Remarkable Women Ela Bhatt


The paper on pioneering contemporary women focuses on some remarkable women
who have made outstanding contributions to society. One of the important names in
this list is that of Ela Bhatt, who was born in the year 1933 in Ahmadabad, Gujarat. Her father Sumatrai Bhatt was a lawyer and her mother Vainalia Vyas, was an active member of the women’s movement and the secretary of AIW Conference which was founded by Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay. She had two more sisters, one elder and one younger and her childhood was spent in the city of Surat, where she did her schooling from Sarvajanik Girls High School from 1940 to 1948.

Thus, brought up in such an environment, she was exposed at an early age to the concept of working for the improvement of the less fortunate especially women. In fact, Ela Bhatt continues to work in multidimensional ways to improve the quality of life of hundreds of women. The present module is an attempt to showcase the immense contribution of this remarkable woman so that the future generations can draw inspiration and learn the ways in which successful efforts in the direction of women’s empowerment can be made and goals achieved. For the ease of presentation, the Module has been divided into four sections-
1. Early life and family background.
2. Academic achievements.
3. Important Organizational contributions.
4. Awards and Recognitions.

Early Life and Family Background
The second of three daughters, Ela Bhatt grew up in a well-established family of Gujarat whose members were always interested in social causes. Her girlhood was spent in Surat, an export center on the coast about 100 miles from Ahmedabad. In 1952, her father Sumant Bhatt became a District Judge and was also appointed as a Charity Commissioner for Bombay and then Gujarat state. Her mother was very active in the women’s movement and for some time in 1927 was Secretary of the Gujarat State Branch of the All-India Women’s Conference which focused on educational and social reform. Ela’s maternal grandfather was a doctor and devoted follower of Gandhi.
Ela Bhatt received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the MTB College (South Gujrat University) in Surat in 1952. After her graduation she took admission in Sir. L.A. Shah Law College in Ahmadabad. In 1954 she received her degree in Law and a Gold medal for her work on Hindu Law. She got married to Prof.
Ramesh M. Bhatt in 1956 and has two children, Aminmayi (born in 1958) and Mihir (born in 1959). While doing her graduation from Gujarat University, Ela volunteered to work on the 1951 census. This project made a deep impression on her as she came to know about poverty in India. After the firsthand exposure she got to the lives of poor people and the multiple exploitations of women, she decided to devote her life to working for them. She was influenced by the writings of Tolstoy, Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and the Gandhian Economist J.C. Kumarappa.

Academic Achievements

Ela started her career as a teacher in Shrimati Nathibai Damodardas Thackarsey Women’s University in Bombay, but this did not give her any satisfaction and in 1955, she joined the Legal Department of the Textile Labor Association (TLA) in Ahmedabad. She was invited for this by Ana Suyaben Surabhai and Shankar Lal Banker, the two founders of the organization.
The Textile Labour Association was an outcome of the textile workers strike of 1917 which had been led by Surabhai, a wealthy young woman who devoted her life to the cause of the poor. This trade union was a model for the other trade unions. Today as a result, the textile laborers of Ahmedabad are the best organized working-class community in India.
In 1956, Ela got married to Ramesh Bhatt. She met her husband during her college days when he was a fellow student. Ramesh Bhatt was an active student leader and a follower of Gandhi. He did his masters in Economics and joined the faculty of Gujarat Vidyapath National University where, besides teaching, he was looking after the Centre for Management and Professional Training and was also the Director of the Consumer Education and Research Centre at the University. He was also President of the Gujarat University Area Teacher’s Association and founder of the Gujarat Economic Association, a research organization. Therefore, in a way, Ela and Ramesh Bhatt had a common goal; although different ways, to challenge social problems and look for solutions. She gives credit to him for the steady support and encouragement that she has got from him in her work for the poor and the under- privileged.
After marriage, Ela Bhatt, as any other “normal” Indian woman, tried to balance her legal and social work until the birth of their two children. In 1961, when the younger child was 2 years old, she returned to a job taking up the position of an Employment Officer in the Labor Ministry of Gujarat. Her nature of work involved providing suitable candidates to employers. Later on, she got the independent charge of the University Employment and Information Bureau of Gujarat University in Ahmedabad where she provided not only job placement opportunities, but also vocational guidance and training to the candidates. From 1966 to 1968, she got an opportunity to explore new employment opportunities, reviewed existing definitions of various occupations in the National code of Occupations and framed definitions for new occupations in her tenure. In 1968, she became head of the TLA women’s wing. The emergence of three important organizations, “TLA,” “SEWA” and The Elders” has been discussed in the next section. Chronologically, the various positions held by Ela Bhatt reflect her concerns and engagements in social work. Besides being a Junior lawyer of the Textile Labour Association, Ahmedabad founded by Mahatma Gandhi from 1955-70, Ela was the founder General Secretary, of SEWA from 1972-1996. She was then founder chair of SEWA cooperative bank from (1974-1998) and Indian school of Microfinance for women from 2003-2011. She was also the founding trustee and Chair, Women’s World Banking, New York from 1980-2000. During the period 1983-1988, she was nominated as the Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) by the President of India.
She held the post of member of the Planning Commission of India from 1989-1991. As she progressed further towards her work, she became Chair of the National Commission on Self Employed Women (1984-1988). She was also the founding Chair of Friends of Women’s World Banking, India from 1981-2002 and member of the second Commission on Labour from 2000-2002. Her career took a stride when she became the founding chair of Friends of Women’s World Banking, India from 1981-2002.
At the International level she was the member of the Board of Trustees, Rockefeller Foundation, New York from 1991-2003 and a member of the Advisory Committee, Asia Society, New York (1991-2005). She also served as the Member, Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), The World Bank, Washington from 1999-2005. Ela Bhatt was also a member, Board of Trustees, Enterprise Works Worldwide, Washington from 2001 to 2004.

