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Farewell, torch bearer....

    Bindu Shajan Perappadan
    Mohammad Ali
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Leading women’s rights activist Vina Mazumdar dies at 86

The light goes out:Vina Mazumdar, the grand old lady of the women's movement in India.Photo: V. V. Krishnan
The light goes out:Vina Mazumdar, the grand old lady of the women's movement in India.Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Remembering how she “saw the struggle for women’s rights in India as a political one aimed at re-aligning equations of power, status and inequalities”, students, friends and colleagues of academician and women’s rights activist Vina Mazumdar, who passed away on Thursday morning in the Capital after a brief illness, fondly remembered her as one of the leading lights in the country’s women’s movement and the architect of the epochal Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India.

While the mortal remains of 86-year-old Dr. Mazumdar were cremated at the Lodhi Road electric crematorium here later in the day, the manner in which a multitude of politicians, academicians, journalists, thinkers and scholars turned up to pay their homage, showed that she, through her work and writings, would remain relevant for all times to come.

Those present at the cremation included CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, eminent historian Romila Thapar, sociologist Ashish Nandy, All-India Democratic Association secretary Sehba Farooqui, National Federation of Indian Women general secretary Annie Raja, senior journalist Seema Chishti, journalist and foreign policy analyst C. Raja Mohan, Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik, Delhi University academician Prof. Apoorvanand and CPI (M) politician Tapan Sen. Recalling his association with Dr. Mazumdar, former Indian Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, who was also her student, said: “The news about her death has come as a shock. She was an unconventional teacher who brought a fresh perspective to every topic.”

“Dr. Mazumdar was my teacher in Patna University and I was her favourite student. She was never the one to impose her belief and opinions on anyone and would always engage her students in a discussion to help them understand a topic,” he added. Dr. Mazumdar will always remain for him a “very dear teacher”.

Speaking about the vacuum that Dr. Mazumdar’s death has created, social activist Shabnam Hashmi said: “The pioneer of women’s movement in India is no more. We grew up hearing Vinadi’s name and later came to know her, first as the mother of Indrani and Tutul and later as a formidable, fiery women’s activist and at the same time a very soft woman. Vina Mazumdar’s passing away has created a void that is very difficult to fill. In her we have lost a leading figure of the women’s movement.”

Calling Dr. Mazumdar the bridge between academics and activism, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said: “She was the founder of Women’s Studies in India and Dr. Mazumdar managed to give a direction to the women’s movement in India post-emergency. She was a very effective woman leader when democracy was under great strain and was instrumental in bringing together women’s organisations on a joint platform. At a personal level, she was in many ways a mentor for me and a very generous human being.”

The Centre for Women’s Development Studies – of which Dr. Vina Mazumdar was the founder-director – noted in a release: “Dr. Mazumdar made a significant contribution to the struggle for women’s rights when she penned one of the most significant reports, “Towards Equality”, as member secretary of the Committee on the Status of Women in India. The report proved to be a trailblazer and significantly influenced discussions and policy-making to improve women’s status with a clear focus on women’s rights, within India as well as at the international level.”

Dr. Mazumdar was educated at Calcutta, Banaras and Oxford and after obtaining her graduate degree with honours and D.Phil. from Oxford University, she began her professional career as a teacher of Political Science in University of Patna. Here she helped lay the foundation of the democratic teachers’ movement in India and became the founder secretary of Patna University Teachers’ Association. She was also associated with Berhampur University in its early years.

“Till the end Dr. Mazumdar saw herself as a daughter of the freedom struggle and remained a confirmed anti-imperialist, committed to building a democratic nation with the goals of equality and social change,” noted the release issued by the CWDS.

In deep mourning, the All-India Democratic Women’s Association noted: “Vinadi was a symbol of much that was of value and worthy of emulation in the generation to which she belonged. She has remained a source of inspiration, advice, love and affection. Today we salute the memory of a great woman, a great academic, a great path breaker and a great comrade without whom the women’s movement will be much the poorer.”

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