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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.
This chapter from The History of Doing focuses on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when social reform movements in India were beginning to show results and women were becoming more visibly present in the public sphere. Kumar provides a thematic history of the women’s movement before independence, beginning with focusing on the 1889 session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay where ten women delegates attended the assembly for the first time.
Using photographs and a wide variety of print sources from books to newspapers, Kumar looks at how women’s issues were raised and how women were involved in addressing these. Prostitution was one of the first such issues, referred to by the Indian National Congress at their 1888 session. The essay discusses at length the steps taken to regulate prostitution by the British in India and the level of support this received from reformers and moderate nationalists. The turn of the century saw a proliferation of homes for widows, with schemes to train widows as teachers. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal during this time period marked the beginning of women’s participation in national activities on a larger scale.
Kumar offers detailed portraits on the lives of some of the women involved in the above movements and reforms like Swarnakumari Debi, her daughter Sarala Debi Ghosal and Bhikaiji Cama. Kumar also observes that for some of these women, the bid for personal independence grew to be subsumed in a quest for national independence, but that they also returned to their homes without regret when the moment of crisis passed. A large number of the women written about in the essay were writers, both reformists and revolutionaries.
This essay puts forward a study, conducted across four states, that brings out the challenges faced by seventeen Dalit women when availing health services in government and private medical institutions. These accounts are placed next to interrelated and essential elements of the right to health, allowing the reader to understand the different forms of medical negligence faced by these women.
The essay shows that both private and public health-care systems position Dalit women at the periphery for reasons of caste, class, and gender. The narratives cover cases where women approached medical institutions with their ailments and also situations where medical practitioners coerced them into family planning operations. The authors note that these narratives are a telling comment on the way government medical state treats Dalit women patients in contrast to non-Dalit patients. The manifestations of the negligence faced by the former group include long waiting periods, indifferent verbal responses, rude verbal responses and refusal of treatment.
The authors argue that the negligence has had consequences on other spheres of these women’s lives: economic, psychological, and personal (their identities as Dalits and women), and this make them more vulnerable to discrimination. The conclusion of the essay shows the reader medical negligence from a systemic angle, by examining the social and political positions of the medical personnel, their value systems, geographical settings and underlying power equations.
Written by Farida Abdulla, this essay is a personal account of her experience in Kashmir—before, during and after the enforcement of centralized government rule over the area. Born and brought up in Kashmir, she reflects on the seething resentment of people treated like more border territory than citizens of the country.
Through the essay Adulla looks at ‘what’ instead of ‘why’; she does not delve into the historical context of the rule, but focuses on the effects of such a rule on the local population. By narrating two incidents strongly embedded in her mind, she attempts to show the complexity of the situation, and the pain and confusion of the people living there. Trapped between the government- sanctioned armed forces and the ideological militant resistors, Kashmiri people are often unable to distinguish between the two groups, and are in constant fear for their lives.
She raises questions about security and autonomy, especially in the case of women. While the struggle of women in India has been a long and arduous one, their status becomes even more unstable in a region fraught with suppression and violence. Female voices are either lost in the larger masculine struggle, or are subsumed in the singular narrative of rape and sexual abuse. Abdulla hopes for a safe space for people divided by religion and gender to resolve their conflicts and live in peace and dignity.
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.
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 'Kidnapping, Abduction, and Forced Incarceration', the authors examine, first, the various methods of kidnapping/abduction and forced incarceration—on the basis of a study of 47 narratives—and then analyze these forms of violence’s implications for Dalit women’s fundamental rights.
An examination of the relationship between kidnapping/abduction and forced incarceration, and violence concludes that non-state actors employ the method of forced incarceration to mete out punishment in the form of sexual and physical assault against Dalit women who do not conform to caste-class-gender hierarchies. An analysis of the study data, write the authors, shows that there are three broad categories of methods of kidnapping/abduction: the use of force, allurement through false promises, and other false allurements or ruses. Often, more than one method is utilized; throughout these categories, verbally coercive tactics (like threats) were used to further intimidate or torment the target.
The essay also notes that state actors, primarily the police, engage in their own forms of forced incarceration by the filing of false cases or the illegal detention of Dalit women. Unlike with non-state agents, the authority of a single police official, as a member of a dominant caste and as an agent of the state, is enough to successfully enforce an incarceration. This, the authors assert, shows the ascendency of caste norms over the rules of law.
