Doyenne of the Women’s Studies Movement in India: Obituary for Dr. Vina Mazumdar



Dr. Vina Mazumdar (1927 – 30th May, 2013)

An Obituary to the Doyenne of Women’s Studies Movement in India

By Vibhuti Patel


(Left) Dr. Vina Mazumdar releasing poster of Savitribai Phule at Indian Association for Women’s Studies held at SNDT Women’s University, Pune on 30th May, 1998.
(Right) Dr. Vina Mazumdar releasing book on Savitribai Phule at Indian Association for Women’s Studies held at SNDT Women’s University, Pune on 30th May, 1998.

With passing away of Dr. Vina Mazumdar, our Vinadi, the Indian Women’s movement has experienced an irreparable loss.

Vinadi personified in her a far sighted and strong willed thinker and 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, instant building of rapport, kind and accessible to ‘inarticulate’, ‘less known’ and ‘less influential’ people from remote places, civil and decent with her adversaries, magnanimous in sharing her knowledge and institutional resources as Director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies. Her charm lay in her electrifying persona, always smiling face conveying optimism, down to earth approach, ideologically sharpness, story-telling with witty humour and the most important courage of conviction combined with honesty of purpose. This is what explained her commanding of agenda setting power whether she was in the decision making bodies of UGC, 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’. She was very good at coining catchy terms such as ‘women’s studies movement’ ‘The Indian psyche defined by binary ‘Ma’ versus “Maal’, dichotomy that worships motherhood and dehumanizes/commodifies the rest of women. Her contemporary 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 first 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 Research Committee 32’s 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 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 OxfordUniversity. In 1947, she went to Oxford University to complete her graduation in 1951. In 1960, Once again she enrolled as a research scholar at Oxford University and within 2 years was awarded D.Phil. there in 1962.

Vinadi taught Political Science at Patna University and Berhampur University for couple of years. After that she joined UGC. As an Officer in the UGC Secretariat she made a mark 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 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 analytical rigour to explain material and ideological conditions that determined women’s predicament in India made her most sought after scholar-activist during 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the millennium era.

During International Women’s Year (1975), Vinadi was appointed as Director, Programme of Women’s Studies, Indian Council of Social Science Research 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. Vina 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.

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, main interest of these volunteer pregnant women was to know sex of the foetus. Once the results were out, those 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 women’s delegation to meet the health minister to stop abuse of amniocentesis for sex selective abortions. Vinadi was a great champion of participatory action research. Her writings provided a road map for developmental initiatives. Her memoir, Memories of a Rolling Stone, published by Zubaan Books in 2010 provides a vivid description of her principles, programmes, 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.

One thought on “Doyenne of the Women’s Studies Movement in India: Obituary for Dr. Vina Mazumdar

  1. yes, the indian women’s movement has lost a remarkable human being….. i remember,, nearly 20 years ago… as a fresh faced phd research scholar at CWDS, new delhi… on an ICSSR study grant. i was poring over the books and so engrossed i was at the library….. Dr Vina Mazumdar and Dr Lotika Sarkar passed by….. i could just gasp…… they were the pillar of the movement…. names which i read in books.. seeing them in flesh and blood….. it made me so happy….i just shared a few words with Dr Mazumdar… she was the Director at CWDS…. a smile , a nod… it was enough…..

    today, both Dr Lotika sarkar and Dr Vina Mazumdar are no more…. time is a great healer…. but they have left their indelible mark on women’s research.. for eternity…. may their souls rest in eternal peace….

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