Tag Archive for Obituary

Salutes to Vina Mazumdar, doyenne of women’s studies

Vina Mazumdar Obituary

Vina Mazumdar, veteran feminist and much loved pioneer of women’s studies movement in India passed away in New Delhi on 30 May 2013. She was 86

By Vibhuti Patel

With the passing away of Dr. Vina Mazumdar, fondly known as Vinadi, the Indian women’s movement has experienced an irreparable loss. Vinadi personified in her, a far sighted and strong willed thinker and a forceful speaker and convincing debater who had faith in ‘human goodness’.

Her intellectual prowess did not make her an ivory tower in her approach towards her colleagues and fellow travelers- academicians, policy makers, researchers and feminist activists. She always remained warm at heart, easy to approach, instantly building rapport, magnanimous in sharing her knowledge and institutional resources as director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies.

Her charm was in her electrifying persona, an always smiling face conveying optimism, down to earth approach, ideological sharpness, story-telling with witty humour and the most important courage of conviction combined with honesty of purpose. This is what explained her commanding agenda setting power, whether she was in the decision making bodies of University Grants Commission (UGC), Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Planning Commission of India and several ministries or outside of them. She could galvanize students, teachers, researchers, women’s organizations, trade unionists, bureaucrats, politicians and law makers into action as she was one of the best ‘argumentative Indians’ produced by ‘women’s studies movement’.

Vinadi was very good at coining catchy terms such as ‘women’s studies movement’, ‘the Indian psyche defined by binary ‘Ma’ versus “Maal’ – the dichotomy that worships motherhood and dehumanizes/commodifies the rest of women

Her contemporaries – powerful men in the Universities, research institutions and ministries called her ‘bulldozer’ while women scholars and practitioners found her the most trustworthy friend and mentor.

I worked closely with Vinadi during 1981 for the Women’s Studies Conference hosted by SNDT Women’s University, in 1985 for preparation of ‘End of the Decade’ alternate country report on Status of Women in India, in 1986 for a panel discussion on ‘Ante Natal Sex Selective and Abortions of Female Foetus in India’ for World Sociological Conference and in 1988 for a multi-centric research project on ‘Child Care as an Essential Input for women’s Development’.

Vina Mazumdar  was a great champion of participatory action research. Photo courtesy : Zubaan Books

Vina Mazumdar was a great champion of participatory action research. Photo courtesy : Zubaan Books

Vina Mazumdar was born in 1927 and completed her schooling in Calcutta. She did her honours course from Benaras Hindu University as well as Ashutosh College, Calcutta University and completed D.Phil. from Oxford University. In 1960, Once again she enrolled as a research scholar at Oxford University and within 2 years was awarded D.Phil.

She taught political science at Patna University and Berhampur University for couple of years. After that she joined UGC. She made a mark in the UGC Secretariat as an energetic Officer. She was also selected as a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla.

In 1972, when the Indian government agreed to honour the UN mandate to prepare a status report on women, Vinadi was appointed as Member Secretary of Committee on the Status of Women in India. Her unique contribution while preparation of landmark report “Towards Equality” as a researcher and her analytical rigour to explain material and ideological conditions that determined women’s predicament in India made her the most sought after scholar-activist during 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the millennium era.

In 1974, When All India Institute of Medical Science began conducting a sample survey of amniocentesis to find out about foetal genetic conditions and easily managed to enroll 11000 pregnant women as volunteers for its research, the main interest of these volunteer pregnant women was to know sex of the foetus. Once the results were out, the women who were told that they were carrying female fetuses demanded abortion. When the young researcher of AIIMS shared this observation with Vinadi, she mobilised a women’s delegation to meet the health minister to stop abuse of amniocentesis for sex selective abortions.

During the International Women’s Year (1975), Vinadi was appointed as Director, Programme of Women’s Studies, ICSSR, for five years (1975-80). She was Founder-Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi from 1980 to 1991, and thereafter was Senior Fellow at CWDS and JP Naik National Fellow, ICSSR, for two years. From 1996-2013, Dr. Veena Mazumdar was the Chairperson, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. She was the heart and soul of Indian Association of Women’s Studies.

Vinadi’s writings provided road map for developmental initiatives. Her memoir, Memories of a Rolling Stone pulished by Zubaan Books in 2010 provides vivid description of her principles, programmes, and policy initiatives in collaboration with her team of ‘movers and shakers’.

