India: Activist Vasudha Dhagamwar no more

Pune Mirror – February 11, 2014

Activist Vasudha Dhagamwar dies

Dhagamwar, 74, who succumbed to multiple organ failure, was instrumental in changing legislature pertaining to rape and known for her treatise on women and development

[by] Ketaki Latkar

The society on Lane 12, Prabhat Road, where Dhagamwar (inset) lived
Socio-legal activist and academic Dr Vasudha Dhagamwar passed away at Sahyadri Hospital on Monday, succumbing to multiple organ failure.

Dhagamwar (74) rose to fame for her role in changing the country’s rape laws, following a case in Mathura in 1972, where a 16-year-old tribal girl was gangraped inside the Desai Ganj police station in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra.

In this case, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court acquitted the accused and stated that the sexual intercourse was voluntary, since the onus of proving that the act was one of coercion, rested on the victim.

Subsequently, in 1979, three law professors from Delhi University — Upendra Baxi, Raghunath Kelkar and Lotika Sarkar — along with Dhagamwar, wrote an open letter to the Supreme Court challenging the judgement and urging the court to bring about a change in legislation. The court accepted and thereafter, it fell to the accused to prove that the act had been consensual.

Setting up MARG

In 1985, Dhagamwar founded Delhi’s Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), an NGO that works towards socio-legal issues and engages in legal awareness, advocacy and public interest litigation activities.

She was a member of the Expert Committee on Laws of the National Commission for Women and a member of the Executive Body of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

Women and Divorce, Dhagamwar’s study on the role of education in enabling women to file for divorce, was made into a book by Mumbai’s Somaiya Publications in 1987, following which, along with lawyer Nikhil Verma and social activist Subrata De, she co-authored Industrial Development and Displacement: The People of Korba, which is about displacement caused by industrial development and based on intensive fieldwork in Korba, a multi-project area (now in Chattisgarh).

Speaking to Mirror, Dhagamwar’s niece’s husband Kailash Kulkarni said, “Dhagamwar had a history of cancer. She started experiencing uneasiness on Sunday, and we rushed her to the hospital.” Kulkarni, who lives in Mumbai, added that Dhagamwar had been living in Pune for the past eight years. She retired from MARG in 2005, and moved to Pune in 2007.

‘A warm affable woman’

Medha Kotwal, co-ordinator of the NGO Aalochana, shared a close relationship with Dhagamwar for nearly 30 years. Kotwal said, “My association with Dhagamwar dates back to the time she used to teach in UoP’s law department. We would discuss issues relating to women and legislation. We remained friends through the years, given her warm and affable nature.”

Echoing Kotwal’s thoughts, Aruna Mhaskar, founder member of MARG added, “Dhagamwar and I conceived of MARG while working on the project Women and Divorce in Pune. We also worked on legal redressal for under-trial prisoners in Tihar jail and collaborated on booklets that simplified law for the common man.”

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