Lalita Ramdas – India

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

They tell about her: “Lalita Ramdas stepped out of a conventional and hierarchical environment to become a fearless voice in support of secularism, peace, and nuclear disarmament, often in very troubled times”.

Read: The Politics of Cricket ó Some Reflections, by Lalita Ramdas.

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Lalita Ramdas – India

She works for the Pak-India Forum for Peace and Democracy PIFPD (mentionned only once, on ‘Proceedings, Recommendations and Declaration of The Third Joint Convention Calcutta‘, December 28-31, 1996).

Lalita Ramdas (born 1940) stepped out of a conventional, hierarchical environment to become a voice in support of alternative education, gender sensitivity, secularism, peace, and nuclear disarmament. In the early 1980s, she put in place pathbreaking initiatives for development education in a number of elite schools. Living in a small village in India’s west coast, she is involved in the life of the local community while pursuing citizens’ peace initiatives with Pakistan and contributing to the global adult education movement.One day she is sitting with a group of teachers in a village school talking about the violence that often characterizes local election processes, and how teachers can try to counter this by instilling values such as mutual respect, non-violence, and harmony in the minds of the young.

The very next day, she is catching a train to travel several hundred miles to join up with a large number of volunteers in the town of Ayodhya, where a mosque was demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992, to provide support to the town’s Muslim minority.

Lalita Ramdas (born 1940), daughter and wife of high-ranking naval officers, was once a quiet conformist; today, she embraces a bewildering range of causes with remarkable passion. Married at the age of 21, she had had three daughters by 25, and was primarily a housewife until an encounter with a Marxist nun deeply committed to public service, at a workshop on “Education to Reality”.

Then in her early 30s, Lalita stepped out of the conventional mold of a services’ wife and worked as a simple community-level non-formal educator in Delhi’s slums for years; participated in street theatre to raise awareness on dowry, rape, and a number of gender issues; interacted with education policymakers; and, in 1980-82, founded Ankur, a society for alternatives in education, putting in place pathbreaking initiatives in development education in a number of Delhi’s elite schools. She helped raise awareness among students and the teaching community about issues ranging from nuclear weapons to gender justice and poverty and barely-concealed forms of racism and discrimination.

What is truly impressive about Lalita is that she did not reject one role for another, but was able to face up to the demands of being a naval wife while steering her own independent career profile and not compromising on principles. This often involved tacking close to the wind, particularly so in 1984, when she decided to speak out against the savage attacks on the country’s Sikh community in the wake of the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Lalita worked day and night in relief camps, took out peace marches in volatile areas, organized rehabilitation and, in an ultimate expression of her passionate and anguished response to the atrocities, took the stand to testify against the government before a Commission of Inquiry. She was opposed by most of her friends and colleagues, who feared that it might damage her husband’s career, but she went ahead regardless.

She showed similar courage after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, when she verbalized, with the support of her husband, against the desecration and the deep-rooted prejudices in society against the Muslim minority.

Placed in a position of leadership when her husband came to head the Indian Navy, Lalita worked tirelessly to transform a traditionalist naval wives’ association into a forum which took up issues such as gender justice and human rights. She encouraged the group to make useful contributions to society and to overcome the difficulties of working in an extremely hierarchical structure. Her first attempt to introduce creches to support working mothers met with disapproval from the top leadership, but today creches are everywhere and filled to overflowing. She also pioneered the development of a gender-sensitization capsule for naval officers and sailors, to be made compulsory in all training establishments.

Lalita is entirely devoted to her family, which has supported her every step of the way; she has often sacrificed personal career opportunities because she felt the closeness of the family unit was too important to put into jeopardy. She abdicated from Ankur, the organization that she had helped build and nurture, to support her husband in his career. Following him around the country, she moved house three times in six years. The saving grace: in connection with her work, she once left her family to spend a month in a village in Bihar.

After her husband’s retirement, the couple ensconced themselves in a village in Maharashtra, with nothing but a tent, a car, and eight acres of arid land–and scant knowledge of the local people or the language. Together, they worked the land, planted and tended trees, dug for water, and earned the trust of the village communities. This experience gradually translated into setting up a local trust to work in health and education, which involved motivated and educated boys and girls from some 150 villages.

While living in this village, Lalita was able to unite the local and the global, which is one of the unique features of her work. She contested and was elected president of the International Council for Adult Education [ICAE] in December 1994 at a time when then was no phone nor fax nor email in her village. It was also a time of turbulence and financial difficulties for the ICAE. During her four-year term as its president, she traveled across the world, helping build awareness among the adult learning community about Third World issues of development, colonization, poverty, and gender.

She also carried on her work as a peace activist, visiting Pakistan as a member of the Pak India Forum, to take part in exchange workshops, home visits, and lectures to build people-to-people contact. She has helped to develop a peace education program for South Asian youth. For Lalita, the personal is the political–she and her husband demonstrated their commitment to secular values when they provided unstinted support to their eldest daughter’s decision to marry a Pakistani.

Soon after India went nuclear, Lalita and her husband went public in their opposition to the government’s decision and participated at various points in the “Long March from Pokhran”, the blast site, to Varanasi, helping to raising awareness among people and communities on the perils of the nuclear arms race. They came under threat from Right-wing groups. The couple also spoke out fearlessly against the killings in Gujarat in 2002.

For Lalita, peace is not just the absence of war but a comprehensive vision of a just and equitable society. She has pursued her commitment to this ideal through all manner of adverse circumstances–including family crises and serious illnesses like tuberculosis and cancer–and has made use of all available space to push for peace. (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).

Read: Something wonderful happened last week.

… Since her husband’s retirement from active Naval Service in 1993, they have moved into a rural area in the coastal Konkan region of the state of Maharashtra. Lalita continues to be active in work for women, development, and education at the local, the national and the regional and global level. Almost all of her time is provided free of cost and in a voluntary capacity. She actively co-ordinates a group called Pratham – Raigad Education Initiative – which works to improve the quality and address access and equity issues in rural primary education with a special focus on indigenous and other minority groups and on building a network of pre-school institutions. The programme also enables and empowers rural youth – girls in particular to develop leadership and other initiatives within their communities … (full text).

… Lalita Ramdas has been an educator and activist with a broad and varied experience spanning a professional life of over three decades … (full text).

Read: Lalita Ramdas – Board Chair Greenpeace International, and Former Board Chair Greenpeace India, and Managing Trustee Pratham Education Initiative, Raigad.

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