Organizational Contributions
The most outstanding contribution of Ela Bhatt has been in the field of organization women into collectives. Understanding the power of collective voices and their impact whether in terms of asking for better working conditions, or fair wages or better working conditions, Groups have more power and it is this fact that Has motivated ger to form associations and structured organizations where the demand and Remarkable women addressed through various modules are remarkable in one very important way that they had tried to challenge and intervene with the women’s social, political and economic status in the country through introducing some relevant organizations. Ela Bhatt is an important name in this regard because she worked for the women who were not employed in an organized way, but were self-employed. The important organizational contributions are mentioned below-

1. Textile Labour Association (TLA)-
Ela made a remarkable contribution in developing and understanding the needs of women’s wing in Textile Labour Organization (TLA). The TLA has had a women’s wing since the very beginning where there was a fairly large number of female workers. With the advancement of the technology, there was a reduction in labour force and it was obvious for many women to lose their employment. Out of some 1,25,000 members in TLA now only 3000 are women. This came as a challenge for Ela to look for employment for these women workers and to train wives and daughters of male workers in specific vocations and trades so that they could add to the family income. During this period only Ela went to Israel where she studied at the Afro- Asian Institute of Labor and Cooperatives in Tel Aviv for three months and received the International Diploma of Labor and Cooperatives in 1971. This training helped her a lot in the process of how to put her newly acquired knowledge into
operation in Ahmadabad.
Most of the women workers who were removed from the Textile industry were involved in variety of unorganized works such as self-employed Junk smiths, garment makers, vegetable vendors and hawkers etc. Very soon Bhatt realized there was no one to protect the interests of these workers as compared to the industrial workers who were protected by the State laws.
Moreover, the fact that these women were not included in the 1971 census as workers made Ela uncomfortable and she took a stand to work for this segment of the population which had a great impact on the economy yet which are virtually forgotten in terms of legal rights or protection of interests. Such self-employed women pressurized Ela to work on their behalf formed the first self-employed women group. This group mainly comprised of handcart pullers women who push rather pull, handcarts with loads of 500 to 700 kilograms. A survey was also conducted regarding their socioeconomic conditions and their profile was written by Bhatt in 1975.
The findings of this survey were full of challenge for Ela as the report revealed that the conditions in which these self-employed women are living are full of adversities. They found that 97% of women studies are living in slums, 93% are illiterates and their average number of children was four. Their average monthly income ranged from 50 rupees for the garment makers to 355 rupees for the vegetable vendors. Large percentages of these workers were in debt. All the above evidences acted as a strong catalyst and Ela along with the full support of Arvind Buch, the President of TLA decided to organize these self-employed women into a Union under the Women’s Wing of the TLA. At this point the SEWA emerged.

2. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
Self Employed Women’s Association was born in 1971 with the efforts of Ela Bhatt as the General Secretary and Arvind Buch as the President. The women involved in the organization felt that as a workers’ association SEWA should establish itself as a Trade Union. The first struggle SEWA undertook was obtaining official recognition as a Trade Union. The labour Department refused to register SEWA because they felt that since the employers do not have a recognized employer, the workers would have no one to struggle against. Ela Bhatt along with her supporters argued that a Union was not necessarily against an employer, but was for the unity of the workers. Finally, SEWA was registered as a trade Union in April 1972 under the Trade Union Act of 1926.
SEWA grew continuously since 1972, with a steady increase in membership and more categories of different occupations within its scope. That was also the time when Committee for Status of Women in India was formed at the Centre and the decade 1975-1985 was declared as the women’s decade placing it within the women’s movement. In 1977, when Ela was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award, SEWA got an international recognition also.

