My Tribute to Grand old Lady of Feminist Movement – Ace Kractivist #Womerights #Sundayreading

 I pay tribute to Vina Mazumdar, the Grand old lady of the Feminist Movement and the Grandmother of women’s studies in South Asia

Photo credit: CWDS and the Mazumdar family

For me, the inseparable Vina Mazumdar and Lotika Sarkar are the founding gardeners who nurtured the garden of feminism in India , with their rich contributions to the women’s movement, especially sowing the seed of women political empowerment with the of ‘Note of dissent’, demanding women’s reservation in the path-breaking report, ‘Towards Equality’.

The Garden of feminism bloomed under their guardianship with twin movements — the women studies movement and women’s movement. According to Vina Di the ‘traditional approaches’ to women questions ,always have top down approaches , looking at them as a social and cultural one and not political. In Asia, women constitute the largest group engaged in agriculture and production of food and as such any concept of development of women should adopt ‘bottom up approach’, one that recognizes women’s claims to own agricultural land in their own right when they are tillers.

Vina Mazumdar, lovingly and famously known as Vinda Di for all, will always remain the Grand old lady of the Feminist Movement and the Grandmother of women’s studies in South Asia. Born into a middle class Bengali family in 1927, she studied at a Diocesan Girls School run by the British Protestant Mission, graduating from the Benaras Hindu University. She went to Oxford in the 1960s and, later, in the 1970s to complete her Bachelors and Doctorate. Her first job was in Patna University, where she worked between 1951 to 1960, and got involved in the teacher’s union. She energized the curriculum and the examination system, especially during her tenure as first secretary of the Patna University Teachers Association. Her resolute interest in educational reform prompted her move to the University Grants Commission, the apex body for the national university system.

A radical shift in her life and work came with her appointment in the Committee on the Status of Women in India. The committee, appointed by the Government of India in 1971, was reconstituted in 1973 with Vina Di, as member secretary. The committee was given an extended term of one year to finalize its report, to enable the government to face the first UN-sponsored World Conference on Women at Mexico in 1975, after debating the Report in Parliament. The resurgent women’s movement of the 1970s acknowledged the Report, Towards Equality, as its “Founding Text”. The concern and challenges thrown up by Towards Equality became a lifelong passionate commitment.

Vina Di establiished Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) in the middle of the International Women’s Decade, as a sustained campaign to extend the understanding of women’s studies beyond academy. Armed with ‘Action Research’ then began the Journey of Vina Di’s transformation from an activist academic to a grassroots intervention worker began with the ‘Bankura project’ that took her across the country . She was very distraught about the conditions of women migrant laborers, and the immense concern made her take upon the challenge of an experiment on use of wastelands to provide sustenance for explored the travails of poor migrant women workers who travel from place to place, especially on foot every year for about nine months in search of wage labor.

She organized a rural women’s camp which revealed that the annual migratory process meant high infant mortality, indebtedness, and violent sexual exploitation. In 1981, she organized a group of asset less women from Bankura district, West Bengal; they managed to obtain eight acres of wasteland, which was registered in the name of the organization. It was the first time that these women owned an asset. It took three years of backbreaking labor by the group to demonstrate that wasteland can be regenerated to provide sustenance to women.

A major lesson that Vina Di always referred through the Bankura experience was to ‘listen and learn’ through collaboration with poor (rural) women while developing any research priorities and strategies. The impact was for all to see, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests made an explicit policy pronouncement to involve poor women in wasteland development and joint forest management.

I still vividly remember watching , Paromita Vohra’s, Documentary ‘Unlimited Girls (2002) ‘, where Vina Di said that the government always uses the word “empowerment of women”, she would ask back ‘who is empowering whom?’. In the film she also stated that she did not believe that donning traditional role of wife, mother, were subordinating women. ‘One should not accept subordination position’, wherever women are.

The Women’s Studies movement under the leadership of Vina Di scored another goal in getting Education for Women’s Equality incorporated in to the new National Policy on Education (1986). The government was also forced to mention minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes having made space for women’s equality as part of a new thrust in the NPE.

