Mumbai, Sep 19 — Veteran Communist leader, women’s activist and ex-MP Roza Deshpande passed away on Saturday due to old age-related ailments, according to a family source. She was 91.
She is survived by a son and a daughter. Her husband, the fiery Communist leader Bani Deshpande, passed away in 2015.
Ailing for some time, Deshpande was admitted to a Dadar hospital for age-related and breathing problems in April before she was discharged.
Daughter of one of the founders of the Communist movement in the country, the legendary Shripad Amrut Dange, she breathed her last around 1 p.m.
Born a month after her father Dange was arrested in the Meerut conspiracy case and later sentenced to life imprisonment, Deshpande plunged into politics through the All India Students Federation, various trade unions and took part in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement and also the Goa Liberation Movement.
While working in the textile industry, Deshpande acquired a deep insight into the conditions of working women not only in the textile sector, but also railways, engineering, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
On learning that women – who comprised 40 per cent in the chemical sector workforce – were forced to sign a bond that they would quit immediately after getting married, she organized in 1964 a massive movement for women’s right to work, maternity benefits and other perks to ensure their equality in the workplaces.
It was the first-ever mass movement for women in Mumbai’s labour history, in which she submitted a Charter of Demands to the government, forcing the companies to bow and withdraw the obnoxious clause.
With massive response from all over India to her campaigns, she set up the Bombay Pharmaceutical Employees Union, later the All India Pharmaceutical Employees Union affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions, and the Chemical and Oil International.
In 1974, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Mumbai North-Central constituency and continued her fight for the rights of workers and women at the state and national levels.
When the Emergency was imposed in 1975, Deshpande supported then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for which she and her supporters were expelled from the Communist Party of India.
Later, even her father Dange was ejected by the CPI, following which they set up the All India Communist Party, of which Deshpande became the General Secretary.
Prior to the 1980 elections, Indira Gandhi handpicked Deshpande and sent her to Moscow as her Special Emissary to meet then Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev to explain her political position in a special letter.
Besides her trade unionism and women’s welfare activities, Deshpande was a poet with a published volume of poetry, ‘Avyakt’, besides a keen student of Marathi literature and history.
A few years ago, along with her husband, Roza initiated the task of publishing all the published and unpublished works of late Dange, along with his official biography which she penned.
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari said he was deeply saddened to learn about the demise of Roza Deshpande, and paid rich tributes to her life and memories.
“She carried forward the legacy of social service inherited from SA Dange. She had taken active part in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement and the Goa Liberation Movement,” said Koshyari.
Maharashtra Minister Nitin Raut expressed grief over Roza Deshpande’s passing while Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said her demise came just a day after US Supreme Court’s Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away in Washington.
“Two iconic women have passed away — yesterday, Justice Ginsberg in the USA, and today, Comrade Roza Deshpande in Mumbai. Two true feminists and great icons,” said Tushar Gandhi.