People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 26, 2009


Red Salute To Comrade Ahilya

Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar - doyen of the women's movement and one of the founders of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), passed away on the morning of April 19, 2009. She was 87 years old. AIDWA deeply mourns her passing away, and passes the following condolence resolution.

A fighter for the rights of workers, women and all oppressed people, Ahilya Rangnekar was born in Pune in 1922 in a Chandrasena Kayastha Prabhu family. Her father Trimbak Ranadive was deeply influenced by the social reformers of his times and chose to educate his daughters, inviting taunts and adverse comments from those around him. But he persevered and stuck to his progressive outlook, which his children imbibed early in life. Till the end of her life Ahilya remained a firm opponent of superstition and always worked to inculcate a rational outlook amongst those she worked with. She believed that a rational approach formed the bedrock of radical political thought which was essential if India was to modernise and realise the ideals of the freedom struggle. Having been drawn into the struggle to free India from colonial rule, Ahilya remained a fighter in the struggle against imperialism, for equality and social change.

Ahilya was drawn into the 1942 movement in Bombay and was arrested while she was still a college student. Soon after that she became active in the Communist Party and got drawn into the trade union struggles of the Bombay working class and was often caught in the thick of critical events such as the firing in Parel in 1946 even as the workers came out in support of the RIN mutiny facing a crackdown from the British forces, shaken to its core by these developments. From these very days, Ahilya worked to draw women into mass struggles through union platforms as well as the women’s organisations she came to form and be associated with.

Her concern and commitment to women’s equality stemmed from both a social commitment to equality and justice, as well as deep familiarity with the ravages of social exclusions based on caste prejudices and elite privileges. She was acutely aware of the link between feudal land relations and social oppression as well as the need to draw women into political movements and struggles if they were to break out of the shackles of century old beliefs and ‘traditions’ and expand the frontiers of their freedom and explore new opportunities. Along with her vast experience as a mass political leader it was these specific concerns that she brought into AIDWA of which she was a founder member, a former working president and a CEC member for long years. Her experience of working with working class and slum women of Bombay had convinced her that it was the energy and militancy of these women mobilised on their own issues that would in fact take the women’s movement forward. That is why, despite long years spent in prison both in pre-independence period as well as in the post independence period, including the emergency years, she remained optimistic about the need and the positive outcome of mass struggles.

Her training, as a communist mass worker, and a leader was such that she made critical interventions, be it in the street protests of the anti-price rise movement in Maharashtra, as member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation for 19 years, or as a member of parliament in the post emergency years. She was in the forefront of women’s mass struggles, forging unity with other women activists to raise issues for women’s dignity both in their daily lives as well as in the legal domain, as is obvious from her active involvement with the agitation for passage of the Hindu Code Bill, facing the wrath of Hindu fundamentalists in the 1940s and 50s and then around Muslim women’s maintenance rights facing the opposition of the Muslim fundamentalists. She could perceive the commonalities of opposition to women’s rights from these seemingly opposite camps even as she personified the continuities of political trends pushing for a secular democratic polity through the organisations she was associated with: at one time, the CPI; the CPI(M) after the split and the AIDWA from the time it was founded. Her ability to give leadership in the course of a militant mass struggle was matched by her desire to work tirelessly to draw in younger cadre. In all these years and despite adverse circumstances, her enthusiasm remained unabated, whether it was her love for music—(she was a trained classical singer, and had a lovely voice which she had often used in street performances to sell the Party paper on Bombay’s streets along with her more well -known brother, the radical communist leader and trade union fighter, B T Ranadive). She enjoyed a love for life which she lived to the full. We express our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends. Our loss remains deep and we can only commemorate the life of such a leader by pledging to carry on the tasks she lived for –women’s emancipation and a life of dignity with equal rights for all people of this world.

Ahalya tai amar rahe!


I am deeply grieved to hear the news of the passing away of Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar. Ahilya Rangnekar was one of the outstanding woman leaders of the communist movement in India. Her six decades of service to the people and the communist movement of Mumbai and Maharashtra can never be forgotten. She was one of the founder leaders of the militant women's movement in Maharashtra and India.

She and her husband, P B Rangnekar, were an ideal couple. Her life and example will be a source of inspiration for people who want to fight and end class exploitation. Her death is a great loss for the Party and to the communist movement. I convey my heartfelt condolences to her two sons and other family members.


It is with a great shock and grief that I received the news of the death of Ahilyatai.

Though my initial association with her began in 1977 when she was a member of the Lok Sabha from Mumbai and we used to rush to her with petitions to be forwarded and problems to be taken up, this relationship developed and strengthened into love and respect for each other since 1990 when I started going to Maharashtra in connection with Party work. I have fond memories of my association both with her and her life companion, the late Comrade P B Rangnekar. Both of them made an ideal communist couple, dedicated and devoted both to the cause and each other. A couple whose life and work is difficult to be emulated.

Her courage and fortitude in facing the police and establishment while organising and leading the people is public knowledge. I can distinctly recall the famous anti-price rise struggle she led along with Mrinal Gore and others in Mumbai in the seventies. She was a municipal corporator at that time. It is in the background of this struggle and her detention during the Emergency that saw her getting elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977.

She was known for her simplicity and affable nature. She was always with the people sharing their problems, hardships and grief. It is these qualities that endeared her to all of us.

Her six decades of work in the cause of the communist movement in Mumbai and outside will always be cherished. Her passing away has left a deep void, which is very difficult to fill. One more of the legendary leaders of the movement has left.

It is with a heavy heart that I pay my last respects to Ahilyatai. I convey heartfelt condolences to Ajit and Abhay, her two sons and the other family members.


I am deeply shocked at the passing away of comrade Ahilya Rangnekar (87). Comrade Ahilya was a member of the Central Committee of the CPI (M). She was indeed a pioneer in the task of founding and building the women’s democratic movement in India.

A leader who was popular amongst the working people and the toiling masses, Comrade Ahilya was one of the leading lights of the Samyukta Maharashtra Andolan for the linguistic reorganisation of Maharashtra state.

The first woman to be arrested under the ill-gotten Emergency in 1975, Comrade Ahilya had also been arrested for a brief period earlier during the pre-independence years for leading the girls’ movement against the nawabshahi of Aga Khan. Her total period of incarceration was more than seven years. She spent two years underground.

Comrade Ahilya led the simple life of a Communist. In her demise, the Communist movement in India in general and the CPI (M) in particular have suffered a great loss. I convey my feelings of profound sorrow to the Party comrades, members of her family, especially to her two sons.