OBITUARY: Durga Bundhoo spread tolerance through understanding

2014-07-11 00:00

COMMUNITY stalwart Durga Bundhoo (93), once described in a Witness interview as “a soldier of peace”, died in the early hours of yesterday morning, after a long illness.

She was the widow of the equally well-known community leader and Pietermaritzburg’s own Gandhi disciple, the late Dasrath Bundhoo.

However, Bundhoo was a woman of distinction in her own right and she was a champion who pushed Indian parents to educate their daughters way back in the 1930s. Through the Pietermaritzburg Indian Women’s Association, she was instrumental in founding the Indian Girls’ High School in 1935.

She herself was a teacher as her parents were members of the enlightened Hindu Arya Samaj movement that promoted women’s rights. Bundhoo was awarded Civic Honours by the city in 2000 for her involvement in all facets of life in Pietermaritzburg, ranging from religious organisations to education, child welfare, politics and peace.

In his autobiography, A Fortunate Man, Ismail Meer, a close friend of Nelson Mandela, mentions Bundhoo as an outstanding supporter of the 1956 treason trialists as she worked endlessly to raise funds for the families of the 155 people on trial. This support for political causes continued all her life.

During the height of political turbulence in the city in the 1980s when school children were protesting, Bundhoo would stand outside the schools with groups of mothers to ensure they were not beaten up by the police.

She was also a firm promoter of non-racialism and peace.

In her interview with Margaret von Klemperer in The Witness, she said: “During the states of emergency, I went around addressing white women’s church groups, telling them about our Hindu way of life, showing them how to put on a sari, whatever it took to spread understanding.”

The book Petticoat Pioneers: Women of Distinction, a publication of the Federation of Women’s Institutes of Natal and Zululand, carried the following quote: “Few women of any race can claim to have done more for the cultural, educational, social, and religious life of a people around her than has the bright, and lively Mrs Durga Bundhoo”.

Her funeral takes place today at the Aryan Hall, 137 Khan Road in Raisethorpe, starting at 11.30 am.

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