“Extensive discussions with over 10,000 women from different backgrounds revealed our own ignorance and shattered our self images as social scientists and as ‘daughters of independence’.”
Vina Mazumdar (born 1927) is called “the grandmother of women’s studies in South Asia”. Her transformation from an activist academic to a grassroots intervention worker began with a project that took her across the country. Her distress at the condition of women migrant laborers was the impetus for an experiment on the use of wastelands to provide sustenance for rural women. The project, widely emulated, changed the lives of the women. Vina’s mix of academic enquiry, dialoguing with policy-planners, and engaging with grassroots initiatives, is a whole new way of looking at women’s issues.
Vina Mazumdar is a social scientist by training, a women’s activist and feminist by instinct and choice, a “troublemaker” by her own confession, and a “recorder and chronicler of the Indian Women’s Movement”. Trained as a social scientist, Vina naturally moved into the academy. It was her appointment as member-secretary of the Committee on the Status of Women in India that radically altered the direction of her life and work. A report that she was working on took her across the country. The large-scale marginalization, poverty, and invisibility of India’s laboring women-“the hidden and unacknowledged majority”-moved her deeply. In 1981, with some like-minded people, she founded the autonomous Centre for Women’s Development Studies to carry on the task of fighting for women’s rights. She has since been working with peasant women in two districts of West Bengal. The partnership began as an experiment in mobilizing women’s groups around wasteland development and livelihood issues. Realizing that the biggest challenge was to create productive work in the women’s own villages, Vina organized a group of assetless women from Bankura district, West Bengal, managing to obtain eight acres of wasteland. It took three years of hard labor to demonstrate-against all odds, local and official hurdles-that wasteland can be regenerated to provide sustenance. It was the women’s organization, Vina says self-deprecatingly, that demonstrated “a great political dynamism, and they themselves became the agents of change”. Vina has followed no models, no conventions, or markers in her long career. Her mix of academic enquiry, dialoguing with policy-planners, and engaging with grassroots initiatives of rural women is her creation alone.
Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS)
South Asia | India