Discord between TLA and SEWA- An assertive and dominating women’s group was not tolerated by the TLA members. In 1981, the differences became more serious and often the demands of workers employed in organized sector (TLA) and in the unorganized sector (SEWA) were in conflict. The conflicts came to its peak in 1981 during the Anti reservation riots when members of higher castes attacked harijans, many of whom were members of both TLA and SEWA. SEWA spoke in favor of the Harijans, whereas TLA remained silent.
Because of this the two separated and SEWA was then considered as an independent trade Union for self-employed workers.

Work done by SEWA
1. An important issue before SEWA was the expansion of their association. By 1975, that is only 3 years after its inception, there were 5,258 members and after one year the number reached to 9000 in Ahmadabad, with some 2,000 members in a newly opened Centre in the handloom community of Bhavnagar.
Today there are 10,667 members in the city. SEWA is also successfully helping women from other castes and tribes, who are always divided by religious and cultural differences in joining the organization.
2. After the separation of SEWA from TLA, the members of SEWA started working in a more progressive and focused manner. An important way in which Gujarat differs from the rest of the country is the engagement of men and women as load carriers. The transportation of heavy loads of coal, timber, grain, cloth bales, iron bars, rods, machinery and household items such as furniture and refrigerators, from one place to another is done not only by men but also by women. The carts used for this purpose have no braking system so that when going down steep hills the pushers must use their bodies to keep the balance of the cart. This task is damaging for women as well as men. SEWA with the help of L.D. Engineering College and the National Occupational Health Institute designed a cart which could counter this problem. The use of the new cart was advantageous to the woman because it led to less strain on abdominal muscles and especially for pregnant women who sometimes worked till their sixth month of pregnancy. The old carts were made in such a way that there was a constant friction between the handles and the abdomen of the women and the thighs of the men. In the newer version the female adopts a comfortable pushing posture which allows a margin of safety between the handle and the body. Also, the new carts had space for carrying a baby underneath as well as a braking system.
3. Another important issue addressed by SEWA was decreasing the dependency of the self-employed women on money lenders who demanded extremely high interest rates. They were exploited by these money lenders to a large extent and so SEWA started a project to provide financial loans to its members. Several banks were approached and many banks agreed to process loans. However, an unexpected problem came in the forefront as the women who went to these banks’ “offices” were illiterate, filthy in appearance and were not highly mannered to talk to the officials.

In order to avoid such problems, SEWA decided to change the procedures and all the SEWA members were asked to do paper works and other formalities. From 1975 to 1976, a loan of almost 1,50,000 was sanctioned to about 2,900 SEWA borrowers. After a celebration of the success of the project and understanding the problems faced during the process of getting it done, members of SEWA decided to establish a bank of their own which could overcome all the problems faced by the borrowers with other Nationalized Banks. And this led to the foundation of the Women’s
Cooperative Bank named the Mahilla SEWA Sahakari Bank Limited. The bank required a minimum investment of 10 rupees per member which was quickly acquired. The most difficult work was the legally required signatures of 15 charter SEWA members. Staff members sat with the women whose hands were soiled and rough and taught them to write their names. Finally, 15 could put their shaky signatures which somehow convinced the officials and led to the establishment of the bank. The bank started working efficiently with a working capital of Rs. 300,000, which increased to 1,004,932 by February 1976. Most members invested modestly and also got loans. The bank also gave information about the efficient use of the loan money in terms of being productive, and encouraged a sense of independence.
4. An important contribution of Ela Bhatt related to SEWA was that she did a research study related to the socio-economic conditions of self- employed women. She made a number of recommendations in this research report needed for these self- employed women. The problems seriously addressed were illiteracy, giving more credit to the women to purchase their means of production, such as sewing machines and handcarts and the establishment of childcare centers so that children would not roam around in the unsafe environs of the streets. SEWA has established a literacy program to teach members to read but this received less little positive response as the women’s energies were directed towards earning two meals for the day.

