It is with deep sadness and a sense of loss that we at SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Community Centre) mourn the death of Jean Chapman, our sister in struggle. Jean passed away peacefully on September 21, 2020 at home in the arms of her husband Paul Wilkinson and with her beloved poodle, Noah, by her side.  Jean joined SAWCC in 1985 and was a life member. 

Jean was born in Champavat, Uttarakhand, India.  Along with her siblings, she attended school at Dr. Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong. Jean’s mother, a trained nurse, decided to move to England in the early 1960s and Jean moved with her.

Always adventurous, Jean then came to Montreal in 1973 not knowing a soul and got a job as a secretary at McGill University in the Law Faculty and later with an advertising company.   During this time Jean helped to support her father, who had remained in India, and his new family. Jean completed her B.A. at McGill in Anthropology. Jean was active at this time with the Indian Peoples Association of North America (IPANA) and with the progressive politics of the time.

In 1977 Jean left Montreal on a Shastri Fellowship to pursue graduate studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.  The vibrant political life of JNU was a major influence on her commitment to progressive politics and the feminist movement. As stated so well by Jawed Naqvi, her JNU contemporary, “Jean embodied the glorious spirit of JNU’s halcyon days.”  During her time in Delhi, Jean was proud to volunteer for some time as a secretarial assistant to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, CPI (M) leader and former Chief Minister of the state of Kerala. Jean participated in many student actions and her role in helping to prevent the deportation of Iranian students back to the Shah’s dictatorship became legendary.  Jean and a friend, Indrani Mazumdar, lay down in front of the police van carrying the Iranian students. When Kiran Bedi, the country’s first woman member of the Indian Police Service, tried to remove Jean and Indrani, they showed their fighting spirit dragging Kiran Bedi down instead, and so she failed in her attempt. Finally, the police backed down and the Iranian students were allowed to return to the University.

Returning to Montreal in1982, Jean became an active member of SAWCC.   She joined at the time when SAWCC had lost its funding and faced considerable difficulties. She also served as its secretary, and later as president. We cannot forget the time spent during interminably long SAWCC meetings, when Jean, along with many others, worked very hard in putting things back together during a critical period when SAWCC was faced with the threat of division and sectarianism.  Following this period, Jean, Shree Mulay and others worked on the SAWCC constitution to ensure SAWCC had the legal foundation to support its values of a secular, feminist, South Asian organization.  SAWCC came out on top and has remained a force of unity and diversity ever since.  In 1996, when there was a fire at the SAWCC premises at Hotel de Ville, Jean and Paul housed the SAWCC team in their office building on Monkland Avenue.

Jean had worked with Paul in their consulting firm becoming Vice-President and co-owner.  But she was determined to get a doctorate, so at the age of 60, Jean enrolled in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, England.  She embarked on very ambitious doctoral research in Cambodia on landmines, spending time away from her family in Montreal. Jean was awarded her Ph.D. in 2008.  She continued her academic work as a feminist research scholar at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University in Montreal and she was a UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliate (

In 1987, Jean and Paul adopted Jean’s half-sister Pia and her half-brother John. They nurtured and raised both children.  Sadly, they lost Pia to cancer in 2009.  They continued their nurturing of Pia’s son Joseph and John’s son Ethan.  Paul cared for Jean in their home throughout her last two years when she was ill with pulmonary fibrosis and they warmly welcomed and hosted us when we went to visit. Jean faced her illness courageously and without self-pity. She remained positive to the end, always maintaining her true fighting spirit and often commenting that she had lived a very good life. 

With Jean’s passing, we at SAWCC have lost a vibrant, dedicated and loyal member and friend.

We send our love and deepest condolences to Paul, John (Patricia), Amjad, Joseph Thomas, Ethan and all Jean’s family and her many other friends at this time. 

SAWCC will honour Jean at a memorial event to be held at a future date.

Top - Home