Padma Bhushan recipient and famous women’s rights activist Ela Bhatt died on Wednesday, November 2, at a hospital in Ahmedabad at the age of 89. She was admitted to the hospital for a brief illness.
A renowned Gandhian, Bhatt was well known for her advocacy for the economic empowerment of women in India. She was the founder of the Self-employed Women’s Association in India (SEWA). The Padma Bhushan laureate was also the founder of the Cooperative Bank of Sewa, the country’s first women’s bank, in 1973. Six years later, she also co-founded Women’s World Banking, in 1979.
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“It is with profound grief that we announce the passing away of our beloved and respected founder, Smt. Elaben Bhatt, a pioneer in advocating for women workers’ rights, we strive to carry her legacy forward,” a tweet by SEWA Bharat read.
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, also sent his condolences for the death of the Padma awardee. “Sad to know about the death of Elaben Bhatt. She will be remembered long for her work for the promotion of women empowerment, social service and education among the youth. Condolences to her family members and admirers,” a Gujarati tweet by him read.
SEWA, the women’s rights organisation founded by Bhatt, boasts of more than 21 lakhs self-employed women across India. She was also the chairperson of the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat.
Ela Bhatt was also a lawyer and received Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour of India, in 1985. The next year, she went on to receive the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian award in 1986.
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She was also honoured with the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in empowering women through entrepreneurship. Apart from these, Bhatt was also a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, which she received in 1977.
Her work in empowering women with financial freedom has received praise internationally, including from former US First Lady Hillary Clinton.