In memoriam: Lotika Sarkar 1923 – 2013 #womenrights #Vaw

February 25, 2013 

Lotika SarkarSaluting Professor Lotika Sarkar who fought to make the country’s laws uphold gender justice and women’s rights

By Vibhuti Patel

Professor Lotika Sarkar who played a central role in several path-breaking and crucial legislations for gender justice and empowerment of women during 1975-2005, passed away at the age of 90 on 23rd February 2013. In the women’s rights movement, she was known as Lotikadee.

When other stalwarts of women’s studies touched our hearts with inspirational speeches in the women’s movement gatherings, Lotikadee floored us with her legal acumen. The first Indian woman to graduate from Cambridge, Dr. Lotika Sarkar was the first woman to join the law faculty at the University of Delhi. She taught Criminal law and was a mainstay of the Indian Law Institute, Delhi during 1980s and 1990s. She was a member of the Government of India’s Committee on the Status of Women in India and a founding member of several institutions—the Indian Association for Women Studies (IAWS) and the Centre for Women‘s Development Studies (CWDS).

Lotikadee was in the peak of her career, when she was asked to join Committee on Status of Women in India, 1972 that prepared Towards Equality Report, 1974. As a pioneer in the fields of law, women’s studies and human rights, she prepared the chapter on laws concerning women in the Status of Women’s Committee Report with gender sensitivity and analytical clarity to promote women’s rights.

Along with three law professors of Delhi University – Prof. Upendra Baxi, Prof. Kelkar, Dr. Vasudha Dhagamwar, Lotikadee wrote the historic Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India in 1979, challenging the judgment of the apex court on the Mathura rape case. I remember cutting stencil and making copies on our cyclostyling machine of the 4-page long letter for wider circulation. Translation of this letter into Gujarati and Hindi served as a crash course in understanding the nuances of criminal justice system, rape laws and sexual violence as the weapon to keep women in a perpetual state of terrorization, intimidation and subjugation. It resulted in birth of the first feminist group against rape in January, 1980 – Forum Against Rape.

In 1980, along with Dr. Veena Mazumdar, Lotikadee founded Centre for Women’s Development Studies. When Lotikadee came to Mumbai for the first Conference on Women’s Studies in April, 1981 at SNDT women’s University, we, young feminists were awe-struck! Ideological polarization in this conference was extremely volatile. Lotikadee’s commitment to the left movement did not prevent her from interacting meaningfully with liberals, free-thinkers and also the new-left like me. Indian Association of Women’s Studies was formed in this gathering. In the subsequent conferences, Lotikadee attracted innumerable legal luminaries to IAWS.

At the initiative of her students, Amita Dhanda and Archana Parashar, a volume of Essays, Engendering Law: in Honour of Lotika Sarkar was published in 1999 by Eastern Book Company, Delhi.

Lotikadee and her journalist husband Shri. Chanchal Sarkar were kind, generous and trusting. After her husband passed away she was under immense trauma and grief. Taking advantage of this situation, her cook and a police officer whose education she and her husband had sponsored, usurped her property and house. Her students, India’s top lawyers and judges mobilized support and signed an open letter studded with such names as Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Soli Sorabjee, Gopal Subramaniam and Kapila Vatsyayan. Jurists, advocates, academics, bureaucrats, journalists and human rights activists signed the open letter demanding justice for her. Finally, Lotika Sarkar’s property and assets was transferred back to her to allow her to live her life in peaceful serenity, which she so deserved. Lotikadee’s traumatic experience invited serious attention on safeguarding the rights of senior citizens by both state and civil society.

Lotikadee was a conscience keeper not only for policy makers and legal fraternity but also for the women’s studies and women’s movement activists. The most appropriate tribute to Lotikadee is to proactively pursue the mission she started with her team in 1980, to fight against rape and various forms of structural and systemic violence against women and to strive for social justice, distributive justice and gender justice. The resurgence of activism against sexual violence and feminist debate around Justice Verma Commission’s Report as well as Criminal Law (Amendment ) Ordinance, 2013 constantly reminds us of the pioneering work of Lotikadee in terms of creating a strong band of committed and legally aware feminists who are following her footsteps. Let us salute Lotikadee, torchbearer of gender justice by continuing her heroic legacy.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

original post-

#RIP-Lotika Sarkar- Champion of #Womenrights #Vaw



Feb 23, 2013- Professor Lotika Sarkar  passed away this evening at around 8.30pm at home. The funeral will be held tomorrow, Sunday 24th at 1:00 pm, at the Electric Crematorium, Lodi Road, New Delhi.

She was   India‘s first woman to graduate from Cambridge and a champion of women’s rights,

Professor Lotika Sarkar was widely-known pioneer in the fields of law, women’s studies and human rights. She taught criminal law and conflict of laws at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi and has been an active member of the Indian Law Institute. She was a member of the Government of India‘s Committee on the Status of Women in India and has been a founding member of several institutions—the Indian Association for Women Studies and the Centre for Women‘s Development Studies.

Lotika Sarkar played a crucial role in several path-breaking legislations for gender justice. A Cambridge-educated lawyer by training, she was the first woman teacher of law at the University of Delhi.

Lotika Sarkar, RIP. One of the original Painted and Dented Ladies, she and three other professors of law wrote the landmark Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India in 1979, which sharply criticised the Supreme Court’s judgement in what has come to be known as the Mathura rape case and thereby catalysed the first major campaign for changes in the laws relating to rape back in 1980. It’s so important to remember and honour pioneers like her.

Read here Writing the Women’s Movement: A Reader



Leafing over the past- Feminist Archiving

KAMAYANI BALI MAHABAL, The Hindu, 22/02/2012

  • Fire and grace:Kalpana Dutt Joshi.Photo: Gargi Chakravartty
    Fire and grace:Kalpana Dutt Joshi.Photo: Gargi Chakravartty
  • Family portraits:(Above) Kalpana with her elder son Suraj; (Below) With husband P.C. Joshi.Photos courtesy Joshi family
    Family portraits:(Above) Kalpana with her elder son Suraj; (Below) With husband P.C. Joshi.Photos courtesy Joshi family
  • Free spirit:A woman of many facets.
    Free spirit:A woman of many facets.

This year’s CWDS calendar archives the life and work of revolutionary Kalpana Dutt Joshi through photographs

“Feminist archiving is all about loss and recovery. It is about the celebration of history.” That was Dr. Malavika Karlekar, editor of the Indian Journal of Gender Studies and a fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), Delhi. She was speaking at a national seminar on ‘Feminist Archiving: Possibilities and Challenges’, organised by Dr. Avabai Wadia and Dr. Bomanji Khursehdji Wadia Archives for Women, Research Centre for Women’s Studies and University Library and SNDT Women’s University in association with the Indian Association of Women Studies (IWAS).

While tracing the history of archiving in India, Ms. Karlekar stressed that a major body of historical and archival material needed to be recovered. They exist in various forms, including ballads, texts, pamphlets, postcards, posters and photographs, but they have not been collated or given a social or historical context.

The photographic image, for instance, has not received the kind of attention here, especially when compared to the West. Ms. Karlekar herself got drawn to it almost by accident. It was in 2002 when CWDS mounted an exhibition conceived as a visual documentary to celebrate the metamorphosis of women over 72 years. As curators of that exhibition, she — along with Leela Kasturi and Indrani Majumdar of CWDS — began putting up photographs, some from family, friends, colleagues and institutions. The intention was to recreate the history of Indian women, interwoven into the history of the nation.

Thus began a journey of exploration. The initial collections were mostly studio portraits, with informative annotations on the details of garments and jewellery. They framed women with husbands and children, underlining the attitude that prevailed towards women, especially upper class women, in the late 19th century. Slowly, the postures have relaxed as thought processes got liberated.

As education for women became increasingly emphasised, photographs of indigenous schools showing children from various castes and classes mingling together for the first time, emerged. Soon there were snapshots of women in college — with pioneers like Parvati Kunvar, Emmeline da Cunha, Phulrenu Dutta and Tarabai Nabar seeking higher education.

There is definitely a class issue here. The tricky thing about feminist archiving is ‘who’ gets to represent Indian women. Since photograph was an elite pastime, these archives largely capture upper class lives and, later, those of the emerging middle classes. There is an in-built narcissism discernible, with the ‘other’ (the working class) emerging as figures that provoke curiosity but remain firmly on the margins.

Photo documentation of the early history of the Indian labour force, whether wage labour or bonded labour, is largely absent. Women, in particular, did not leave behind much by way of writings, nor were the early movements of working class women documented in any detail. Explains Ms. Karlekar, “In 1921, the year after women joined Gandhi in his non-cooperation movement, it was estimated that a third of the female population was in the workforce. While a handful became professionals, the majority joined mills, factories and plantations.”

Interestingly, the national movement in which innumerable women participated provided a new visibility to them in the public space. Women like Aruna Asaf Ali, Kasturba Gandhi, Mridula Sarabhai and Kalpana Joshi surfaced as national icons.

From the exhibition that CWDS mounted emerged an interesting concept: “We came up with the idea of having the annual CWDS calendar as a form of a feminist archive. So every year, thereafter, we have had a different theme for our calendars, but they were all forms of feminist archiving,” reveals Ms. Karlekar. Each calendar merges texts with visuals to provide a platform that is easily accessible. It has the ‘every day’ quality of being a calendar, while at the same, through its visuals and captions, reminding people of the richness of India’s feminist history.

The 2013 calendar, titled ‘Fire and Grace: Kalpana Dutt Joshi’, focuses on a revolutionary from the national movement. Joshi was born into a middle class family at Sripur, Chittagong district, which falls in today’s Bangladesh. After she completed her matriculate in 1929, she joined the Chhatri Sangha, a student body. Nationalist leader, Purnendu Dastidar, drew her into the revolutionary activities of Mastarda Surya Sen.

On May 19, 1933, Joshi, along with some comrades, was arrested. In the second supplementary trial of the Chittagong Armory Raid case, Surya Sen and Tarakeswar Dastidar were sentenced to death, and Joshi was sentenced to transportation for life — she was just 20 years. After being released in 1939, she graduated from Calcutta University in 1940. She soon joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) and resumed her battle against British rule.

In 1943, she married P.C. Joshi, a CPI leader. She was back in Chittagong, organising the peasants’ and women’s fronts of the party. In 1946, she contested, though unsuccessfully, in elections to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. After India gained Independence and the sub-continent was partitioned, Kalpana migrated to India and withdrew from active politics. She died on February 8, 1995, in Kolkata.

The 2013 calendar on her reflects the various aspects and problems of archiving — most obviously the lack of material. The first photograph is a mug shot of Joshi kept in prison records and subsequently recovered by the family. There is a significant gap of years between the first and second photograph featured, which was taken after she married P.C. Joshi at a simple wedding ceremony in 1943. The newly-married couple is shown on the terrace of the CPI headquarters in Bombay (now Mumbai). Interestingly, the original photograph had its top corner chopped off near the flag. “Since it was very important to show the flag, we used digital technology to restore it,” explains Ms. Karlekar.

Joshi with her first-born, Suraj, at Balraj Sahni’s Juhu residence in 1946, makes another heart-warming visual. “The problem we faced was the lack of choice, since the photographs we had were limited and could hardly capture the many facets of a revolutionary woman like Kalpana. If you have read the life of Kalpana Joshi, you would know that she lived in a commune. To come across this typical ‘mother and child’ image is something of a surprise, but it is important,” adds Ms. Karlekar.

Another photograph in the calendar was taken nine years later. It shows Joshi with her two sons, Suraj and Chand, in Calcutta, 1949. Ms. Karlekar says, “We had two or three photographs but we chose this utterly delightful one — not only for the look in Kalpana’s eyes but the way the children are obviously attracted to something outside the frame.”

A family photograph follows. The image that opens the calendar is a montage — the photograph of Joshi taken by famous photographer, Sunil Janah, in 1945. It was also featured on the cover of her book, Story Retold . At the insistence of her daughter-in-law, senior journalist Manini Chatterjee, Joshi recounted the fierce Chittagong Uprising — its plan, execution and the martyrdom of Surya Sen.

Feminist archiving is a still at a nascent stage in India. With new technology emerging at a frenetic pace, the curator is left perplexed. As Ms. Karlekar puts it, “How we choose to document or not document a movement is something we need to pay attention to. If we are now documenting and archiving our every move – or so it would appear – what does this say about our relationship to history at that particular moment?”

(Women’s Feature Service)


In Memoriam: Prof. Leela Dube (1923-2012)

Leela Dube

Renowned anthropologist and feminist scholar Leela Dube passed away at her residence in Delhi on 20 th May. She was 89. Fondly called Leeladee, Prof. Dube was one of the pioneers of feminist scholarship in India

By Vibhuti Patel

With the passing away of Professor Leela Dube, we have lost a stalwart who broadened the discipline of anthropology by introducing the insights of women’s studies and enriched women’s studies as a discipline by bringing in the technical expertise of an anthropologist.