5. SEWA provides a childcare centre for vegetable vendors and plans for similar
centers for other groups.
6. SEWA has been continuously negotiating with the State Housing Board for low-cost housing for 1,000 SEWA members.
7. Realizing the medical needs of women, SEWA set up Mahilla SEWA Trust which provides health, maternity, widowhood and death benefits for members at a modest price. Eye checkups and providing glasses are add- on services.
8. An obstacle faced by SEWA was the harassment by the police and the union. In 1975 there were 796 complaints registered: 745 were solved by the field workers assigned to this job: in three cases legal aid was provided by SEWA. Now, an attorney is connected with SEWA who handles all the legal complaints.
9. SEWA has also expanded its work to increase the profit and productivity of the self-employed workers. In an attempt to help garment workers, the union purchased second hand machines discarded by big textile mills and sold them to members at a less cost. Development of mini markets to provide better facilities for vegetable vendors is under consideration and programs are being established to educate and train milk producers in the areas of nutrition, care of cattle and sale of milk.
10.Classes are organized by SEWA for the different groups to make them aware of their rights as workers and duties as citizens.

The Elders- 2007 to present
Nelson Mandella, on his 89th Birthday speech announced the formation of a new group called “The Elders” in order to fight some of the world’s toughest problems. The group was formed by people who believed in working peacefully. Nelson Mandella, Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu were the core founders of the group who through their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity tried to address some of the major problems in society. Kofi Annan serves as Chair of The Elders and Gro Harlem Brundtland as Deputy Chair.
The other members of the group are Maarti Ahtisaari, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Fernando Henrique, Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani, Graca Machel, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo. Nelson Mandella and Desmond Tutu are Honorary Elders. The major issues addressed by The Elders are the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict, the Korean Penninsula, Sudan and South Sudan, Sustainable Development, and equality for girls and women. Ela is involved in the organization’s initiatives for equality of girls and women.

Important Publications of Ela Bhatt
As a lawyer, Social Activist and a Researcher, Ela Bhatt has several publications to her credit, some of which are: Gujarat ni Nari, Profiles of Self-Employed Women, The Impact of Education on Women of the Harijan Community, we are Poor and Many are some of the distinguished ones.

Awards and Honours in India
1. Susan B. Anthony Award for National Integration. India, 1982.
2. Conferred: Padma Shree, Government of India. 1985. India
3. Padma Bhushan. Government of India. 1986.
4. Vishwa Gurjari, 1996. Yashvantrao Chavan Award for National Integration, 1999.
5. Nagar Bhushan, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, 1998.
6. FICCI’s Millenium Life-time Achievement Award, Delhi, 2000.
7. Diwaliben Mehta Award for Rural Upliftment, 2002.
8. Dr. V. Krishnamurthy Award for Excellence, Centre for Organization Development, Hyderabad, 2003. Economic Times Award, Businesswoman of the Year, 2003
9. Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academics and Management, 2004. Sahakar Ratna for leading cooperative movement in Gujarat, 2005.
10.Lakshmipat Singhania - IIML National Leadership Awards, 2004
11.The Sat Paul Mittal National Award for outstanding service to humanity,
12.Nehru Sidhant Kender Trust, 2006 CNBC TV18 India Business Leader Award for Social Entreprise, 2006 Zee Astitva Awards for Lifetime Achievement, 2006
13.Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award, 2007
14.FLO Women Achievers Award for Excellence in the field of Social Activism. FICCI, 2008
15.The Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), 2008. Lifetime Achievement Award, Real Hero, CNNIBN and Reliance Industries, 2009.
16.Construction Industry Development Council Vishwakarma Award for Achievement for Social Upliftment, 2009.
17.BMA Life Time Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship, Bombay Management Association, 2008-2009.
18.Bank of Baroda Sun Lifetime Achievement Award, 2009. Microfinance India Lifetime Achievement Award, HSBC India, 2010
19.Vishwapratibha Award, Vishwa Gujarati Samaj, 2011
20.Public Service Excellence Award, AIMA, 2011.
21.Received Tamrapatra as Honorary Member of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 2012

22.Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, Government of India, 2011
23.India’s 25 Greatest Global Living Legends Award by NDTV, Delhi, 2013
24.Life Time Achievement Award, Union Bank of India, 2014

1. Ramon Magsaysay Award for “Community Leadership”. Manila, 1977.
2. Right Livelihood Award (The Alternate Nobel Prize) for “Changing the Human Environment”.
3. Stockholm, 1984.
4. Women in Creation Award.
5. Alliance de Femme. Paris, 1990.
6. CARE Humanitarian Award. Washington D.C., 1994.
7. 2000 Humanitarian Award, Inter Action, Washington, 2000.
8. Asia Society Award: Builder of Bridges between Asians and Americans, 2000.
9. Global Leadership for Lifetime Award by Women’s Global Summit in Mexico, 2005
10.Women Together Award by Fundación Forum and Women Together, Madrid, 2006
11.Légion d’honneur by Government of France, 2006
12.George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award by AFLCIO, Washington, 2005
13.Madrid Creativid ad Award by Madrid World Centre for Creativity, 2006
14.Isabel Ferrer Award by Government of Valencia, 2007
15.William Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service, University of Chicago, 2007
16.Gandhi Peace Prize, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, 2009.
17.CGAE Human Rights Award 2009,
18.Consejo General de la Abogacía Española, Spain, 2009.
19.Niwano Peace Prize, Niwano Peace Foundation, Japan, 2010.
20.Entrepreneur for the World 2010 Award in the Social Entrepreneur, World Entrepreneurship Forum, Lyon, France.
21.The First Fairness Award, Global Fairness Initiative, Washington DC, USA, 2010.
22.‘The Freedom from Want Medal’, Roosevelt Institute, Netherlands


· Interview with Ela Bhatt, Ahmedabad , 05.12. 2010

· Interview with Pratibha Pandya, Ambedabad , 06.12.2010
· Interview with Heena Dave, SEWA Office, Surendranagar District, 06.12.2010.
· Interview with Mirai Chatterjei, SEWA Social Security Offices, Ahmadabad,
· Bhatt, Ela R. 2006 We are Poor but so many: The story of Self-Employed Women of India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press
· Bhatt, E. 2010. Citizenship of Marginal’s, Seminar 605. January.
· International Labor Organization (ILO) 1972.Employment, Incomes and Equality: a strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya. Geneva: ILO).
· Agarwala, R. 2006. From Work to Welfare: A new Class Movement in India, Contemporary Asian Studies, 38. 4. pp 419-441.
· and events/Ela%20Ramesh%20Bhatt-CV.pdf

Multidimensional - of or involving several dimensions.
Sewa- The Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA) is a trade union for poor, self-employed women workers in India. SEWA was founded in 1972 by the noted Gandhian and civil rights leader Dr Ela Bhatt. SEWA's main office is located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and it works in several states of India. SEWA had a membership of 966,139 in the year 2008. SEWA members are women who earn a living through their own labour or small business. They do not obtain regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector.
They are the unprotected labour force of India. Constituting 93% of the labour force, these are workers of the unorganized sector. Of the female labour force in India, more than 94% are in the unorganized sector. However, their work is not counted and hence remains invisible. SEWA is strongly supported by the World Bank which holds it out as a model to be replicated elsewhere.
Textile Labour Association- Anasuya Sarabhai was a pioneer of the women’s labour movement in India. She founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association (Majoor Mahajan Sangh), India's oldest union of textile workers, in 1920.

Organizational- An organizational structure defines how activities such as task allocation, coordination and supervision are directed towards the achievement of organizational aims. It can also be considered as the viewing glass or perspective through which individuals see their organization and its environment.
Contemporary- living or occurring at the same time. “The event was recorded by a contemporary historian “belonging to or occurring in the present. Under- privileged. - (of a person) not enjoying the same standard of living or rights as the majority of people in a society.

○○Important One Liner Question in Hindi


बरिटिश शासन द्वारा किन स्थानों के बीच प्रथम रेलवे लाइन शुरू की गई थी -

मम्बई से ठाणे के बीच


भारत का राष्ट्रीय पशु है



भारतीय वायुसेना में कमीशंड अधिकारी का सबसे छोटा पद होता है

पायलट ऑफिसर


यद्ध में साहस और पराक्रम के प्रदर्शन के लिए दिया जाने वाला भारत का सर्वोच्च सैनिक अलंकरण है

परमवीर चक्र


विश्व का सबसे बड़ा महाद्वीप है-



ऋतुएँ किन कारणों से होती हैं

सर्य के चारो ओर पृथ्वी का परिक्रमण


पथ्वी की सतह से सबसे दूर वायुमण्डलीय परत किस नाम से विदित है?

वर्हि मण्डल


डी. सी. एम. ट्रॉफी का सम्बन्ध है -

फटबॉल से


अल्ला रक्खा किस वाद्ययन्त्र के लिए मशहूर थे?



वह मुगल बादशाह जिसने 15 वर्ष निर्वासित होकर गुजारे थे।



राज्यसभा की बैठको की अध्यक्षता कौन करता है ?



किस गुफा में त्रिमूर्ति (ब्रह्मा, विष्णु, महेश) के मुखमण्डल की मूर्ति स्थित है



लक्षदीप की राजधानी है



महाराष्ट्र में सर्वाधिक मात्रा में पाई जाने वाली उपलब्ध मृदा का प्रकार है-

काली मिट्टी


परसिद्ध शिलोत्कीर्ण (पत्थर काटकर बनाया गया) कैलाश मन्दिर कहाँ स्थित है?


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