By Priyanka Bisht
Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get worse with the ongoing pandemic, wild fires, fatal accidents, economic slowdown and job losses all around, the past month has been particularly severe in terms of deaths of eminent personalities.
eShe lists down three women role models we lost within a span of just 20 days.
All of them were intellectually brilliant, exceptionally gifted, courageous in their careers, and feminist in their ideologies.
(1933 – 2020)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman after Sandra Day O’Connor to serve as an associate justice in the Supreme Court of the United States, a position she held for 27 years until her death on September 18, 2020, aged 87. She had been suffering from metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Nominated by former US president Bill Clinton in 1993, she was the first Jewish woman to serve on the court and was responsible for landmark judgments for the future of women’s rights to equal opportunity.
Born in Brooklyn, New York City, Ruth graduated from Cornell University and later went to Harvard School of Law. She completed her studies from Columbia Law School, and served as a professor there and at Rutgers Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field.
In fact, Ruth’s very presence in the legal arena was an anomaly for the times. In a now-famous incident that took place in the fall of 1956, when Ruth was only one of nine women in a class of about 500 men, the dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited all the female law students to dinner at his family home and asked them, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?”
Later, when she got her first job as a professor was at Rutgers Law School in 1963 (she was one of less than 20 women law professors in the US at the time), she was informed she would be paid less than her male colleagues because she had a husband with a well-paid job.
In 1972, Ruth co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which participated in more than 300 gender discrimination cases in just two years. As the director, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five.
Ruth’s contributions to women’s rights to employment and abortion in the US are indisputable. “The government has no business making that choice for a woman,” she said.
Kapila Vatsyayan(1928 – 2020)
A respected, well-known scholar of Indian classical dance, art and architecture, and also a bureaucrat and Member of Parliament, Kapila Vatsyayan died at the age of 91 on September 16, 2020.
Born to a freedom fighter mother, Satyawati Malik, Kapila raised the bar for India’s cultural education. She was the founding director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and also played a leading role in the establishment of Central University of Tibetan Studies and the Sarnath Centre for Cultural Resources and Training.
Trained in the classical dance tradition of Kathak with the knowledge of modern dance and ballet, she was an inspiration for the younger generation to aspire to the rich, glorious cultural arts of India.
Having studied in the US and India, and having gained her doctorate from Banaras Hindu University, Kapila had a keen interest of educating young minds. She served as a university professor and authored numerous important books on Indian art such as Bharata The Natyasastra (1996), The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts (1997), and Role of Culture in Development (2018).
She received many awards for her exceptional work in Indian art, such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Scholarship, Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship and finally the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 2011.
She believed in India as a country with a rich heritage with the ability to look at life as its entirety with a sense of holism. “There is a need for the integration of nature-culture,” she said, “and the development of the individual so that he or she can serve the community by being not just a productive but a creative person, at home with himself or herself and with the world.”
Dr SI Padmavati(1917 – 2020)
Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati was a truly remarkable woman and a role model for medical students worldwide. India’s first woman cardiologist, she established the first cardiac clinic and cardiac catheter lab in India, and went on to lay the foundations for the National Heart Institute, Delhi, and the All India Heart Foundation. She died at the age of 103 on August 29, 2020.
Awarded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan in 1992, Padmavati was also an elected fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences.
She was born in Burma and pursued an MBBS degree from Rangoon Medical College. Later, she worked in National Hospital Queen Square, London, and also studied at Harvard Medical School under an eminent cardiologist Paul Dudley White, and at Johns Hopkins University.
Her journey in India began in 1953 as a lecturer at Lady Hardinge Medical College. She worked at Maulana Azad Medical College in 1967 and opened the first cardiology department on the campus. She had also been a professor at Delhi University and received her Padma Bhushan in 1967.
Her belief of never giving up and staying young at heart kept her exercising regularly and working even up to the age of 100, inspiring generations of Indian cardiologists.
As eShe had reported on her 100th birthday, even till her late nineties, Padmavati would swim up to an hour daily in summer and go for long walks in winter. She would also travel often for international conferences. She continued to visit her workplace twice a week even after completing a century.