Princeton professor dies in accidental fall in India

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A Princeton University anthropology professor known as a widely respected South Asia scholar died from a fall last Thursday while in India, the university said.

Isabelle Clark-Decès, 61, was in the village of Mussoorie in the northern state of Uttarakhand, where she was directing one of the university’s six-week summer global seminars for undergraduates, when she died.

“It was a very unfortunate accident,” a university spokesman said Wednesday, declining to release further details except to say Clark-Decès was alone when it happened.

Clark-Decès, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1996, traveled to South Asia countless times, the university said in a statement. Her research focused on the Tamils of South India and Sri Lanka.

She taught undergraduate and graduate courses on India and directed the university’s Program in South Asian Studies since it was established in 2007.

Clark-Decès was born in Paris and earned her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D., both in anthropology, from the University of California-Berkeley. She is survived by a daughter, who lives in Berkeley; two brothers in France; and a longtime partner.

She had said she hoped students participating in one of her global seminars would feel some of what she did during her first trip to India in 1977, the university said. She first traveled to the country alone at age 20, making her way to Istanbul, then east via bus and train through Iran and Afghanistan.

“There was kindness,” Clark-Decès said of the people in India, according to the statement. “I felt the gentleness of the people, the smiles on their faces. The invitation of women to sit with them. It is an amazing country.”

Carolyn Rouse, a professor of anthropology and department chair, said in the statement: “We have lost a passionate teacher. Walking through the halls, one could often hear Isabelle mentoring her undergraduate students. She always provided clear and honest advice, delivered with encouragement and love. She absolutely adored her students and regularly praised them in faculty meetings.”

The university invited people to share their memories of Clark-Decès in a blog intended to honor her life and legacy.

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