New Delhi, 18 Feb (Tehelka Bureau): Ela Bhatt is a name which has seen the transformation of close to 17 lakh people in the last four decades. As one of the founders of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), she has promoted the cause of women relentlessly allowing millions of them to become independent and self reliant.
The impact of her work has been recognised consistently and it was lauded once again on Monday when she was honored by the President of India with the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development. This makes Bhatt only the third Indian in the history of the award to receive the prize constituted in the memory of the late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. The other Indian recipients are former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and father of green revolution MS Swaminathan.
Bhatt used the opportunity to re-examine the idea of peace and interpreted it as an instrument which disarms and renders war useless. Equating poverty with day-to-day violence, she found it to be no less destructive than war and said that its removal is essential for building peace.
Stressing on the need to address the “realities of our own countries rather than catching up with the western economic models”, Bhatt urged the people to follow a principle which ensures six basic necessities- food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary healthcare and primary banking- are available within a 100 mile distance. “If these necessities are locally produced and consumed, we will have the growth of a new holistic economy,” she said
While conferring the award, the President praised her by calling the prize a “tribute to her unflinching zeal towards the betterment of women in society” and hoped that her initiatives would spur many more such initiatives in the country.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was equally forthcoming in praising her. “The story of Ela-ben and SEWA… is the story of holistic empowerment of the poor, for ensuring them equality and rights guaranteed under the Constitution, for ensuring timely delivery of entitlements and for countering all forms of discrimination. Above all, it is a story of leadership,” he said.
Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust admired Bhatt’s great insight in the power of collective action and presented her as an example of group effort achieving what individual action cannot. “We need many more organizations like SEWA, many more Ela Bhatts to help organise millions so that they too can gain access to credit, acquire skills and confidence and position themselves better in the marketplace,” she said