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Esther Syiem's essay traces the paradoxical nature of women’s status in Khasi matrilineal society. At once empowered and oppressed, Khasi women learn to negotiate these contradictions in their day-to-day engagements with society. Matriliny, for example, is often seen as empowering for women: this, combined with more egalitarian tribal traditions and culture, has given Khasi women greater visibility and mobility and has helped to build solidarities among them.
Despite being both visible and vocal, like their sisters across the country Khasi women too face a skewed sex ratio, a lack of reproductive choices, widespread domestic violence and a host of other issues. The author suggests that these contradictions are better understood by looking at the origin of the Khasis, a time when, because men went to war and often did not return for long periods, women were designated as keepers of the family name and of social values. These became their domain. While inheritance passed through them, much decision-making power in public spaces, particularly in the field of politics, stayed in the hands of men. Although culturally and legally, for example, there is no bar to Khasi women participating in politics or standing for elections, but by and large, despite being ‘empowered’ in other spheres, women tend to stay out.
With the breaking down of the relative isolation of tribal cultures in India, and with more women stepping out of their homes and seeking jobs, change has begun to seep into Khasi lives and transform old relationships and equations. Pointing to this as an important development, the author pleads for Khasi society, and Khasi men in particular, to be open to this change, and to embrace it without limiting the agency of women.
This essay puts forward a series of accounts centred around the different manifestations of sexual violence in the lives of Dalit women. Unlike in the legal world, in these accounts lines between methods of assault and degrees of injury emerge blurred, and many of them remain unreported or have otherwise not been disclosed by the survivors.
Exposing the vulnerability of Dalit women to both gender-based exploitation and caste-based violence, the essay investigates the threats that follow the women into their homes, their workplace, and the streets. It also looks at the ways in which the survivors’ voice is silenced, time and again, by the authority of the ruling caste. Covering the many different structures that enable and even perpetuate such violence, the essay focuses in particular on the jogini system that legitimises prostitution even as it creates a circle of exploitation and social discrimination. This leads to an analysis not only of the incidents and functions of sexual violence, but also of the consequences that have to be borne by the survivors alone.
The authors explore different kinds of exploitative structures to identify ways in which they hamper women's claims over their bodily integrity, dignity and privacy. They show how the upper-caste discourse of a Dalit woman's sexual availability, along with the impunity for sexual crimes committed against them, is dangerous on multiple levels. It is the study of the contributing factors to this discourse, coupled with the functions and social effects of this particular kind of sexual violence, that the essay concerns itself with.
Often cited as the most militarised zone in the world, the Kashmiri landscape is full of contradictory narratives. This essay intervenes in this crossfire of accounts in order to investigate the voices of survivors of sexual violence in the region.
This essay illustrates how sexual violence in the context of Kashmir takes on another layer of meaning as a deliberate strategy employed by the armed forces. It targets both women and men and has a bearing on their daily lives that are subsumed under the shadow of militancy. The events of Kunan Poshpora and Shopian, then, are only a few out of many incidents which speak volumes about the lack of accountability and the culture of silence in the terrain.
As a researcher and activist, Sahba Husain looks at the turning points in the narrative of sexual violence in the region and its emergence out of the margins. Much of the analysis in the essay also stems from personal accounts of survivors who have different allegiances and religious backgrounds, which has affected them differently and has allowed the author to delve deeper into their varied experiences. The aftermath of sexual violence and the challenges it poses in a patriarchal society, especially in the anxiety-ridden conflict zone, broaden the scope of engagement with the very notion of this kind of violence. The essay examines these concerns, as it initiates a move towards a more inclusive and incisive way of thinking about impunity and silenced narratives in the Valley.
With the Indo-Naga peace negotiations going into their twentieth year and no concrete resolution in sight, the area stands witness to many dying hopes. In this chapter, Dolly Kikon takes an insider's view to re-contextualise incidents of violence in the conflict-ridden terrain of Nagaland. The essay is a product of on-field research and experiences as it analyses the social and legal consequences of sexual violence that exist in the area. It is a singular analysis of Naga society, in that it tracks the different spaces that a survivor of such violence must operate in as it delves into the power relations that characterise each one. It is in this context that the story of one such survivor, called Beth, emerges. Beth's account speaks about the emergence of a culture of impunity that is embedded in the social relationships of Naga society. By locating violence inside the home, the essay investigates these relationships as well as the processes through which such impunity has become an obstacle for women's rights and justice. The area of focus is the Naga woman and her experiences of occupying a space that is fraught with conflict and sexual abuse. This figure is studied as an often-neglected survivor of cultural violence, whose voice is constantly suppressed by the masculine gaze, be it of the insurgent elements or the state armed forces. The essay is replete with real-life experiences and accounts, as it studies the forms of masculinity and suppression that have become pervasive in conflict zones where over the years violence has become naturalised beyond belief.
Samita Sen’s essay traces the history of the Indian Women’s Movement from the 1920s to the present day. The chronological as well as thematic logic of the essay follows three primary heads: a historical background, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) controversy, and the political implications of the reservation for women in legislatures.
