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In this essay, Geetanjali Singh Chanda explores the idea of the nation, and its representation as a house or home in postcolonial Indian English literature. The author identifies that this literature has a dual parentage that manifests in its narratives, where characters with fragmented identities negotiate to make India their home.
Chanda explores this depiction of ‘Indianness’ through three prominent literary works: Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1983), Meena Alexander’s Nampally Road (1991), and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). She focuses on the treatment of history within these narratives, and the struggle of characters to reconcile their personal or national history with the post-colonial present. This is done by connecting the events in the text to a significant historical event—like the Indian Independence in 1947, or the Emergency of 1975, which becomes the setting of both Rich Like Us and Nampally Road.
While an exhaustive study of the novels’ characters and storyline shows differences in their narratives and the authors’ perspectives, Chanda identifies common themes of disillusionment, belonging, and a complicated relationship with a house, which in each narrative becomes symbolic of the characters’ relationship with the nation. Women in particular seem to have tenuous relationships with the house, often being marginalized in the idea of the nation. But their relationships with each other seem to transcend national and ethnic identities, and help them navigate through the nation. Chanda focuses on these relationships in particular, associating the motherland with the biological mother.
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.
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.
_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.
This book links caste and gender to the social production of motherhood. Dandekar argues that in contradiction to the assumption about motherhood being primarily a female-centred and positive domain, subaltern agency produces it as malign, dangerous, malevolent and marginal.
Highlighting the manner in which the experience and expression of motherhood is constructed as androgynous and nonthreatening to patriarchal hegemony, the author emphasizes the consolidation of ‘lower’ caste positive identity through valorization processes and endorses high caste and class ownership and power by producing the birth and survival of a male child as its ideological validaton.
Little has been written about the experiences of motherhood in India, outside of the debates around public health statistics. Here, the author reinvents and deconstructs existing notions of maternity by interrogating the very systemic and patriarchal nature of its language that depoliticizes oppression.
In Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave examines the formation of lesbian communities in India from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Based on ethnographic research conducted with activist organizations in Delhi, a body of letters written by lesbian women, and research with lesbian communities and queer activist groups across the country, Dave studies the everyday practices that constitute queer activism in India.
Dave argues that activism is an ethical practice comprising critique, inven- tion, and relational practice. She investigates the relationship between the ethics of activism and the existing social norms and conditions from which activism emerges. Through her analysis of different networks and institutions, Dave documents how activism oscillates between the potential for new social arrangements and the questions that arise once the activists’ goals have been achieved. Queer Activism in India addresses a relevant and timely phenomenon and makes an important contribution to the anthropology of queer communi- ties, social movements, affect, and ethics.
“The exciting aspect of this book is how Dave draws on the everyday practices of queer activism, in particular lesbian activism in India, to expose the deeply considered and ethical positions that they take. . . . Dave’s book marks a significant contribution to the archive of queer scholarship generally, but more importantly to making visible a postcolonial perspective in this scholarship.” — Ratna Kapur, Journal of Anthropological Research
“A beautifully written ethnography, offering a passionately detailed ethnographic perspective on queer politics, feminism, and social movements in India.” — Kamala Visweswaran, author of Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference
“Dave’s book, with its anecdotes, observations, and rich endnotes, will no doubt add to our understanding of urban lesbian activism while compelling us to reflect about methods and ethics in the age of “affect.”” — Shohini Ghosh, Journal of Asian Studies
Every year millions of impoverished families living in the rained parts of India leave their homes in search of work. Forced to migrate due to a livelihoods collapse in the villages, these distress seasonal migrants shut up their spartan homes, take a few meager belongings and move, often across long distances. The large numbers of children who accompany their parents are forced to drop out of school, and in most instances, do not find schooling in the areas they move to. As a result, at work sites these children are put to work from young ages. The numbers of such children under the age of 14 years is estimated to be in the region of 9 million. This study, commissioned by the American India Foundation, draws on the work of four NGOs in different parts of India, and in different sectors: sugarcane harvesting in Maharashtra, salt pan, roof tile and charcoal making in Gujarat, and brick kiln migrations from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh. Both macro and micro aspects of distress seasonal migration are covered, including the spread and scale of the occurrence, the seasonality factor, the differing contexts, employer-labour relations, working and living conditions of migrant families, and children, and the links of such migration with child labour.
This volume documents the focus on the widow, regarded as the dark half of womankind in tradition, the structural counterpart of the sumangali or the auspicious married woman, and to provide an archive on widowhood. The archive comprises prescriptions, injunctions, laws and other accounts dating back to the 5th century BC from Sanskrit texts as well as extracts from official documents, pamphlets and essays in many languages, published in the 19th and 20th centuries. The material is arranged in three parts: documents, personal narratives and creative writing in an attempt to capture the complexities of the experience of widowhood, its diversity and range across India. With the emergence of the women's movement in the last quarter of the 20th century, the terms of analysis have changed and feminist inspired scholarship has raised new questions. In the anthology the widow comes across not just as a passive 'pitiable' object, oppressed, victimised and patronised but as an active resisting survivor - it is this last image that stays with the reader.
In rejecting falsely homogenizing accounts of women’s lives, feminist economists have, in recent years, unlocked the multiple ways in which gendered relations of dominance and subordination are maintained. One of the key differences they have turned their attention to is ethnicity. This study of Muslim, Sinhala and Tamil households in Sri Lanka examines both the commonality of patriarchal structures and economic problems in such households, as well as the differences created by the ethnicities that divide them. The author looks at the nature and reliability of kinship support for female heads and the reciprocal obligations in terms of female propriety and conventional conduct extracted from female heads. She questions development policies premised on the patriarchal household and argues for a recognition of diversity and complexity.
The Reproduction and Child Health policy (RCH) in India has been in force since 1995. Coming after the Cairo conference, 1994, the RHC was expected to usher in 'paradigm shift' in India's population policy. From a family welfare programme that has historically been top-down, even coercive, the Indian government projected the RHC to be a participatory, women-centered reproductive health service. Ironically, the policy was devised barely four years after the start of Indian State's tryst with the market development, and was launched into a political environment in ideological transition. This book provides a political analysis of RHC policy, tracking how neo-liberal and purportedly, women-centered reproductive health discourses are positioned against each other.
In the run-up the fourth World Social Forum held in Mumbai, India in January 2004, civil activists and student organised a major series of seminars in Delhi University to discuss the Forum and its politics. The 'Open Space' seminar series, as it came to be called, picked up on the idea of the Forum as a relatively free space, where all kinds of ideas could not meet and be discussed. The book, the first in a series that explore the new ideas generated by the discusssions took place on all these issues, comprises chapters based on the transcripts of presentation made by academics and activists during the seminars, as well as discussions on the questions arising from the presentation. Can the World Social Forum helps us to conceptualise and actualise a new politics? Can this new politics? Can this new politics be free from violence? Can the experience and knowledge of great movements such as the movements for environment, and the women's movement, contribute to the creation of a new politics? How can such a politics be sustained? The essays in this book, written in an easy and accessible style, are informed by these question. they offer the reader different and complex ways of understanding the processes that have helped to shape the world social forum and the new politics that seems to be emerging, and what all this represents, for life, society, and politics more generally.
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