I had the great opportunity to meet Vina Di at a conference to strategize our campaign on sex selection In 2005, I vividly remember she warned all of us involved in the campaign that historically it will be wrong to connect sex selection and female infanticide, as the present trend in sex selection is directly linked to the arrival and availability of technology. She also emphasized that it’s high time the social scientists and economists also took responsibility of the campaign, that putting it solely on women’s movement, as it’s a burning issue for all to address. In fact, ‘Towards Equality’ was also the first report to mention about the dwindling sex ratios. They looked at the 100 years of census data and it was first time when declining sex ratio was identified as a serious problem in the country.

In her Memoirs the Rolling Stones, published in 2010 by Zubaan Book in her own words, “My earlier struggles represented an individual woman’s efforts to balance the demands of professional and familial responsibilities. The new struggle was increasingly a collective, ideological one — to rediscover the Indian nation, the world, the past, the present and the future — from the perspective of India’s hidden and unacknowledged majority: poor working women in rural and urban areas.

Vina Di’s indisputable combination of canny academic entrepreneurship with activism provided opportunities to tribal and dalit women in non-threatening ways, and helping them break their shackles of poverty and deprivation. She has been a catalyst to crack the culture of silence that kept tribal and dalit women in segregation and deprivation and for centuries. Vina Di was an ace Kractivist, to bridge the Gap between Academics and Activism. And bring the Change.

Violence in Dalit hostel: NHRC issues notice to HRD Ministry

BS|  New Delhi  June 5, 2013

The National Human Rights Commission today issued a notice to the Union HRD Ministry over alleged caste-based discrimination and violence in a hostel of Dalit students in Patna University.

According to an NHRC statement, the Commission issued notice to the Secretary of the ministry and has given him four weeks time to respond.

The notice was issued after the rights panel took cognisance of a media report alleging fierce caste-based discrimination and violence in the PU hostel accommodating Dalit students.

The panel has also received a complaint from an NGO, Navsarjan Trust of Ahmedabad, quoting media reports that 18 Dalit students committed suicides during the last four years in premier educational institutions including IIT-Mumbai, IIScBengaluru, IIT-Kanpur, AIIMS, the statement said.

It has observed that the news report, if true, reflects widespread prevalence of discrimination towards Dalits in the educational institutions driving them to take extreme steps.

“The state has the responsibility and duty to ensure that an atmosphere is created in educational institutions wherein everyone, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, can pursue studies. The Constitution has also elaborate provisions to stop discrimination against the Dalits,” the statement said.


Violence rocks Dalit hostel as Patna varsity looks the other way

RAHI GAIKWAD, The Hindu Feb 7,2013

  • A portion of the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of the Patna University where Dalit students are staying. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar
    A portion of the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of the Patna University where Dalit students are staying. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar
  • A portion of the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of the Patna University where Dalit students are staying. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar
    A portion of the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of the Patna University where Dalit students are staying. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

A mob burst on the scene as night fell. Equipped with hockey sticks, bricks, stones, firearms and crude bombs it prepared for an assault.

“You are Harijans,” it yelled. “You have no right to read and write. Your work is to mend shoes and chappals. We will keep you as servants in our houses. Your ancestors did the same work. You leave the hostel or else there will be a massacre.” This is part of a police statement given by a Dalit student residing in the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of Patna University (PU) facility.

Last week, the hostel witnessed fierce caste violence in which three Dalit students were injured.

“Around 30 men came shouting Brahmeshwar Mukhiya zindabad, Mukhiya amar rahe [Long live the Mukhiya] and Ambedkar ko phuk do [Destroy Ambedkar]. They stood outside the hostel and started throwing stones. They dragged and beat up a student. Firing shots and bombs rent the air. We ran inside the hostel. All we had to defend against the armed attack were brick pieces used to support the cots in our room,” Satyaprakash, a student at the Ambedkar hostel, told The Hindu.

‘Mukhiya’ refers to the slain Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh.

Located in Patna’s ‘coaching district’, the hostel forms part of the Saidpur hostel campus of PU. Facing it is a cluster of five hostels for general category students, collectively called the ‘Saidpur hostel’, which has gained notoriety over the years for nurturing hooligans and becoming a virtual den of anti-socials from the landowning Bhumihar caste, particularly from the badlands of Jehanabad district.

