Indien: Lalita Ramdas

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.

— Lalita Ramdas

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 teachers at a village school talking about the election violence and how teachers can try to counter this. The following day, she catches a train to travel several hundred miles to join up with volunteers in Ayodhya, where Hindu nationalists demolished a mosque in 1992, to give support to the town's Muslim minority. Lalita Ramdas, daughter and wife of high-ranking naval officers, turned from a quiet conformist to passionately handling a range of causes. She has worked for years as a simple community-level nonformal educator in Delhi's slums, participated in street theater to raise awareness on dowry, rape, and other gender issues, interacted with education policymakers, and founded Ankur (1980 to 1982), a society for alternatives in education. In 1984, in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh pogrom, Lalita testified against the government before a commission of inquiry. Placed in a position of leadership when her husband came to head the Indian navy, Lalita worked to transform a traditionalist naval wives' association into a forum which took up issues such as gender justice and human rights. After her husband's retirement, the couple ensconced themselves in a village in Maharashtra, where they set up a local trust that worked in health and education. Lalita contested and was elected president of the International Council for Adult Education in December 1994, when her village lacked phone, fax, and email. She also carried on her work as a peace activist, visiting Pakistan as a member of the Pak-India Forum. Soon after India's nuclear explosion at Pokhran, Lalita and her husband publicly opposed the government's decision, despite threats from a number of right-wing groups. They also spoke up fearlessly against the killings in Gujarat in 2002.

Pak-India Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIFPD)