Mahanirban Calcutta Research group



A Friend Passes On: Ilina

Samita Sen, Board Member of the Calcutta Research Group and the Vere Harmsworth Professor in Imperial and Naval History, Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge writes on Prof. Ilina Senís untimely demise.

Ilina Sen was a scholar and teacher as well as a social activist of great commitment. She spent her early years organising mine workers. I first heard her speak (possibly in 1998), when she gave us a spine-chilling talk on the difficulties of getting together women mine workers in trade unions. The challenges of corporatisation and organised crime in Chhattisgarh, where she worked, were a salutary reminder of the persisting dangers of working-class politics.

Ilina worked for adivasi ecologies with the NGO Rupantar, led by Binayak Sen, to whom she was married. Their two daughters, Pranhita and Aparajita, stood strongly with her as she battled cancer for many years. Ilina was 69 when she died. She has written two books: Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir and Sukhvasin: The Migrant Woman of Chhattisgarh. She has also written some seminal articles, including on the women's movement in India.

We became friends during our work for Women's Studies. We took charge of Women's Studies Centres about the same time - she at Wardha and I at Kolkata. We both came from other worlds and had to learn the work bottom-up and this gave us much to share. The friendship deepened when we found each other at the executive committee of the Indian Association of Women's Studies. She was the host and local convenor and I was the general secretary when we together organised the IAWS conference in 2011 at Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Wardha. That was the time when the court battle to free Dr. Binayak Sen (arrested for sedition in 2010) was on in full earnest. Ilina had to rush to Raipur from time to time. During the conference, an FIR was lodged against her. She faced these challenges with indomitable strength and courage.

When she retired from TISS, Ilina decided to relocate to Kolkata. She brought with her a research project, which she decided to house at the Calcutta Research Group. This was a mutually productive and respectful relationship. She was to become a member of CRG and a mentor to some of the young scholars. CRG treasured her presence and now celebrates her friendship.

Ilina was a dedicated social activist, as she was a researcher and teacher. Yet, she also had a song for many an occasion, a beautiful singing voice, and a great sense of fun. A combination of fun, mischief and political commitment made her incredibly special, as a person and a friend. When she came to Kolkata after retirement and moved into a flat within walking distance of where I lived, we were both delighted. She had many plans for research and writing (and also some sewing and embroidery on which we occasionally compared notes). An untimely passing. Good-bye, dear friend.

Sanjay Barbora, a CRG member and Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati sends a condolence letter on August 10, 2020

Dear Ranabir-da, I have been holding on to my memories of my last meeting with Ilina in Calcutta. I hate to admit it but it was tough seeing her in so much pain and still to keep calm as if she was alright. I console myself now by saying that she is not suffering now.

But what a life of dignity and generosity. I was telling Dolly over the phone about Ilina's move to Calcutta and her association with CRG. Well, it seems she has left behind her last new interest on the impact of partition on eastern Bengal for us to carry forward.

With every good wish,

Gabriele Dietrich, Professor Emeritus at Department for Social Analysis, Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, writes: on August 29, 2020

"She did not struggle "against" her illness, she lived with it. She frequently said: "I just want!" And live she did, with enormous energy and serenity and a very gentle sense of humour. She will be alive in our memories and future generations will learn about her from her books.. " To read more please go to: