Dr. Vina Mazumdar (28 March 1927 – 30 May 2013) was an Indian academic, left-wing activist and feminist. A pioneer in women's studies in India, she was a leading figure of the Indian women's movement. She was amongst the first women academics to combine activism with scholarly research in women's studies. She was secretary of the first Committee on the Status of Women in India that brought out the first report on the condition of women in the country, Towards Equality (1974). She was the founding Director of the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), an autonomous organisation established in 1980, under the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). She was a National Research Professor at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, Delhi.
Early life and education
Vina Mazumdar was born in a middle-class Bengali household in Kolkata, the youngest of five children, three boys and two girls. Her father, Prakash Majumdar, was an engineer. Her uncle was the noted historian R.C. Majumdar (1888–1980). She did her schooling from St. John's Diocesan Girls' Higher Secondary School, Kolkata, then studied at Women's College, Banaras Hindu University, and subsequently at Asutosh College, the University of Calcutta, where she became the secretary of the Ashutosh College Girls Students Union. While at the college, she organised a meeting in the support of Rama Rao Committee which recommended expansion the inheritance rights for daughters through crucial Hindu Law Reform. In 1947, just after independence, she went to St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she completed her graduation in 1951. She returned to Oxford University in 1960 and received her D.Phil. there in 1962.
She started her career as a lecturer of Political Science in Patna University in 1951, soon becoming the first Secretary of the Patna University Teachers' Association. Later, she taught at Berhampur University. Subsequently, she joined the University Grants Commission Secretariat, New Delhi as an Education Officer and became a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, for the research project, 'University Education and Social Change in India' (April 1970 – Dec. 1970).
She was Member Secretary for the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1971–74). The Committee, appointed by the Government of India in 1971, was reconstituted in 1973 with her, a late entrant, as Member Secretary. The report of the Committee, Towards Equality, highlighted the rise in poverty amongst women in the transition from agrarian to industrial society, as also the decline of sex ratio in India. Eventually, the report became a turning point both for Women's Studies and the women's movement in India. Later Mazumdar became Director, Programme of Women's Studies, Indian Council of Social Science Research from 1975 to 80. Mazumdar helped organise a meeting to support the recommendations of the Rama Rao Committee on Hindu Law Reform (to expand the inheritance rights of daughters.
In 1980, she co-founded the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi and remained its founder-Director from 1980 till her retirement in 1991. CWDS initiated the concept of "action-research" as it organised landless peasant women in Bankura district of West Bengal. It soon became an influential institution which impacted the course of women's studies in India. Through her career, Mazumdar straddled both the scholarship and activism side of women's studies, which she referred as "women's studies movement". She was also a founding-member of the Indian Association of Women's Studies (IAWS, founded 1982). Thereafter she was Senior Fellow at CWDS and JP Naik National Fellow, ICSSR for two years. From 1996 to 2005 she was the Chairperson, Centre for Women's Development Studies, New Delhi.
She published her memoir, Memories of a Rolling Stone in 2010. [Reviews: Subhashini Ali: The third factor, Frontline, Volume 27 – Issue 15, 17–30 July 2010 ; Pamela Philipose: Vina Mazumdar's Rolling Story, 30 October 2010; Vina Mazumdar, the fighter, Times of India, 5 June 2010]
She married musician Shankar Mazumdar in 1952, who she met while working in Patna. Upon her marriage, she changed the spelling of surname from Majumdar (her maiden name) to Mazumdar (her marital name). The couple had four children - three daughters and a son. One of the daughters is the former wife of Sitaram Yechuri, leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist). She died at an hospital in Delhi on 30 May 2013, after a brief illness at the age of 86, and is survived by her children.