Tag Archive for Women’s Studies Conference

Ila Pathak, a feminist crusader (1933-2014)

Ilaben Pathak

Saluting the pioneering work of Ilaben Pathak in women and civil rights movements which was an inspiration not only to the people whose lives she touched and changed but also to her fellow travelers

By Vibhuti Patel and Sonal Shukla

Gujarat lost a dedicated social activist who stood by socially excluded sections of society, especially brutalized women when Prof. Ila Pathak passed away due to breast cancer on January 9, 2014 in Ahmedabad. She tirelessly supported women survivors of dowry harassment, rape, crimes of honour. She campaigned against sex selective abortions of female foetuses from way back in the 1980s.

Both of us have been aware of her work with Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG) from 1981 when she attended the first national conference of women’s studies in Mumbai that resulted in the formation of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS). Ilaben brought her own energies and perspective to the women’s movement. She was a determined activist right from the beginning of the movement.

A master’s degree in law, a Ph.D. in English literature and a high post in NCC were indicative of her capacity to achieve the goals she had set for herself. Her devotion to working for women’s rights and development was reflected in her writings and action through AWAG and innumerable institutions she was associated with.

Feminist Activism of Ilaben Pathak:
Ilaben began her career as a university teacher of English language and literature at H. K. Arts College, Ahmedabad and as a free- lance journalist who wrote addressing women’s concerns. In the early seventies she started her crusade against misogyny in Gujarati plays rife with double entendre, full of crude and crass jokes/puns that degraded women and objectified women’s bodies.

In 1981, Ilaben with her young colleagues and students such as Dr. Ila Joshi, Aditi Desai (Theatre artiste), Sofia Khan (now a human rights lawyer) established AWAG (acronym means noise). AWAG energetically made noise against sexism in advertisements, media and textbooks. They blackened sexist advertisements at public places and staged dharna against a phallocentric play “Putra Kameshti Yagna” to be aired on All India Radio and got the broadcasting cancelled. Her tireless work resulted in Government of Gujarat appointing a committee under her leadership to examine the portrayal of gender stereotypes and subordinate status of women in school textbooks. She involved us in this effort. The government mandate for evaluation was decided within the framework of equality, development and peace.

In 1982, she spearheaded a participatory action research project of AWAG to highlight the precarious condition of homeless and miserable tribal migrant workers near railway tracks of Ahmedabad city who eked out their subsistence by collecting coal fallen on the railway tracks. She started income generation activities for them based on tribal art and beadwork. In 1982, when a tribal woman in Sagbara village of South Gujarat was gang raped, Ilaben took the case up to Amnesty International. As a result all the rapists were punished.

Ilaben took leadership for movement against Patan P T C College gang rape in which a 19-year-old Dalit student was repeatedly raped over a period of time by her male teachers. She also supported Manipur’s Irom Sharmila’s agitation against Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act (AFSPA).

Ilaben’s courageous and consistent work among victims of communal riots post demolition of Babri Musjid in 1993 and among Muslim refugees after Gujarat riots in 2002 symbolised her secular humanism

Ilaben’s command over language came handy to coin catchy and hard hitting slogans in Gujarati such as “Silence is not a virtue, Break the silence of oppression”, “Putting up with injustice is not a virtue, fight for justice”. She gave great emphasise to documentation, research and training and AWAG always provided information in local Gujarati language and resource persons for capacity building of community workers, elected representatives and youth. From 1986-1992, she regularly wrote for a feminist quarterly in Gujarati, Nari Mukti (Women’s Freedom) that was collectively brought out by feminists of Mumbai, Valsad, Surat, Vadodara and Ahmedabad.

We have fond memories of spending quality time with Ilaben at the IAWS Conferences, The Nairobi World Conference on Women, 1985, Gujarat Human Rights Conference, 1990, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 2011 and capacity building conferences of Gujarat University on sexual harassment at workplace. In order to bring women’s rights agenda in to the mainstream of politics, she also contested election for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in 1990.

Ilaben and Social Movements
Her persuasive style of speaking was her success mantra. She could reach out to all- Gandhian, liberals, feminists, human rights activists, leftists. She could establish communication with the rich and powerful without getting cowed down by them. She reached out to weak and marginalized people with utmost humility. She made lifelong friends among women’s studies scholars and feminists whenever she attended national and international conferences on women. She used to attend these conferences with over a dozen women from her organization and she looked after them very well.

Crucial Contribution
Ilaben served on many apex bodies to further the cause of women. She was a member of the Women Development Cell of Gujarat University that had to perform twin tasks of prevention of sexual harassment and promotion of gender sensitization in the University and its affiliated colleges. Ilaben was also a governing board member of Centre for Social Studies, Surat. She played an important role in all women centred activities of Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Ilaben was president of the India Chapter of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She was an active member of the Movement for Secular Democracy. In 2012, Ilaben Pathak was honoured for her work among poor and oppressed women. Four books were published based on a compilation of her articles promoting women’s striving for dignity and their struggle for empowerment.

Her four-decades-long pioneering work will always give us strength and inspiration to keep the torch of women’s rights burning in today’s volatile circumstances. She has left a huge fan following among students and all those women whom she supported pro-actively, intellectually and emotionally. Ilaben will always remain with us in spirit. As fellow travelers in the women’s movement who shared common her-story and collective memory, we salute our sister, Ila Pathak.

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