Neera Desai, PhD, a pioneer of women’s studies in India, died of cancer at age 84 last week. Dr. Desai founded India’s first women’s studies program, the Research Center for Women’s Studies at SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. She also served as head of the Post-Graduate Department of Sociology at the university.
Desai promoted women’s rights in both academic and political spheres. She was a member of the Status of Women in India Committee, which published the Towards Equality Report in 1974. She was also a trustee of the Center for Education and Training, a division of the India Center for Human Rights and Law. Desai published several books and research reports on women’s issues, including Women in Modern India, Feminism as Experience, and Feminism in Western India.
Professor Vibhuti Patel, who worked with Desai at the university, told the India Express, “I had been working with her since 1977. In all these years that I had known her, I thought of her as a warm person who was forever motivating and ever ready to experiment with new ideas…She started work in this field in the early 50s and for over two decades fought a lone battle to raise awareness about the same till the 70s when she began garnering support from several quarters.”
Feminists India Network writes of Desai, “Working on women’s issues and feminism across the social categories of tribe, caste and class, she will always be remembered as a major institution builder at the dawn of the women’s studies era.”