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This collection of essays focuses on the post-1980s period of the Indian feminist movement, a moment rich in new and different modes of resistance, of widespread political engagements with issues of rights, of justice, of identity and much more. The writers here, all well-known activists and founders of some of the most important of feminist institutions, describe their individual and collective journeys, bringing attention to the movement, to their struggles, their campaigns, their victories and the challenges they have faced. In using the tools of feminist analysis – a focus on life stories, on oral accounts, on group formation and more – they also make a case for advocacy through legal and socio-political means.
Despite being one of the most dynamic of feminist movements in the world, the Indian feminist movement has seldom been recognized as such. And yet, in addressing how women’s oppression and discrimination lie at the intersection of complex inequalities of caste, of region and religion, of class, of patriarchy, race, ethnicity, to name only a few, the writers in this volume make a case for the need for constant introspection, reflection and self-questioning, so that the movement can learn and grow. They show how in India, and indeed across much of South Asia, it is feminists who have stood against capitalism, war and violence, environmental degradation and fundamentalism and have forged alliances with varied movements, learning from them, working strengthening them but also infusing them with a feminist analysis.
CONTRIBUTORS: Flavia Agnes | Abha Bhaiya | Anjali Dave | Padma Deosthali | V. Geetha | Poonam Kathuria | Corinne Kumar | Kanchan Mathur | Madhu Mehra | Yashoda Pradhan | Sangeeta Rege | Jaya Sharma | Taranga Sriraman | Suneeta Thakur | Saumya Uma
Poonam Kathuria is the founder and executive secretary of SWATI (Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative).
Abha Bhaiya is one of the founder members of Jagori, a feminist organization set up in 1984 in Delhi.
Both are activists with a longstanding involvement in the women’s movement in India.
Over the last several years, regular evaluation of development programs has become essential in measuring and understanding their true impact. Feminist and gender-sensitive evaluations have gradually emerged, drawing attention to existing inequities—gender, caste, class, location, and more—and the cumulative effect of these biases on daily life. Such evaluations are also deeply political; they explicitly acknowledge that gender-based inequalities exist, show how they remain embedded in society, and articulate ways to address them.
Based on four years of research, Voices and Values offers critical insight into how gender, class, and nationality inflect and affect sociological research. It examines how feminist evaluations could make an effective contribution to new policy formulations oriented to gender and social equity. The essays here focus centrally on the structural roots of inequity: giving weight to all perspectives; adding value to marginalized groups and people under evaluation; and taking forward the findings of evaluation into advocacy for change. In doing so, each essay advances the understanding of feminist evaluation both conceptually and as practice.
CONTRIBUTORS: Venu Arora | Sneha Bhat | Pallavi Gupta | Vasundhara Kaul | Renu Khanna | Seema Kulkarni | Ranjani K. Murthy | Rajib Nandi | Srinidhi Raghavan | Neha Sanwal | Shubh Sharma | Ratna M. Sudarshan | Enakshi Ganguly Thukral | Sonal Zaveri
How can women live fully? If autonomy is critical for humans, why do women have little or no choice vis-à-vis motherhood? Do women know they have a choice, if they do? How 'free' are these choices in a context where the self is socially mired and deeply enmeshed into the familial? What are implications of motherhood on how human relatedness and belonging are defined?
These questions underlie Amrita Nandy's remarkable research on motherhood as an institution, one that conflates 'woman' with 'mother' and 'personal' with 'political'.
As the bedrock of human survival and an unchallenged norm of 'normal' female lives, motherhood expects and even compels women to be mothers—symbolic and corporeal. Even though the ideology of pronatalism and motherhood reinforce reproductive technology and vice versa, the care work of mothering suffers political neglect and economic devaluation. However, motherhood (and non-motherhood) is not just physiological. As the pivot to a web of heteronormative institutions (such as marriage and the family), motherhood bears an overwhelming and decisive influence on women's lives. Against the weight of traditional and contemporary histories, socio-political discourse and policies, this study explores how women, as embodiments of multiple identities, could live stigma-free, 'authentic' lives without having to abandon reproductive 'self'-determination.
The states in the northeast of India have been subject to multiple protracted conflicts. In the cases where the gendered nature of these conflicts is considered, stereotypes of women as passive victims or natural peacemakers tend to be reproduced, and scholars follow the establishment’s cues in employing analyses from a conventional security studies perspective, focusing on ceasefires and surrender packages for militants, male-dominated negotiations over autonomy and statehood, and ‘homeland’ politics. Even as women have become increasingly vocal in civil society attempts to resolve conflict and build peace in the region, their voices and work are ignored. The media has turned its spotlight on activists like the Meira Paibis and Irom Sharmila, but has yet to acknowledge the significance of women’s everyday resistance, activism and agency – and this lack of attention is a further aspect of their marginalization.
