Malini became engaged in student politics and activism as a teenager. She left home in Calcutta (India) at seventeen to join the prestigious women’s college, Smith College (USA), where she was a scholarship student and worked her way through college. Upon arrival at Smith, Malini ran for student government and was elected President of her Freshman Class. She remained engaged in student politics and government throughout her time at Smith.
Highlights included activism on anti-apartheid issues, including supporting the occupation of Smith’s administrative halls for action on divestment, as well as organising on gay rights and serving as the Student Representative on Smith’s HIV/ AIDS Task Force, which established one of the US’ first college HIV/AIDS policies as the epidemic was taking hold in the USA.
The importance of students taking responsibility for their learning and experimenting with different pedagogical methods was a key interest and Malini co-devised a student-led course on this at Smith. Later working with influential figures such as political scientist and non-violence scholar, Prof Gene Sharp at Harvard University, whilst working at the Centre for Common Security at William College, promoting student-led progressive curricular engagement.
In her Senior year, Malini served as head of Smith’s Women’s Resource Center organising talks and events on feminist causes, including a coachload of Smith students to the largest mass rally for abortion rights in Washington DC in the late 1980s.
Malini continued her activism and leadership at postgraduate level whilst a Masters student at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, UK, where she studied under leading development academics such as Prof Robert Chambers and Prof Annie Whitehead. One of the first cohorts to take the new Gender and Development masters programme, Malini initiated IDS’ first-ever student-led review of the MA in Gender & Development, providing useful curricular feedback for this emerging postgraduate programme into women, gender and development.