Madhu Kishwar, noted activist, has raised eyebrows with her stand on Narendra Modi, another instance of her long insistence on questioning of peer opinion, notes Aparna Kalra.
She hasn't lost firepower. The woman that rebelled against the Miranda House beauty pageant in the early 1970s still holds you -- especially when Professor Madhu Purnima Kishwar is making a point.
And, she has several points to make. Kishwar has had strong, sometimes policy-influencing, views on rape, dowry and sati, not to mention dams, liberalisation, street vendors and, recently, khaps.
But for the past two-odd years, the feminist who refuses to be called that, though she and then associate Ruth Vanita defined the movement for a generation, has taken a sharp right turn. All her fire, strong views and powerful writing have had one object: Promotion of prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Kishwar has published books and papers giving Modi a clean chit in the Gujarat riots of 2002. She has attacked those who have questioned her.
When I call for an interview, she comes on the line almost immediately and is charming on the phone. She wastes no time, though, in getting down to business. She has to be at the election commission office the next day to file a complaint against former University Grants Commission member and almost-colleague Yogendra Yadav, for his inflammatory speeches, she says.
She compares Modi to Gandhi. "We may not have another candidate like him for the next 50 years." It is this kind of devotion that Modi, a polarising figure, needs to make the leap from chief minister of Gujarat to getting hold of and ruling from New Delhi. His run has been marked by references to development and avoiding the religion plank. A hurdle, though, is that many feel he did not do enough to stop riots in that state in 2002, when mobs killed mostly Muslims.
This suspicion dims Modi's chances of heading a coalition government and he is aiming to win a majority. In this fight, debaters such as Kishwar can prove vital. What works in Kishwar's favour in her support for Modi is that she has taken, and defended, contrarian positions before. She is, also, unlikely to back off.
In the 90s, a decade after boycotting marriages which featured dowry, Kishwar and Vanita put out a view that dowry stemmed from India's skewed inheritance laws, and the Hindu Succession Act needed to be amended to stop the routine disinheritance of daughters. Similarly, she argued that banning sati temples was not a solution to the practice of women burning themselves at their husband's pyre. She argued sati was already on its way down (though it got a fresh lease of life with 19-year-old Roop Kanwar being set on fire) and would die out if women had better options.
She makes it clear that she feels a number of feminists miss the larger, cultural context from which a problem stems. This has been her approach to a recent problem - that of honour killings and khap panchayats.
"I am the only one who tried to understand the khap. What did I do? I called
She says she is the only one who visits sites and does her own fact-finding, except in cases such as the brutal December 16, 2012, gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in Delhi, where there could not be a counter-version.
Kishwar is also suspicious of "foreign funding and government funding" of non-government organisations involved in fighting for women's rights or ridding them of violence.
She says she has never made activism her livelihood, first holding down a teaching position in Delhi University for many years, and then working for The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (in this city). The journey to Gujarat, for investigating Godhra, was made with a Rs 10-lakh grant from the centre.
"Kisi gareeb ke naam ka paisa meri jeb main nahin jayega (No money taken in the name of the poor goes into my pocket)," she says, while seated in a spacious, rented flat in North Delhi, where a live-in maid cooks for her.
She denies she is looking for a Rajya Sabha seat in exchange for endorsing Modi, something she is accused of. She said she will approach Modi on issue-based topics, just as she did Sonia Gandhi during the Tehri dam issue.
Writing for independent webzine Kafila, Zahir Janmohamed, who witnessed the post-Godhra riots, countered her tweets and findings in an open letter that was widely read. "She was gracious enough to reply," said Mohamed in an earlier interview. Shows Kishwar, of course, does not back off from a fight.