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Vina Mazumdar, freedom”s child

Pioneering feminist and academic, she successfully troubled the status quo

The Indian women’s movement has lost two remarkable women in the course of three short months. When Lotika Sarkar passed away in February this year, the mind inevitably travelled to her ailing sister-in-arms, Vina Mazumdar, who died early on Thursday morning.

There is a poignant symmetry to this twin departure. Both women were pioneers — Sarkar in the field of law; Mazumdar, in the field of education and development studies. Both were inspired by the common project of gender equality. Both had this wonderful cigarette fume-tinted laughter — the causes they espoused may have been weighty, but there was always space for that infectious sense of fun.

This was a rare ideological partnership that needs to be celebrated. But this is also the moment to recall the life of Vina Mazumdar, freedom’s daughter. It was the national movement during the fraught crescendo of partition and independence that provided Vina with her first impulse to understand, and then participate in, public causes. Political turmoil was in the air when she joined Delhi University as an undergraduate student. In her 2010 memoir, Memories of a Rolling Stone, she recalled that the Constituent Assembly was in session at that point and she would occasionally make her way to the visitors’ gallery to listen to leaders holding forth on their idea of India. She was also there at India Gate to witness the Union Jack coming down and the Tricolour ascend.

The freedom struggle proved something of a lodestar. Mazumdar was to later observe that the Indian women’s movement was essentially about asserting the rights women had earned through participating in the freedom struggle, it was part of the same continuum. Here was a woman shaped by pre-Independence India, who would, in turn, put her own impress on post-Independence India.

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