Ela Bhatt

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Ela Bhatt, the “gentle revolutionist” (2013)

Ela Ramesh Bhatt (7 September 19332 November 2022) was an exemplary Indian social worker, cooperative organizer, activist and Gandhian. Her legal training and interaction with Gandhi influenced her to establish the Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA) in 1972. Bhatt was a part of the international labor, cooperative, women, and micro-finance movements. She had won several prestigious national and international awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Padma Bhushan (1986).


  • ...tribute to her unflinching zeal towards the betterment of women in society.
    • President of India on conferring the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for her for promoting the cause of women relentlessly allowing millions of them to become independent and self reliant through her Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).Ela Bhatt of SEWA awarded Indira Gandhi Prize for promoting peace. Tehelca.com. Retrieved on 20 December 2013.
  • realities of our own countries rather than catching up with the western economic models, [Bhatt urged] the people to follow a principle which ensures six basic necessities- food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary healthcare and primary banking- are available within a 100 mile distance. If these necessities are locally produced and consumed, we will have the growth of a new holistic economy.
    • Quoted in in "Ela Bhatt of SEWA awarded Indira Gandhi Prize for promoting peace".
  • Teachers do not care…It is not because teachers are badly paid and the teachers are organized but they do not teach. If we don’t respect them it is because we see them doing other business than teaching.
    • On the low social regard for teachers.Ghate, Chetan title=The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Economy (13 March 2012). Oxford University Press. pp. 373–. ISBN 978-0-19-973458-0. 

Discussion with Ela Bhatt, Founder, Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)


A Discussion with Ela Bhatt, Founder, Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA). Retrieved on 20 December 2013.

  • …Inner peace is important, but I have always felt that living a daily life with peace is the end. So in reality individual peace and global peace are not separate. They are one and the same.
  • …Poverty and violence are not God made, they are man made. Poverty and peace cannot coexist.
  • Through women, what exists and is real, what is traditional, historical, modern and cultural, given the opportunity, is upgraded. That is what the challenge to bring peace is about.
  • I grew up in the time around India’s independence, in the aura of a country fighting for its freedom. It was a heady and idealistic time, and we were all infected with a spirit of optimism, and the spirit of Gandhiji.
  • We were rebuilding the nation, looking to a more just society. It was a time when many of us were going to the villages to live there. We were a generation that had no confusion in our minds as to how to do things. Gandhiji had shown the way. This atmosphere infused politics and the way we did things.
  • ...as I worked with the unionized labor, of the much larger labor force that was outside the purview of the protective labor laws, of any form of social security, access to justice, access to financial services, anything. That tugged at my heart. And those people were unorganized and had no strength to act to seek remedies.
  • Women predominate in the lower strata of employment.
  • [So], in 1972, we started SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association. SEWA in many respects is a microcosm of the general picture of the informal sector, in India and worldwide.
  • SEWA is now the largest union in India, with a membership of around 1.2 million women.
  • [SEWA] have been doing many different things, leading the SEWA movement which is about economic freedom for the poor, women, and self employed.
  • I am Hindu, and my activism is very much framed within that context, of karma as meaning action.
  • The country is moving in a different direction, times have changed. But for me Gandhiji’s values are still the frame, still alive and valid.
  • SEWA is about political action, and that has always been at the heart of what we have done. It is about changing the balance of power in favor of the poor. That has meant constant tension, with big farmers, moneylenders, contractors, big traders, government, local panchayats, and so on.
  • Injustice happens at many levels, from the grass roots to the top. And one of the keys of SEWA’s vision and action is linking them.
  • Systems are needed, for example for management, accounting, skill development and MIS to serve the needs of the working poor.
  • Microfinance is the best example of success in the kinds of systemic institutional areas.
  • What we really are looking for is self reliance and that is how we should measure success. I don’t much like the word empowerment, but self-reliance is the foundation of SEWA’s approach,.
  • Every human being has something, a spiritual element, that makes them want to do better, to reach higher.
  • All my life I have worked to change concepts, and that begins with how people see and understand the problems.

About Ela Bhatt


Ela Bhatt bags Global Initiative Award


Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the award ceremony held at the Kennedy Center."Ela Bhatt bags Global Initiative Award". Financial Express. 16 November 2010. Retrieved on 20 December 2013. 

  • She (Bhatt) has helped not only women in India but women in South Africa, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and inspired so many others to find their own way forward to overcome long legacies of inequality and unfairness. She has helped us imagine and then work toward a fairer world.
  • So for her contribution to India and particularly the women of India, and to the global community, it is my honour to present the first Global Fairness Award to my friend, Ela Bhatt"
  • The work that she has done through the Self-Employed Women's Association is not only about finding solutions to the problems of poverty. At its most basic level, Ela's work is about fairness, about giving every person the chance to achieve his or her dreams, to make the most of his or her God-given potential'no matter how rich or poor, no matter whether they work in a factory or a home or on the side of a road.
  • Even in places where it is most stark, people still should be able to develop their ambitions and direct them toward building better lives. And Ela and SEWA have proven that,
  • Ela Bhatt has upended the old ways of thinking and compelled all of us to raise our collective ambitions about what we can do to.
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