Obituary: Roza Deshpande - A Communist by choice

The veteran Communist leader, women and labour right activist and former Lok Sabha member Roza Deshpande (91) is no more. Although Deshpande, the daughter of Shripad Amrit Dange, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India, withdrew her active participation from trade union and political activities after 1984, she practised the Marxist ideology till last in the present era of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation.

Born in 1929 to Shripad and Usha Dange in a typical mill workers-dominated area in south central Mumbai, she grew up in the company of wives of mill workers as father and mother were associated with trade union activities or in the jail. Instead of learning child songs, she quickly picked up songs sung in the trade union movement. After completion of her education, she jumped into the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation in which 106 people sacrificed their lives for statehood. Deshpande had also taken part in the Goa liberation struggle as a member of the All India Students Federation.

Deshpande never felt the sacrifice of 106 martyrs had gone waste. However, she was not happy that the Marathi pride and identity issues continue to loiter.

Deshpande was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1974 from the South Central Mumbai constituency. At the same time, she got herself involved with the issues faced by the women workers in the high profile pharmaceutical industry. She took up a slew of issues faced by women employees especially about their wages, bonus, and maternity leave. The All India Pharmaceutical Employees Union, which she represented, was linked with the World Federation of Trade Unions.

During 1971-75, Deshpande was a part of the backchannel diplomacy happened to fly to Russia to meet former Russian President Leonid Breznev as an emissary of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

She had served on various central and state government committees on labour problems, particularly those of women workers.

After the formal split in the Communist Party of India, Deshpande became the general secretary of the United Communist Party of India. She contested the Lok Sabha election in 1984 as an independent with the Pigeon symbol against leading trade union leader Datta Samant from South Central Mumbai. However, she was defeated.

Deshpande with her husband Bani Deshpande wrote an autobiography of Comrade Dange titled SA Dange –Ek Itihaas.

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