In Remembrance: Professor Lotika Sarkar (1923-2013)


“She wasn’t boring you know…most people today are boring. But she…. no, she wasn’t boring.”
Dr. Mithu Alur speaks in that lilting manner that some Bengalis possess; her words are spoken with a slightly musical intonation. It has been a few weeks since Dr. Lotika Sarkar's demise and I am hoping that Dr. Alur, Sarka's niece can tell me more about this great lady. Her description of Lotika Sarkar seems a bit odd; it is certainly unexpected. Yet, later on I would realize that it was an apt description, an honest one. Every once in a while, Dr. Alur glances towards the window and becomes silent, her eyes filling up with memories. At those times, all you can hear is the quiet hum of the air conditioner. Suddenly, Dr. Alur breaks away from the memories and looks at me once more, partly telling me and partly telling herself, “No, she wasn’t boring.”
Born in 1923, Sarkar was raised in one of the leading aristocratic families of West Bengal. Her father, Sir Dhiren Mitra, was one of the most reputable lawyers in the country.  Growing up, Lotika Sarkar must have had access to all the privileges of the wealthy and yet, her upbringing did not give her a false sense of entitlement. As Usha Ramanathan writes, Sarkar’s personality was characterized by the “unacceptance of nonsense, and a deep sense of fairness. No pre-judgment, no prejudice.” Sarkar went on to study at Cambridge, becoming the first woman to complete a Ph.D. from Cambridge. It would be one of many “firsts”.
It was in the 1960’s that Sarkar married her life-long partner, journalist Dr. Chanchal, the two settling down in Delhi’s Hauz Khas area. Sarkar was the first woman lecturer in the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. At the Faculty of Law (and later, the Indian Law Institute), Sarkar would take courses in criminal law. 
Sarkar created quite a sensation as a lecturer.“She was a total non-conformist,” remembers Professor Archana Parashar, “yet [she] had this aura of authority and propriety around her.” Parashar, currently teaching at Macquarie Law School, first met Sarkar during her undergraduate days. She pursued an LL.M. purely because she wanted to study under Sarkar, an influence that was to continue when Parashar was working on her Ph.D. “I can unhesitatingly say that she was my mentor.” Prof.