Journalist, activist, fighter for women & LGBTQ rights, Vidya Bal dies at 84

Bal started her career with the magazine Stree, and she was the editor of the feminist publication from 1983 to 1986. After her stint with Stree,

Veteran social activist and journalist Vidya Bal died in Pune on Thursday. She was 84.

Bal, or Vidyatai as she was popularly known, had spearheaded many fights for women’s rights, one of which was a legal battle in the Bombay High Court which allowed women the right to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple.

Bal started her career with the magazine Stree, and she was the editor of the feminist publication from 1983 to 1986. After her stint with Stree, Bal edited and managed her own magazine, Miloon Saryajani. The magazine’s editorials spoke of her conviction about the many causes she fought for, and her take on various social movements.

Along with advocate Neelima Vartak, Bal had moved the Bombay High Court to seek the right of women to enter Shani Shingnapur temple’s sanctum sanctorum, and the high court had ruled in their favour.

Friends and family mourn the demise of activist Vidya Bal, in Pune on Thursday. Ashish Kale

Calling Bal a torch-bearer of the feminist movement of Maharashtra, Dr Hamid Dabholkar, founder-member of Parivartan Trust, said her contribution would be remembered for a long time. “Her writings and speeches encouraged many people like me to make purposeful efforts to shed off deep-seated masculinity and walk on the path of gender equality,” he said.

Kiran Moghe, national secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said Bal’s death was a major loss for the women’s movement. “She was a pioneer of her times... a valiant fighter for women’s rights and gender equality, a guiding spirit to the younger generation of activists. We shall miss her,” she said.

Senior journalist Anand Agashe pointed out how Vidyatai, who was from a financially secure middle-class family, identified and empathised with underprivileged sections of society remarkably well.

“She was a rare kind of activist-journalist, whose contribution to the feminist movement inspired an entire generation,” he said.

Bal was also known to be a supporter of the LGBTQI movement in the city. Bindumadhav Khire of the Samapathik Trust reminisced about the support he

and other activists had received from her. “Despite her illness, she had participated in a discussion about intersexuality that we had organised,” he said.

Bal had also led one of the several pride marches in Pune.