Ela Bhatt: A gentle revolutionary who changed millions of lives

This Article First Appeared In Indian Express On November 4, 2022

Ela Bhatt, or Elaben as she was popularly known, was a product of the early days of Independence. Inspired by Gandhiji and the atmosphere of hope and excitement for the future, she studied law in Ahmedabad and saw her future as a participant in building a new India. “For me, nation-building meant reaching the workers. They are the foundation of the nation and yet remain poor and neglected”, she said.

Elaben was deeply inspired by Ramesh Bhatt, a student leader, who she later married and who became her emotional and intellectual companion. After graduation, Elaben joined the Textile Labour Association (or Majoor Mahajan) and Rameshbhai joined the Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad. The TLA, a trade union of mill workers founded by Anasuya Sarabhai and whose constitution was written by Gandhiji, was Elaben’s learning ground. There, she learnt the elements of organising, of the importance of a trade union — poor people and workers coming together to give each other strength to create a voice and to negotiate for rights. It was here that she first met women from the unorganised or informal economy, women who pulled carts or sold vegetables or stitched garments, and saw how poor and yet hardworking they were.

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