This volume sheds light on the successes and failures of the women’s movements in and of the region; women’s responses and engagements with conflict and peace-building; as well as their challenges, aspirations and experiences as agents of change. It adds important insights into the debate on gender and political change in societies affected by conflict. Moreover, by engaging critically with the ‘women, peace and security’ literature, the volume takes a fresh look at ‘universalist’ feminist and interventionist biases, questioning the notion that peace processes should be treated as windows of opportunity for women’s empowerment and positing that it is crucial to understand gender relations during conflict as historically contingent, complex and multifaceted, and intertwined in the social fabric.
Many consider the autobiography to be a Western genre that represents the self as fully autonomous. The contributors to Speaking of the Self challenge this presumption by examining a wide range of women’s autobiographical writing from South Asia. Expanding the definition of what kinds of writing can be considered autobiographical, the contributors analyze everything from poetry, songs, mystical experiences and diaries, to prose, fiction, architecture and religious treatises. The authors they study are just as diverse: a Mughal princess, an eighteenth-century courtesan from Hyderabad, a nineteenth-century Muslim prostitute in Punjab, a housewife in colonial Bengal, a Muslim Gandhian devotee of Krishna, several female Indian and Pakistani novelists and two male actors who worked as female impersonators. The contributors find that in these autobiographies the authors construct their gendered selves in relational terms. Throughout, they show how autobiographical writing - in whatever form it takes - provides the means towards more fully understanding the historical, social and cultural milieu in which the author performs herself and creates her subjectivity.
In the last 15 years, queer movements in many parts of the world have helped secure the rights of queer people. These moments have been accompanied by the brutal rise of crony capitalism, the violent consequences of the ‘war on terror’, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization/managerialization of social movements and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities/practices. How do we critically read the celebratory global proliferation of queer rights in these neoliberal times?
This volume responds to the complicated moment in the history of queer struggles by analysing laws, state policies and cultures of activism, to show how new intimacies between queer sexuality and neoliberalism that celebrate modernity and the birth of the liberated sexual citizen, are in fact, reproducing the old colonial desire of civilizing the native. By paying particular attention to the problematics of race, religion and class, this volume engages in a rigorous, self-reflexive critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism and militarism, with the objective of queering the ethics of our queer politics.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988) was a remarkable woman of many passions and gifts. She played an important role in the struggle for Indian independence and was similarly a key figure in the international socialist feminist movement. She was India’s ambassador to Asia and Africa, an articulate and unflinching exponent of the idea of decolonization, and one of the earliest advocates of the idea of the global South. A staunch champion of women’s rights, she held views on women’s equality that continue to resonate in our times.
Greatly disheartened by the partition of India in 1947, Kamaladevi became involved in the resettlement of refugees and appeared to withdraw from political life. Indeed, the Kamaladevi that most Indians are familiar with is a figure who, above all, revived Indian handicrafts, became the country’s most well-known expert on carpets, puppets and its thousands of craft traditions, and nurtured the greater majority of the country’s national institutions charged with the promotion of dance, drama, art, theatre, music and puppetry. Throughout her life, however, she upheld with all the intellectual vigour and emotional force at her command the idea of the dignity of every human life.
Kamaladevi wrote voluminously and her sojourns took her all over the world. She travelled in China during World War II, lectured in Japan, visited Native American pueblos in New Mexico, and forged links with working women and anti-colonial activists in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. Sadly, most of her writings have long been out of print. The editors of this comprehensive anthology, which is the first serious scholarly attempt to grapple with Kamaladevi’s life and body of work, have sought to represent the wide range of her interests. The extensive selections, comprised largely of journal articles and excerpts from Kamaladevi’s books, are accompanied by a set of original essays by contemporary Indian and American scholars which analyse and contextualize her life and work. This volume should provide the resources for further examination and appreciation of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s unusual gifts and her place in modern Indian and world history.
1943: As the British Empire draws to a close, the state of Bengal is just emerging from the grip of famine. Exploited mercilessly by feudal landlords, landless peasants rise in protest and launch a movement in 1946 to retain two-thirds of the grain they harvest - Tebhaga.
More than 50,000 women participated in this movement: one whose history and tragic end - in the crossfire between state violence and revolutionary armed struggle - became a legend in its time. Yet in the written history of Tebhaga, the full-fledged women's movement that they forged has never featured.
In this authoritative study, based on interviews and women's memories, Kavita Panjabi sets the balance right with rare sensitivity and grace. Using critical insights garnered from oral history and memory studies, Panjabi raises questions that neither social history nor left historiography ask. In doing so, she claims the past for a feminist vision of radical social change. This account of the transformation of the struggle is unique in feminist scholarship movements.
