Devaki Jain – A Life For The Cause of Women and Poor

Eminent economist and prolific authoress, Padma Bhushan recipient Devaki Jain have been the champion for the cause of the poor and women of India.

Internationally famed as a developmental economist, Devaki Jain has been influenced by Gandhian philosophy that has been instrumental in her fight against poverty.

Early life and Education

Jain was born in 1933, in Mysore, Karnataka. His father, M A Sreenivasan, along with being a civil servant, worked as a minister in the Princely state of Mysore. Born to a family where Education was of utmost importance, Jain went to various convent schools in India.

An amazing lady, Devaki graduated in Mathematics and Economics from Mysore University, has three gold medals. In an era that was marked by several restrictions on women by the Indian society, Devaki Jain took a step ahead by attending St Annes College, Oxford. There, she studied Economics. Later she became a professor of Economics at Delhi University, a post she held till 1969.

Standing for social cause

Jain was married to the Gandhian economist, Lakshmi Chand Jain, from 1966 until his death in 2010. It was after her marriage that she took up a career of a women rights’ activist, a career that later redefined her life. Interestingly enough, Jain was at that time unaware of feminism or women rights’ movements. Only after a publisher approached her to write or edit a book about the status quo of women in India that Jain came to realize the widened gulf between men and women in the country.

Jain’s acquaintance with feminist Gloria Steinem, whom Jain met in the USA, played a pivotal role in her career. Discourses with Steinem about the need of women working together to assert themselves had a lasting impression upon Jain’s mind, and she later proclaimed herself as a feminist, for which was even mocked in her country.

In the early 70s, Jain edited Indian Women (1975) for the Government of India. Also, she began to manage resources to establish the Institute of Social Studies Trust in Delhi. The foundation has since conducted comprehensive research on women, especially from the poor section. Jain further set up the Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS), Developmental Alternatives for Women for a New Era (DAWN), Kali, and Feminist Publishing House.

Moreover, she helped organizations like SEWA of Ahmedabad to promote their message across the country.

Fighting for Women’s rights

During a casual interview with Cherwell, Jain opened up about her application of Economics in her fight for women’s right. She remarked: “In statistics, you define a worker as primary, subsidiary, supplementary, etc. Women are usually categorized as a supplementary. But I was able to argue nationally that amongst the poor, women are the main breadwinners as they are willing to do anything; sweeping, cleaning, selling scraps, anything to put food on the table. Then I realized that I had to visualize what women are as economic agents.”

PC: Wikimedia

Understanding Rural India

A follower of Gandhian philosophy, Jain has used Gandhi as her inspiration even in Economics. Jain pitched for democratic decentralization and approached her work with Gandhian idealism.

Jain has cooperated with the Indian Government in several capacities. She had an active role in framing credit schemes for rural women. Jain was connected with many policy task forces and was a part of the core committee.

Remarkably, her works have helped women across the country and, by collaborating with the government, she has furthered the progress of women in the country.

Working with UN

Jain’s works are not only limited to India. She has worked alongside UN for the emancipation of women globally. In this venture, she penned a book, Women, Development, and the UN: A Sixty-Year Quest for Equality and Justice. This book sheds light on the struggle for women’s right over the years.

Jain also adored the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Gender for the United Nations Centre in Asia-Pacific. In 1987-90, she was a part of the South Commission, headed by Dr. Julius Nyerere. She and other 26 economists in the body devised an action agenda for South-South economic cooperation.

For her struggle to forge gender equality, Jain has been conferred with Bradford Morse Memorial Award by the UN, one of only two women to ever receive the honor.

Jain’s crusade against injustice still continues. Now living in Bengaluru, she is active more than ever in her feminist movement. Jain is vocal about the rights of women and the poor, writing meticulous articles and engaging with women through other channels.

The legend of Devaki Jain continues.


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