A well known figure in Indian Sociological Society in the 70s, Leeladee was responsible for introducing women’s studies concerns in mainstream sociology. She played a crucial role in the 1984 World Sociological Congress in which women activists and women’s studies scholars played a dominant role through the Research Committee Women in Society (RC 32). Leeladee chaired a panel on “Declining Sex Ratio in India”, in which Dr. Ilina Sen gave a historical overview of deficit of women in India throughout history of Census of India. Prof. Vina Mazumdar passionately spoke on the finding of towards Equality Report and I spoke on “Sex Selective Abortions-An Abuse of Scientific Techniques of Amniocentesis”.

Leeladee summed up the session with her insightful comments on the tradition of son preference in India. Her greatness lay in synthesizing complex concerns and providing an analytical framework in a lucid and convincing way. In a debate on sex selective abortions carried out in EPW during 1982-1986, her contribution was immense and her predictions about direct relationship of deficit of women and increased violence against women has proved to be true in the subsequent years.

Due to team efforts of women’s studies scholars like Prof. Leela Dube, RC 32 got institutionalized in World Sociological Congress. She invited many activists for the 12thInternational Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological SciencesZagreberstwhile Yugoslavia, in 1988 to present paper on “Codification of Customary Laws into Family Laws in Asia”. In the Congress, Leedadee’s speech on feminist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock provided new insights into departure of the feminist anthropologists from its colonial legacy of “Big brother watching you”. The power relations between the North and the South in construction of knowledge and the hegemonic presence of ETICapproach in academics were questioned by Leacock as well as Leeladee who propagated “dialogical approach” in anthropological and ethnographic research.

I respected her from a distance. I was too awe-struck to go close to her but always appreciated her sharp, witty comments during academic sessions and tea and lunch breaks at innumerable seminars, workshops and at Indian Association of Women’s Studies Conferences held every two years. She was appreciative of our campaign against sex selection. During 1981 and 1991, I got to listen to her speeches, deliberations and arguments as I used to be one of the rapporteurs in most of the programmes in women’s studies held in Mumbai and Delhi.

leela dube, Indian feminism, feminist scholars

Clockwise: Vina Mazumdar, Hanna Papanek, Gail Omvedt, Neera Desai and Leela Dube in Segovia, Spain, July 1990. Photo Courtesy: Vibhuti Patel

Each time I heard her, I got more motivated to read her papers and later on her books. Her work on Lakshadweep island’s matrilineal Muslim community-Matriliny and Islam: Religion and society in the Laccadives (1969)- was an eye-opener so was her deconstruction of polyandry in Himalayan tribes in the context of women’s workload of collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after livestock and kitchen gardening in mountainous terrain, resulting into high maternal mortality and adverse sex ratio. She showed interconnections between factors responsible for social construction of women’s sexuality, fertility and labour, rooted in the political economy.

Her highly celebrated book Anthropological Explorations in Gender: Intersecting Fields(2001) is a landmark contribution in feminist anthropology in India. It examines gender, kinship and culture by sourcing a variety of distinct and unconventional materials such as folk tales, folk songs, proverbs, legends, myths to construct ethnographic profile of feminist thoughts. She provides a nuanced understanding on socialization of girl child in a patriarchal family, “seed and soil” theory propagated by Hindu scriptures and epics symbolizing domination-subordination power relationship between men and women.

Her meticulously researched piece ‘On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India‘ in the Economic and Political Weekly (1988), was used by women’s groups for study circles and training programmes. The volume Women, Work, and Family (1990) in the series on Women and Households, Structures and Strategies, co-edited by Leela Dube and Rajni Palriwala was extremely useful in teaching women’s studies in Economics, Sociology, Geography, Social Work and Governance courses. Her book, Women and Kinship: Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia (1997) argued that kinship systems provide an important context in which gender relations are located in personal and public arena.

The co-edited volume Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development by Leela Dube, Eleanor Leacock and Shirley Ardener (OUP 1986) provided international perspective on the anthropology of women in the context of socio-political setting of India, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, and Yugoslavia.

After Prof. Iravati Karve, Prof. Leela Dube was the only scholar who made a path-breaking contribution in anthropology with gender sensitivity in India. Leeladee made a mammoth contribution in bringing academic credibility to women’s studies through her scholarly endeavours.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT women’s University, Mumbai.

Featured Photo by: Mukul Dube


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