Following the 1971 Bangladesh War, the Bangladesh government publicly designated the thousands of women raped by the Pakistani military and their local collaborators as birangonas, ("brave women”). Nayanika Mookherjee demonstrates that while this celebration of birangonas as heroes keeps them in the public memory, they exist in the public consciousness as what Mookherjee calls a spectral wound. Dominant representations of birangonas as dehumanized victims with disheveled hair, a vacant look, and rejected by their communities create this wound, the effects of which flatten the diversity of their experiences through which birangonas have lived with the violence of wartime rape. In critically examining the pervasiveness of the birangona construction, Mookherjee opens the possibility for a more politico-economic, ethical, and nuanced inquiry into the sexuality of war.
Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence elucidates the centrality of political and foundational violence in the governance of conflicted democracies in the postcolony, calling attention to the urgent need for transformation. Spectacular and quotidian gendered and sexualized violence by states and collectives holds in place fraught and unjust histories and relations between elites and subalterns, majoritarian subjects and non-dominant “Others.” At the intersections of nationalist and decolonial confrontations, such violence regularizes states of emergency and exception. Through oral history, archival, and legal research undertaken over three years, this interdisciplinary work underscores the need for transitional and transformative justice mechanisms in conflicted democracies to address protracted conflict (focusing on their internal dimensions) and social upheaval. India serves as a case in point, exemplified by ongoing and recent conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab and episodic social upheavals in Gujarat (in 2002) and Odisha (in 2008). Victim-survivor narratives of counter-memory, historical records, and legal analyses of formative cases detail the depth and texture of social suffering and illustrate the inadequacy and inhumanity of official responses to events of extraordinary violence. Expanding on methods in justice and accountability and espousing the right to heal, scholars and practitioners raise critical questions regarding the state, civil society, and diverse institutions, and the most elemental of constituents: victim-survivors.
“A very important feature of Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal is that it shows the ubiquity of sexual violence that is not simply concomitant to other forms of violence but is a weapon that is part and parcel of the weaponry in the hands of the state and of transnational militant movements. What are the mechanisms through which violence is continuously sustained within democracies? This exemplary book helps us ask that question without the plethora of evasions that often allow democratic states to deflect that question to some other concern—national security, national honor or the necessity of pragmatism in view of the enormity of new forms of warfare. I am so grateful for this book and for the courage of scholar-activists and the victim-survivors who have put the results of years of hard labor on these questions before us.”
Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, John Hopkins University
“The monograph provides an incisive, comparative, and contextual framework for grappling with some of the most challenging issues of our time—gender and sexual violence in conflict. The document makes a compelling case for the development of effective national accountability mechanisms for political democracies to address conflict-based issues and grave social violence. The monograph underlines the pressing need to place victims-survivors at the center of owning knowledge and defining remedy. This monumental work stands to impact scholarship, policy, and advocacy for addressing gender-based and sexualized violence in conflicted democracies.”
Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008-2014
Feminist Subversion and Complicity interrogates a specific form of feminist practice, that which has involved engaging with state and international institutions to insert gender knowledge in their development interventions. Bringing together contributions from eight feminists located in very different kinds of institutions and spaces from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, this book is the outcome of a deeply reflexive process to produce a critique from within of this present day feminist practice. An array of experiences and encounters are scrutinised from bringing feminist perspectives to governmental projects on education, health, and legal reform to transformations in the discourses and practices of women’s movements and feminisms as they encountered developmentalisms. The writers show that feminist politics is not merely assimilated in governmental projects but that it interrupts these projects even as it is assimilated; a feminist politics in which complicity is often a subversive activity, is destabilizing and contesting of meaning.
The Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia research project (coordinated by Zubaan and supported by the International Development Research Centre) brings together, for the first time in the region, a vast body of knowledge on this important – yet silenced – subject. Six country volumes (one each on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and two on India) comprising over fifty research papers and two book-length studies detail the histories of sexual violence and look at the systemic, institutional, societal, individual and community structures that work together to perpetuate impunity for perpetrators.
In this collection of essays on Sri Lanka the authors – activists, lawyers, academics, journalists – look back at Sri Lanka’s long and intense armed conflict during which women and men were sexually brutalized, assaulted, tortured and disappeared. They examine not only the rampant sexual violence during the conflict period, and the impunity enjoyed by its perpetrators, but focus also on women’s struggles for survival, their interactions with community leaders and their navigation of society’s expectations, their understanding of, and access to justice. Essay after essay argues compellingly for the need to stop treating survivors of sexual violence as victims and to start seeing them as potentially powerful agents of change.
The writers highlight a hitherto unaddressed aspect of sexual violence: that of the structures that enable impunity on the part of perpetrators, be they security personnel and paramilitary forces, members of armed rebel groups, gangs, local politicians and police or ordinary citizens including close family members.
They demonstrate how impunity for perpetrators is both a failure of the formal justice process and a product of individual, community and social conditions and indeed the choices that victims and families often make, which promote silence over truth. At the end of more than a quarter century of conflict that has left some 100,000 dead, 50,000 women-headed households struggling to survive, and created countless victims and survivors of sexual violence, the calls for justice can no longer be ignored.
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