Sulekha Kumbhare


Attorney Sulekha Kumbhare is a Member of the National Minority Commission of India. She earned her Bachelor’s of Law Degree at Nagpur Vidyapith.

Impressed by her father’s commitment to the human rights of Indian minorities throughout his life as a lawyer and labor leader, she carried the torch to his funeral pyre upon his sudden death from overwork, carrying a case load of 7,000 for mainly bidi workers.

Bidi workers are those who make hand-made cigarettes, 70% of whom are women, and they do not receive enough monies to survive while also have serious negative health consequences from the work. They work from day-to-day with no health or retirement compensation.

Before her father died, she worked alongside him, and upon his sudden heart attack, she carried his vision forward. At his funeral she saw such a huge crowd gathered, and deeply understood that the length of one’s life is not important, but how useful one makes his/her life, particularly for one’s nation is.

On his cremation day, she vowed to continue legal social services and commit herself to the mission of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the great religious social reformer who called for Indians to become Buddhists in order to break out of the caste system, and to fulfill the vision of her father, a great labor leader.

With the rights and case load of the Bidi workers on her mind and heart, she organized a Jail Bharo Movement for 35 days and she succeeded! Jail Bharo is a method of protesting for a cause in which the protesters and leaders of the protest voluntarily get arrested in order to fill the jails to overflowing. It is a peaceful protest method used in India with roots in the Indian freedom movement. It brings attention to an issue and oftentimes justice.

After some years the factory of the Bidi workers was closed and 800 workers were completely unemployed. For them, she performed a hunger strike of 8 days. Fortunately, during her hunger strike she met the famous Japanese pianist and humanitarian, Noriko Ogawa, and they became friends.

A connection between women spanning the globe resulted in compassionate response to others.