its existence, and readily accepted Neera’s suggestions. Nonetheless, she had to struggle to get the seriousness of feminist concerns accepted. Neera has also contributed to the critical examination of policies that tended to marginalize women in the development process. Considered one of the pioneers of the feminist movement in the country, she has been a member of policymaking bodies, and was part of the Task Force on Education and Communication for Women in Self-Employment (1987 to 1988). Over the years, Neera has also been associated with various research, and women’s, organizations. She founded the Indian Sociological Association in 1951, and the Indian Association of Women’s Studies in 1981. She is, furthermore, a trenchant critic of the right-wing government in Gujarat, and supports investigations into human rights’ violations by the incumbent Narendra Modi government.
Research Centre for Women’s Studies (RCWS) India Centre for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL) Sparrow
South Asia | India
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