The historical background highlights four critical issues: the tensions and fractures within the women’s movement, how these fractures were related to the mediated relationship between women and the conception of their ownership by the nation-state, how the differences amongst women could be managed or transcended to create a political community to which women will want to belong, as opposed to being shunted into it, and finally, the issue of women’s agency in politics.
The discussion on the UCC becomes an example of how the community and communal politics are deeply implicated in the politicization of personal laws, and how the rise of nationalism and the politicization of the ‘private’ familial domain placed personal laws at the centre of the colonial-nationalist conflict. The initial consensus amongst the women’s movement for reforming the gender discrimination in personal laws broke down by the time the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced. This also marked a shift in focus from demanding legislation from the state to a greater participation of women in state affairs.
For Sen, a new feminist politics has to address struggles of class, caste, community, religion et al, without displacing gender as the central concern, making this essay one of crucial importance for understanding the origins of the issues facing feminist politics today.
Two prominent protests in Manipur by women in recent years, one an individual one and the other a collective one, have brought to national attention the brutalities committed by the armed forces on ordinary citizens under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
This essay highlights what those protests mean for peace in Manipur, and how women have played a critical role in exposing the impunity with which human rights are violated under the exceptional circumstances created by the AFSPA. It also questions the unethical nature of militarization and the patriarchal nature of the State.
Broadly containing two segments, it gives a background to Irom Sharmila’s protests and her reasons for choosing hunger strike as her method of protest. The discourse of conscience and Satyagraha that Sharmila evokes is brought out through interviews. This is followed by an analysis of the 2004 public disrobing by the Meira Paibis, in protest against the rape and murder of a young woman by the personnel of the Assam Rifles.
The essay shows the inversions brought about by both protests via a comparison between Irom Sharmila’s prolonged hunger strike against an exceptionally violent law, and the Indian Army Rape Us protests by the Meira Paibis. Both challenge the division between the public and the private, holding the state publicly accountable for atrocities committed in private. Food and clothing, one a biological necessity and the other an important social norm, are given up by the protestors. According to Mehrotra, this shows the power of the human body generally, and the female body particularly, to formulate and transmit subversive messages. She finds that underlying the protests is a common thread of rebuilding Manipur out of all the chaos.
A qualitative as well as quantitative ethnography of 500 Dalit women who had been subjected to verbal, sexual and physical violence by men of the dominant castes, this essay starts as a narrative of individual Dalit women and moves towards an analysis of the reasons for the kinds of responses these women received when they tried to seek justice.
The essence of the essay’s argument is that despite the existence of adequate legal measures, Dalit women still face insurmountable obstacles while getting those measures implemented, assuming of course that they know that what has been perpetrated against them is legally actionable.
Typically, the responses to such violence include the women not seeking legal remedies in the first place; women getting blocked at the community level (by perpetrators, by the dominant caste community, by dominant caste Panchayats, by their own families, or by Dalit panchayats) from accessing legal remedies; women receiving some informal, inadequate form of justice by NGOs or panchayats; and women getting blocked by the police from accessing legal remedies.
The author finds that state impunity, dominant caste impunity and the collusion between the two is the central reason for Dalit women not being able to receive the formal redress that they ought to. To that effect, the author suggests that challenging this impunity will be the primary task of organizations seeking Dalit women’s empowerment.
Chakravarti’s essay counters the claim that in the pre-colonial period, a ‘fixed’ Hindu law didn’t exist because of multiple caste laws, by arguing instead that even those separate caste laws were bound by a broader rational framework, enforced as such by the Peshwai.
Chakravarti analyses the three legal issues of widow remarriage, conjugality and the age of consent to explore how the colonial laws affected women; the relationship between the caste panchayat and the larger legal culture of the second half of the nineteenth century, and whether the textual law was more or less repressive than customary law.
Women came under the purview of the colonial law because of a weakening of the caste panchayats, and the new British administration gave men a choice of forum through which to enforce patriarchy.
They were also brought under the colonial state through criminal cases against them, such as those for prostitution and abortion. The colonial state was able to do this effectively because the patriarchal Indian community also had the same goals. Despite the inherently patriarchal nature of colonial laws, women also sought the system out for cases of adoption and rights over their parents’ property.
The essay also points to how cultural nationalism unified ‘Hindus’, placing a Brahmanical patriarchal notion of womanhood instead of caste and regional differences, raising important questions about the relationship among the colonial state, law, family, caste panchayats and gender in the nineteenth century.
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.
Imelda Connor is a classic Irish lass—a fiery, red-headed beauty, quick to anger and fiercely protective of her younger siblings. Growing up on a small farm in the rolling hills of County Cork, she thinks she has her life completely mapped out. But Imelda soon finds that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Everything is turned upside-down when Imelda moves to England and happens to meet a dashing Bengali man named Shu Bose. Shu is captivated by Imelda’s natural beauty and charm, and the two embark on a whirlwind romance. At the age of eighteen, in the spring of 1932, Imelda boards a ship bound for Calcutta—and a very different life to the one she had always imagined.
Milty Bose’s writing transports readers back to pre-Independence India, to London between the wars, and to the genteel life of bhadralok Bengali high society. From Cork to Calcutta tells the true story of Bose’s parents, their eccentric and unforgettable family, the trauma of loss, and the triumph of one woman’s remarkable spirit.
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.
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