Vinadi will remain with us with her insightful publications:
• Education & Social Change: Three Studies on Nineteenth Century India. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1972.
• Role of Rural Women in Development. University of Sussex. Institute of Development Studies. Allied Publishers, 1978.
• Symbols of Power: Studies on the Political Status of Women in India. Allied, 1979.
• Emergence of the Women’s Question in India and the Role of Women’s Studies. Centre for Women’s Development Studies, 1985.
• Peasant Women Organise for Empowerment: The Bankura Experiment. Centre for Women’s Development Studies. 1989.

Featured Photo: Vina Mazumdar while studying at Asutosh College, Calcutta – courtesy: Wikipedia

In memoriam: Lotika Sarkar 1923 – 2013

Lotika Sarkar

Saluting Professor Lotika Sarkar who fought to make the country’s laws uphold gender justice and women’s rights

By Vibhuti Patel

Professor Lotika Sarkar who played a central role in several path-breaking and crucial legislations for gender justice and empowerment of women during 1975-2005, passed away at the age of 90 on 23rd February 2013. In the women’s rights movement, she was known as Lotikadee.

When other stalwarts of women’s studies touched our hearts with inspirational speeches in the women’s movement gatherings, Lotikadee floored us with her legal acumen. The first Indian woman to graduate from Cambridge, Dr. Lotika Sarkar was the first woman to join the law faculty at the University of Delhi. She taught Criminal law and was a mainstay of the Indian Law Institute, Delhi during 1980s and 1990s. She was a member of the Government of India’s Committee on the Status of Women in India and a founding member of several institutions—the Indian Association for Women Studies (IAWS) and the Centre for Women‘s Development Studies (CWDS).

Lotikadee was in the peak of her career, when she was asked to join Committee on Status of Women in India, 1972 that prepared Towards Equality Report, 1974. As a pioneer in the fields of law, women’s studies and human rights, she prepared the chapter on laws concerning women in the Status of Women’s Committee Report with gender sensitivity and analytical clarity to promote women’s rights.

Along with three law professors of Delhi University – Prof. Upendra Baxi, Prof. Kelkar, Dr. Vasudha Dhagamwar, Lotikadee wrote the historic Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India in 1979, challenging the judgment of the apex court on the Mathura rape case. I remember cutting stencil and making copies on our cyclostyling machine of the 4-page long letter for wider circulation. Translation of this letter into Gujarati and Hindi served as a crash course in understanding the nuances of criminal justice system, rape laws and sexual violence as the weapon to keep women in a perpetual state of terrorization, intimidation and subjugation. It resulted in birth of the first feminist group against rape in January, 1980 – Forum Against Rape.

In 1980, along with Dr. Veena Mazumdar, Lotikadee founded Centre for Women’s Development Studies. When Lotikadee came to Mumbai for the first Conference on Women’s Studies in April, 1981 at SNDT women’s University, we, young feminists were awe-struck! Ideological polarization in this conference was extremely volatile. Lotikadee’s commitment to the left movement did not prevent her from interacting meaningfully with liberals, free-thinkers and also the new-left like me. Indian Association of Women’s Studies was formed in this gathering. In the subsequent conferences, Lotikadee attracted innumerable legal luminaries to IAWS.

At the initiative of her students, Amita Dhanda and Archana Parashar, a volume of Essays, Engendering Law: in Honour of Lotika Sarkar was published in 1999 by Eastern Book Company, Delhi.

Lotikadee and her journalist husband Shri. Chanchal Sarkar was kind, generous and trusting. After her husband passed away she was under immense trauma and grief. Taking advantage of this situation, her cook and a police officer whose education she and her husband had sponsored, usurped her property and house. Her students, India’s top lawyers and judges mobilized support and signed an open letter studded with such names as Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Soli Sorabjee, Gopal Subramaniam and Kapila Vatsyayan. Jurists, advocates, academics, bureaucrats, journalists and human rights activists signed the open letter demanding justice for her. Finally, Lotika Sarkar’s property and assets was transferred back to her to allow her to live her life in peaceful serenity, which she so deserved. Lotikadee’s traumatic experience invited serious attention on safeguarding the rights of senior citizens by both state and civil society.

Lotikadee was a conscience keeper not only for policy makers and legal fraternity but also for the women’s studies and women’s movement activists. The most appropriate tribute to Lotikadee is to proactively pursue the mission she started with her team in 1980, to fight against rape and various forms of structural and systemic violence against women and to strive for social justice, distributive justice and gender justice. The resurgence of activism against sexual violence and feminist debate around Justice Verma Commission’s Report as well as Criminal Law (Amendment ) Ordinance, 2013 constantly reminds us of the pioneering work of Lotikadee in terms of creating a strong band of committed and legally aware feminists who are following her footsteps. Let us salute Lotikadee, torchbearer of gender justice by continuing her heroic legacy.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.