"She never once saw herself as a victim. She always behaved like a healthy person and remained positive. She knew whatever time she had, she wanted to spend for the betterment of others. Her fight inspired people and they looked up to her for strength. She was a fantastic lady. She would only think of others and not herself" - Purva Kothari
Born into a Jain family in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district, Jyotsna’s father, Bhikamchand Jain, had always been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi…taking exceptional care to live by the principles of the great leader. Growing up in environment that gave prominence to education, values, hard work and of course, a fierce spirit of nationalism, Jyotsna’s childhood years played a seminal role in shaping her into the person she grew up to be.
It was while she was working in neighbouring Nagpur for a few differently-abled people that life changed for Jyotsna Dadra. Witnessing first-hand how oppressive lives of women living in the fringes of society could be, she was determined to do her bit – perhaps more – to better their situation.
Jyotsna dreamt of giving these women a life of dignity, self-respect and independence – and to that end, launched Sakhi Manch – an organisation conceived as ‘a space where women felt comfortable enough to reach their full potential, along with a sense of ownership.’ Launched at first with 250 women members, in 14 years, the Manch has grown to include close to 200,000 members across Maharashtra and Goa.
Even as Jyotsna worked relentlessly for the sake of others, not many knew of the battle she was fighting within herself. She had been battling cancer for the longest time, even as she went about changing and bettering lives of the lesser privileged. The fact that she made no bones of her situation is perhaps the finest statement of the woman that she was.
As a daughter, wife, mother, sister and daughter-in-law, she had always done her duty with a quiet confidence but it was with the Manch that she grew into an inspiring leader. So deep was the impact of her work that when Jyotsna finally passed away in 2013, thousands of women travelled many a mile to pay homage and say goodbye to the lady who had given ordinary housewives a new lease of life.
"Often, the talent and creativity of women in India remains unexplored, though they are capable of doing anything and everything and they should be given due respect and not looked down upon or discriminated against. Today, if a woman goes to work, she should be respected for the work she is doing. She should not feel threatened, she should be carefree, and feel safe and secure" - Late Jyotsna Darda