Social activist Vidya Bal celebrated her 75th birthday with a promise to continue her efforts for an equal society
A painting of the rising sun hangs in the living room of social activist Vidya Bal’s home at Prabhat Road. As she speaks,your eyes wander time and again to the painting. In many ways,the activist’s work represents the rising sun captured symbolically in the canvas. Bal celebrated her 75th birthday on January 12. Several bouquets sit on the side-table as she begins to tell you her life-story.
She started her career as a writer with the magazine,Stree,in 1964. In the next 20 years,Bal not only created a space for herself in the magazine but also understood her true calling. I belong to a middle class family. This background was not only an economic indicator,but it also gave me a very conformist ideology. I never questioned anything. My experience as a journalist helped me come out of the shell.
She took a break from Stree to join a training programme at Sussex University,UK,in 1986. After returning to Pune,she decided to launch her own magazine. I was not ready to compromise on my editorial freedom. A lot of magazines were closing down and launching a new one did feel like a bad idea. But I had no money or job,and self employment appealed to me, she says.
Today,her magazine,Miloon Saryajani,completes 23 years. It is circulated in 350 places in and around Maharashtra. The main aim of the publication was to encourage and empower women from both rural and urban areas. For the last 5000 years,we have been conditioned to follow patriarchy. In this,both men and women have taken on roles that have a negative effect. Through the magazine,I wanted them to propagate a dialogue. The magazine soon developed a commitment towards espousing equality of both genders.
In 1987,Bal took up a project called Growing Together. It was a consciousness raising programme for women in rural areas that was funded by an American organisation. I worked for eight years in four villages near Pune Bahul,Kaharabwadi,Sodu and Kurli. This strengthened my conviction of how I wanted to run the magazine, she shares.
Bal realised that the idea that middle class families have no problems was a fallacy. I saw this assumption surface that women were not harassed in middle class families. Violence happened there too,but of a different kind. Mental torture is as bad as physical assault, she says. This experience guided her. When I now think of the choices I made in life,I am happy. All these experiences helped me form a voice for the magazine. The publication aims to create a space for women, she says.
While she managed the magazine,she also co-founded the organisation,Nari Samta Manch in 1982. The first trigger to take up activism was the murder of a young bride Manjushree Sarda in the city. I remember,we exhibited artist Sanjay Pawars sketches based on the issue on the streets in Pune.
Ask her if she has seen positive changes in society and she says,”It’s still the beginning. There’s a long way to go.”