“While students from other castes reside in the Saidpur hostel, since very early days, it has been dominated by the “so-called” students of the landlord caste, mostly Bhumihars. The boys come mostly from Jehanabad, Gaya and Nalanda districts. Though it’s for all students, including those from SC, when students are enrolled, they either belong to the Saidpur hostel or the Ambedkar hostel,” official sources told The Hindu.

A clear topographical division on caste lines thus separates the two hostels. “Yahan par Jehanabad ke khas jati ke khas logon ka dabang hai [A particular caste from Jehanabad wields clout here]. Only a Jehanabad Bhumihar can stay here without being harassed. Others; say a Yadav boy comes along; he is beaten up and made to flee. The miscreants then get their own relatives to stay. Many of them don’t even know where PU is. There is a terrible situation here,” a Saidpur resident told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.

Gangster Guddu Sharma, who was shot dead in Delhi a few years ago, was a product of the Saidpur hostel. In fact, this hostel is one of the reasons why a police check post in the area was converted into a full-fledged police station in 2007.

A common power grid that supplies electricity to the entire neighbourhood is one of the key triggers for such attacks, as it was last week.

“That evening, there was a power cut at the Ambedkar hostel, but not at the Saidpur general hostel. The Ambedkar students went to the electricity office, situated on the same campus, to take stock of the mater. Seeing them, the Saidpur boys hurtled down and started hurling caste abuses, such as ‘Harijans’ ‘dusadhs’ and ‘chamars’ [all lower caste names]’,” as per another police statement of a student.

“When we asked for power supply, they said, ‘Have you ever seen light in your life?’” Satyaprakash recalled.

The official sources said, in a situation where the Ambedkar hostel had power and Saidpur hostel did not, there was immense pressure on electricity officials to cut the supply to the Ambedkar hostel. “Seeing an equal distribution of facilities stokes the caste jealousies of the Saidpur hostellers, Many times fights over power supply take the form of caste clashes,” an official source said.

“There have been times,” said a general student, “when the whole area is plunged into darkness, but only the Saidpur hostel is lit.” Disconnecting water supply to the Ambedkar hostel is another means of showing caste dominance. The tap dries up at 9 a.m. and its water is dirty. At any given point of time, a few students suffer from jaundice.

At the heart of the matter, said students, lies plain caste hatred, “a determined effort to display caste superiority.”

The police have registered an FIR under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act. Five persons — Atul Shekhar, Amit Kumar, Ashutosh Kumar, Nupendra Kumar and Shishuranjan Kumar — are under arrest.

Sources told The Hindu that the police initially arrested 10 persons, but high-level manoeuvring facilitated the release of five of them. There are also complaints that while the real fish get away, “legal students” get wrongly implicated in cases.

So acute is the problem of “illegal occupancy” that even authorities are at the end of their tether. Officials put the size of illegal occupants to a whopping 80 per cent.

“The number is so huge that once even the Special Task Force [personnel] was beaten up by them. The unauthorised boys know nothing will happen. PU does not want to interfere. Perhaps they are scared. You need the Rapid Action Force to crack down. They have been staying there for years,” an authoritative source from the university, who did not wish to named, told The Hindu.

The police, on their part, perceive a limited role for themselves in the matter. “We have raised the matter with the university in vain,” they said.

When asked, PU proctor Kirteshwar Prasad told The Hindu: “We are trying to get them vacated. We are on the job. We had written to the administration. We will write to them, namely the senior superintendent of police and the district magistrate, who are the competent authority.”

The incident received biased coverage in the press, according to the Ambedkar hostel students. “The news report in a leading Hindi daily pinned the blame on us. It said we were the ones to attack. Their numbers are huge. How can we possibly attack them” they asked.

An official source concurred. “That report is totally false. We were on the ground, we know what happened. The report paints an entirely wrong picture. The local media has played a very bad role in this.”

Despite arrests, the trouble is far from being over. There are indications that in light of this incident, the Saidpur hostel is looking at acquiring more arms. Financial contributions collected for the upcoming Saraswati puja could provide the means.

The spectre of routine caste violence looms large over the Dalit students. They dare not take the short-cut to the university, as it passes through the Saidpur hostel.



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September 2021
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