Indian Feminist: Vina Mazumdar

In whatever short life I have led calling myself a feminist (online), I have heard all sorts of advice about the need to be or not be feminist. But what’s more interesting is the sort of things I got to hear about feminists at all. The unreasonable, man-hating, ‘western-feminism-inspired’ non-women lot.

The usual ones of ‘The need for feminism is over. Women are now equal to men’, ‘You lot have no sense of priority’, ‘The hoo-haa about women’s rights in unwarranted‘ are all too common. (If you have the time, read the comments I’ve hyperlinked. The change in the course of the conversation genuinely reinstates my faith in humanity). My favourite of course is when someone I once worked with, with great concern, wrote to me, “I read your blog. All men are not as bad as you think they are”.

What hits me in the gut is when people say, “I hate feminists” and hastily add “except of course you”. In most cases, these feminist-haters can’t name 3 feminists they hate and explain why. The one allegation I take seriously though is one that calls us young lot ‘western-feminism-inspired’. It is not far from the truth, I must admit. We are often affected by the Caitlin Morans and the Naomi Wolfs of our time that our thought process does get substantially influenced by Western standards.

In my personal journey of learning more about Indian feminism and (at some point) join a collective movement, I’ll begin to put together some writing about Indian feminists (and some by them), mostly just for me to come back and brush up my memory. You are welcome to join in.

I begin today with Vina Mazumdar, who passed away last week. Some obituaries and some interviews below.

In Tehelka (May 31, 2013), Lalita Ramdas, a renowned activist and feminist in her own right, writes about the influence Vina Mazumdar has in her life.

You helped me understand above all, through your personal example, that in order to change the world, it was not necessary to destroy ones personal relationships; you taught me that it was possible to combine and draw deep satisfaction from successfully  managing all the many roles of wife, mother, daughter, feminist and activist. I have struggled to juggle these roles all my life – and if I have managed them a lot of the credit goes to you.

Urvashi Butalia, one of my favourites among  contemporary feminists in the country (especially for her work towards getting feminist voices heard) writes about Vina Mazumdar in the Hindu (May 31, 2013)

For Vinadi all of this was possible, and had she been able to, she would have packed in more. Born into a middle-class Bengali household, she was taught to read by the family driver, Nagen. Supported in her desire to study and travel by her mother (who persuaded her father), Vinadi’s life journey led her from the Diocesian Girls’ School in Calcutta to Banaras, Patna, Delhi, Shimla, Behrampur and Oxford <ed>

But what stands out for me (of course apart from the scholarly work that Vina Mazumdar seems to have done) is her role in nurturing the next generation of feminists.

The activist years of the 1980s and 1990s often saw her in the forefront of demonstrations against dowry, rape and violence against women. But there was another, less talked about aspect to her and that was the support and encouragement she gave to new ideas, young activists, indeed anyone who sought her out.

The best piece I’ve read about Vina Mazumdar’s this week is an interview in Livemint (May 30, 2013), recorded in 2002. She talks of families, activism, feminism in a way that a loving elderly family member talks to you. More compassion, less rhetoric. If there is one piece you are choosing to read about Vina Mazumdar, I recommend it be this one.

Aparana Vaause, the historian, it took me years to persuade her to do some work on her own grandmother. Once she started dipping into the family archives, she discovered much more. She came and told me, “Not my grandmother. An earlier generation, they were much more stronger, and much more rebellious.” I said, ‘Well, write about them. “By the time she collected her material, she came and said, “Sorry, ulta cheez hai.Ulta ho raha hai. WE are MORE subordinated!” I said, “Okay, well, chalo. Now you have graduated.”

Isn’t there always more work to do?