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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 29 New Delhi July 6, 2019

A Tribute to Primla Loomba

Sunday 7 July 2019, by Gargi Chakravartty


Primla Loomba, popularly known as Pimmi, left us on June 24, 2019. She was outstanding as an educationist and a strong pillar of the women’s movement of our country. Though she may not have identified herself as a feminist, but her political thinking and activities clearly show that she was a socialist feminist in the true sense of the term. She was radical in her outlook and far ahead of her times. She had the immense power to communicate with people of all age-groups from diverse backgrounds.

Her liberal upbringing even in the colonial period explains her forward-looking mindset. She was born on December 24, 1924 in Multan. Her father, Devi Dayal Dhawan, was in the judiciary and posted in various places—Sialkot, Ludhiana, Amritsar and finally in Lahore. Her mother, Lakshmi, was brought up in Jammu and Kashmir as her maternal grandfather was a doctor and Chief Medical Officer of the State. Primla’s schooling was irregular due to her father’s transferable job. Finally after matriculation she joined Kinnard College in Lahore.....

The nationalist movement in the 1930s with numerous strikes and demonstrations had a huge impact on young Primla who became a close associate of Vimla Bakaya (later Dang) and since then she became politically very active. Partition changed the course of her life. Instead of sending her abroad for further studies, her father sent her to Ferozepur, which was a border area. There she started working in the refugee camps, where she gave injections to cholera-affected people. Along with other young girls, she put up shows and even improvised a dance item to collect money. Since that time she and her compatriots resisted the RSS propaganda that ‘Muslims should be compelled to go to Pakistan’. That marked the beginning of her crusade against Hindu communalism and till the end she remained an ardent fighter combating the challenge of majoritarian politics.

Her political activism brought her close to the Communist Party of India, and she became a member of the CPI in 1950, at a time when she was working as a Lecturer of Political Science in Deshbandhu College in Delhi. This was the time when she fell in love with a fiery trade unionist and Communist, Satish Loomba, a brilliant student of Government College, Lahore; they married and shifted to Jalandhar, the place of Satish’s work, in 1954. From 1954 to 1962 Primla was active in the Lok Istri Sabha, an affiliated body of the National Federation of Indian Women.

Coming to Delhi in 1962, she set up a branch of the Delhi Public School in R.K. Puram, where she worked for 22 years from 1962 to 1984. This was the period when she immensely contributed as a teacher and an educationist, and came in touch with Gurnam Soni of Bluebells School and Rajni Kumar of Springdales. There was a close bonding among the trio as they had a similar vision for a truly modern progressive education system; they also worked to connect students with the larger issues of world peace and anti-apartheid movement.

Working with Sarla Sharma in the Delhi unit of the NFIW for a brief period, Primla joined Vimla Farooqui, a leader of the NFIW, and started regularly coming from her school to the NFIW’s central office. Since then she has been a part of the NFIW leadership and contributed immensely in building up the women’s movement while bringing together the then existing seven women’s organisations which were known as seven sisters. She has been a strong proponent of joint women’s struggle throughout her life. Her organising role in the famous Ayodhya March of 15,000 women from all over the country on October 20, 1989, anti-sati and anti-dowry movements, demonstrations against the Mathura rape case may not be known to this generation of activists, that is part of the rich history of our women’s movement. She was equally involved with the activities of her party (CPI) till the end and was always keen to know about the political currents and cross-currents within the Left movement.

Her intellectual input has enriched not only the organisation which was a part of her life but also the entire women’s movement. She was in touch with all shades of Leftist women activists, encouraging and guiding the young feminists with the theoretical debates and practices across the world.

In the midst of an intensely occupied and active political life, she had huge perosnal losses to bear. In 1973 she lost her husband, her comrade Satish Loomba in a tragic plane crash. Since then as a single mother she brought up her two young daughters, Ania and Bindiya. A few years ago she first lost her son-in-law Smitu Kothari and then Bindiya, but she remained strong in exterior and in spite of her personal losses and ill-health, she continued to be actively engaged with the activities in the Springdales School as well as NFIW. Till her health could permit she attended all rallies, demonstrations, group-discussions, protest marches organised either by the NFIW or CPI or by any other Left organisation.

Her passing away is a huge loss not only for her own organisation but for the entire people’s movement in our country. A true homage to her would be to carry forward her legacy to fight against communalism and religious funda-mentalism, and also struggle for equality, democracy and gender-justice. Primla Loomba’s dedication and commitment to the cause of an egalitarian society to work for all categories of marginalised sections will remain an inspiration to all those who have worked with her.

The author is a Vice-President of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

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