Kalpana Kannabiran has been a women’s rights advocate, campaigner and pro bono socio-legal counsellor especially for survivors of domestic violence. A co-founder of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, one of the most active feminist advocacy groups in India, she has led the legal aid, strategic litigation, training and capacity building programmes, and research initiatives in this centre for 25 years – from its inception in 1991 till 2016, when programmes with full support closed in a major organisational restructuring. She continues to volunteer and offer counselling services on a case-by-case basis. From 1993-1999 she worked full time at the centre focussing on legal services and socio-legal research; through the 25 years that it has been active, however, she has been closely involved in every aspect of its work on a weekly basis in addition to her formal teaching responsibilities in NALSAR and CSD. In 2011, she secured a major three-year grant for Asmita from Ford Foundation on the Elimination of Child Marriage in India – a comprehensive research, public action, training and advocacy program – and supervised its completion. A 2017 article on age at marriage is an outcome of this collaboration.
As a consciousness-raising, public action collective, Asmita has intervened in political debates and larger questions of censorship, organising women creative writers and writing on feminist concerns with respect to politics of the radical left on the one side and the fundamentalist right on the other. A set of essays that comment on Maoist politics and peace processes in Andhra Pradesh provide a glimpse of her collective engagement on these questions. She also petitioned the High Court in the case of the physical attacks on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad.
Her work with community organisers, survivors of violence, women’s rights and human rights advocates, campaigns at the local, regional, national and international levels and creative writers, triggered by her location in Asmita have informed her academic preoccupations and writing so that this aspect of her work is deeply embedded in and constitutive of her academic pursuits.