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Jasodhara Bagchi: Farewell to a phenomenal woman

Jasodhara Bagchi

Veteran feminist, academician and author, Jasodhara Bagchi, will remain an inspiration to many

By Juhi Jain
This is indeed a sad time for us feminists. We have lost many a stoic fighter who made inroads into the bastions of patriarchy – challenging hierarchies, demanding rights and fuelling winds of change. Jasodhara Bagchi, one such relentless feminist academic, critic and teacher, left us on January 9, 2015 morning in Kolkata at the age of 77. Jasodharadi was an inspiration, a stalwart and torch bearer of feminism in innumerable ways.

Jasodhara Bagchi was born in 1937, the only daughter of Presidency College Principal, Dr. J.C.Sengupta. After completing her English Honours from Presidency College, Kolkata she went on to do a second BA at Somerville College, Oxford and later completed her PhD on Walter Pater and late 19th century English literature at New Hall, Cambridge.

Most of her working life was spent as Professor of English Literature at the Jadavpur University which she joined in 1963, after a short stint of teaching at Lady Brabourne College. At Jadavpur, she combined activism, academic research and teaching, with an unfaltering pursuit of women rights, which she continued till her formal professional retirement (in 1997) and after that in her capacity as Emeritus Professor till the very end of her life.

While at Jadavpur, Jasodharadi completed her research on the 19th century English and Bengali literature, especially focusing on writings by women writers. In addition, she also undertook research studies on Reception of Positivism in Bengal, concept of motherhood and Partition of India.

Pursuing her dedication and interest in women’s studies, in 1988, Jasodharadi laid the foundation of the School of Women’s Studies at Jadavpur University; she became its first Founder-Director a post she held until retirement from university service.

Jasodhara Bagchi was appointed as the Chairperson of the West Bengal State Commission for Women on which she served from 2001 to 2008.

Prominently known for her leftist views, she was also a founder member of the feminist organization Sanchetna, in Kolkata. She was committed to mobilization for the women’s movement lending her voice to countless struggles of women for rights and dignity.

A pioneer in her field, Jasodharadi, was instrumental in initiating the publication of Bengali Women Writers Reprint Series, a monograph line dedicated to publishing new editions of writings of/by women in an effort to document and showcase their unrecorded and hidden works, history and pursuits.

A feminist author and critic, she wrote extensively on various social and women’s issues from a feminist-left perspective. Her book “Indian Women: Myth and Reality (1989) is considered a path breaking critical treatise on many pressing issues related to Indian women and their lives. In addition she has also edited several volumes on women’s personal histories.

Her latest book Parijayee Nari O Manabadhikar (Migrating Women and Human Rights), was termed as “politically controversial” and hence its launch at the Kolkata book fair was stalled. While the details of the “controversial nature” are not explicitly spelled out, knowing Jasodharadi’s critical positions vis-a vis women’s rights, violence and entitlement issues, it is not surprising that she had face the displeasure of those in position of power and authority. The book has however been released in a small private gathering.

More recently, Jasodharadi registered her protest and spoke out vociferously in support of students and, against Jadavpur University Vice-Chancellor and management for their anti-student stand and highhanded attitude in dealing with the student protests at the university campus during September 2014. She was part of the five-member team of Emeritus Professors that met West Bengal Governor and University Chancellor to demand appointment of a more “able” Vice-Chancellor for the Jadavpur University.

Another fascinating facet of Jasodharadi’s much loved personality was her passionate and melodious singing, which was hugely appreciated wherever she went, not only in Bengal but also in various South Asian forums where she conducted workshops, gave lectures and shared her academic thinking. Credit is also due to her for the vast repertoire of songs and verse that she stored in her memory and produced on request at such gatherings.

Jasodhara Bagchi remained active till her last days, having completed a draft of a monograph on motherhood just before her illness. We salute and remember her with fondness and affection, as a pillar of the women’s studies movement in India, and a towering source of strength for her colleagues and students alike.

Statement by Indian Association for Women’s Studies here