Feminism and the Indian National Movement: Kamaladevi


A discussion with Gloria Steinem, Ruchira Gupta and Ellen DuBois, moderated by Vishakha N. Desai

NEW YORK, October 3, 2017 — Gloria Steinem, writer and activist; Ellen DuBois, co-editor of A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay; Ruchira Gupta, New York University professor and the founder-president Apne Aap Women Worldwide; discuss Indian independence fighter and feminist activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. The conversation was moderated by Vishakha N. Desai, president emerita of Asia Society. (1 hr., 27 min.)

“There are some people who guide our lives, even though they enter them very briefly. For me, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay has played that role for a long time.” —Gloria Steinem

Join writer/activist Gloria SteinemEllen DuBois, co-editor of A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, and scholar Ruchira Gupta of New York University and the founder-president Apne Aap Women Worldwide, for a conversation about the Indian independence and feminist activist. Moderated by Vishakha N. Desai, President Emerita, Asia Society. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988). The conversation will be moderated by Vishakha N. Desai, president emerita at Asia Society.

The conversation will be followed by a book sale.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903 –1988) was a significant figure in the Indian National movement and in the history of women's activism across many borders. As a 27-year-old, she convinced Gandhi to include women in the salt satyagraha-the breaking of the British salt tax by marching to sea and making salt. She marched with other satyagrahis to make salt and courted arrest with them. This not only opened the doors for an unprecedented number of women participating in the Indian freedom struggle but also mainstreamed women in Gandhian nationalism via inclusion in all acts of civil disobedience.

She was one of the first women to be arrested for civil disobedience in India and spent nearly five years in British prisons. There she learned about the life of the Indian peasant woman and the importance of hand-made local products in the village economy. Not only could these skills provide a livelihood locally, but they could become a unique global export. With this understanding, she founded a number of institutions which continue to support crafts women, namely the Cottage Industries of India, the Craft Council, the India International Centre, a craft village outside Delhi for refugees, Sangeet Natak Akademi, National School of Drama, All India Handicraft Board and the Craft Museum.

Kamaladevi traveled the world and visited the U.S. where she became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Sanger. She also made a lasting impact on Gloria Steinem, who was introduced to her in the 1970’s. Steinem has provided the foreword to A Passionate Life.


Ellen Carol DuBois, co-editor with Vinay Lal of A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, is a professor of History at UCLA. She was an early activist in feminism’s second wave, working during her graduate school years with the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. She is the author and editor of many books on women’s history, including the anthology Unequal Sisters: A Reader in Multicultural U.S. Women’s History and Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents.

Ruchira Gupta is a writer, feminist campaigner and founder of Indian anti-sex trafficking organization, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, that supports thousands of prostituted and at risk girls in India. She is also a visiting professor at New York University, and Distinguished Scholar at the University of California, Berkley. She is the editor of a feminist journal, Antyajaa: Indian Journal of Women and Social Change, and two anthologies-River of Flesh & Other Stories and The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader. She has been presented the French Légion d'honneur, an Emmy, and the Clinton Global Citizen award. She dreams of a world in which no human being is bought or sold.

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. She travels in this and other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice. She lives in New York City and is the author of the newly released travelogue My Life on the Road.

Vishakha N. Desai (moderator) is President Emerita of Asia Society. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She also serves as Senior Advisor for Global Programs to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

On the occasion of the UN International Day of Non-Violence and the anniversary of the birth of Gandhi. 

Event Details

Mon 02 Oct 2017
6:30 - 8 p.m.
725 Park Avenue at 70th Street, New York City
Buy Tickets
$15 members; $17 students/seniors; $20 nonmembers
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