Chattopadhyay finished her schooling from Bhabani Balika Vidyalaya, Shibpur. She did her B.Sc (Hons) in Anthropology from the University of Calcutta. She wrote a dissertation on “Genetic Study among the Aborigines of the Andaman”.
On 4 January 1991, Chattopadhyay made the first ever friendly contact with the hostile Sentinelese tribe of Andamans. Chattopadhyay at that time was a research associate with the Anthropological Survey of India. She went to the North Sentinel Island with the support of local administration's ship MV Tarmugli. She was a part of a team of 13. The key team members were S. Awaradi (Director, Tribal Welfare, A&NI administration) who was the Team Leader, Arun Mullick who was the Medical Officer (for providing medical attention in case of sickness or injury) accompanied by Chattopadhyay as an anthropologist. The rest were support crew. On day 2 of this expedition, Chattopadhyay escaped from an arrow attack and the team retreated. On February 21 of the same year, the team came back to a successful contact with the tribe. The Indian government banned any more expeditions citing the possibility of the ancient tribe contacting epidemics due to frequent visits by outsiders.
Chattopadhyay's book Tribes of Car Nicobar and journal papers are used as standard reference texts in universities worldwide.
- "Madhumala Chattopadhyay: An Anthropologist's Moment of Truth | Probashi". Probashi. 2015-09-27. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
- "Meet Madhumala Chattopadhyay, First Indian Anthropologist Woman Who Had a Friendly Encounter With Sentinelese Tribe of Andaman". Retrieved 30 November 2018.
- "Madhumala Chattopadhyay, the woman who made the Sentinelese put their arrows down". Retrieved 30 November 2018.
- N., Naagesh. "Meet Madhumala Chattopadhyay, first to contact Sentinelese tribe in Anadamans and return alive". International Business Times, India Edition. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
- "The woman who made friendly contact with Andaman's Sentinelese". Hindustan Times. 2018-12-04. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
- "What's Christianity to those who pray to sky & sea, says first woman to contact Sentinelese". Retrieved 30 November 2018.