The physical isolation and restriction from dominant caste male-dominated public spaces re-emphasizes and compounds the caste-class-gender-based social exclusion and vulnerability to violence that Dalit women face, argue the authors. Kidnapping/abduction and forced incarceration are used to both degrade Dalit women’s identity and to mould a collective negative identity fashioned along inequitable caste-class-gender parameters, conclude the authors. Kidnapping, Abduction, and Forced Incarceration thus highlights how these forms of violence negate their agency and reinforce notions of passive submission to exploitation and violence at the hands of the dominant caste.
In Suki, fabulist Suniti Namjoshi weaves a delightful tapestry from threads of longing, loss, memory, metaphor, and contemplation. The whole picture is a stunning evocation of the love and friendship shared between S and her Super Cat, Suki, a lilac Burmese. Suki suggests that she could be a goddess, and S her high priestess. S declines, but as they discuss the merits of vegetarianism, or the meaning of happiness, or morality, or just daily life, it soon becomes clear that the bond between them is a deep and complex one. The days of Suki's life are figured as leaves, which fall vividly but irrevocably into time's stream and are recollected with a wild tenderness by the grieving S, who learns through the disciplines of meditation how to lose what is most loved.
This beautiful narrative, both memoir and elegy, offers solace and celebration to everyone who has felt the trust that passes between a person and a beloved creature.
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.
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.
Uma Chakravarti’s introduction to Fault Lines of History: The India Papers 2 uses a brief history of protest in the north-eastern states of India to illustrate the contract between the state, the army and the rule of law. Detailing the spread of AFSPA as a result and a feature of this contract, Chakravarti points to particular building blocks in the story of resistance in the area — the case of Manorama, Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike, the naked protest by imas in Manipur among others — and castigates mainstream state theorists’ neglect of AFSPA’s existence and growing application as a tool of oppressive state-building. She explains how the postcolonial state’s painting of AFSPA and militarisation, and the accompanying conflicts, as ‘states of exception’ is key to the contract, which is characterised by the tension between the rule of law and the state’s avowal of sovereign emergency.
The chapter provides a valuable cross-section of the volume, summarising each author’s argument while drawing connections between them and larger themes of impunity, militarisation, conflict, revolution, state (un)accountability, ‘security’ and feminist scholarship. She interweaves material on militarised regions in the north-east of India, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh with work on caste-based structures of violence built on and around Dalit bodies, as well as on stripping and parading of women’s bodies as ritual humiliation, to highlight the implications of an aberrant state wielding its impunity as a precise and wide-ranging weapon.
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.
This magnificent, sprawling novel, a classic of Hindi literature, spans almost an entire century in the lives of several families and generations of Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims. As it opens, Lalli, in her seventh month of pregnancy, is preparing to leave for her married home for the traditional curd ceremony. The constellation of planets is right and the moment is auspicious; it must not be lost. But even as her family prepares for her departure, there is fear in their hearts: storm clouds darken the sky and there is news of political disturbances in the city. Between them, the midwife, Khurshid, and Rehman, the tongawalla, ensure that Lalli is safely brought to her destination, and even that the pots of curd are undisturbed.
As the story unfolds, the ties between Kashmir’s close-knit communities slowly begin to unravel. The politics of religion, and religious identity, take centre stage and begin to spread their insidious poison in people’s lives. At the end of the novel Lalli, now a grandmother, sees a world in which the much-loved Kashmiriyat, a shared and intermeshed heritage, seems little more than a distant memory. A passionate cry for a lost legacy, Chandrakanta’s magnum opus, winner of both the prestigious Vyas Samman and the Mahatma Gandhi Sahitya Samman, is a must-read for those interested in the story and history of Kashmir.
CHANDRAKANTA is one of India’s foremost Hindi writers, with over 50 books to her credit. Her work has been translated into many languages. The English translation of her novel, Ailan Gali Zinda Hai (A Street in Srinagar) was published by Zubaan and shortlisted for the DSC award for literature in 2011. Among Chandrakanta’s many other awards are the prestigious Vyas Samman (2005) and the Mahatama Gandhi Sahitya Samman (2011) as well as the Subramanya Bharathi award.
RANJANA KAUL teaches literature at the University of Delhi and translates from Hindi to English when she can find the time.
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.
Narrated in the intimate anger of a young woman's journal-keeping voice, this novel explores the politics of sex and class through the lives of women compelled to live their lives in the seclusion of the inner courtyard or aangan. Set in the thirties India, Inner Courtyard is the story of a dystopic home where the battles of the world are played out. Based on the interiority of women's lives it explores realpolitik through the personal and political affiliations of one family.
The 73rd Amendment (1992) to India’s constitution has not only given rural local governments (Panchayati Raj institutions) constitutional status, but has also ensured that marginalized sections of society such as backward classes and women have reservations in these bodies. The amendment has helped facilitate the entry of rural women in the public sphere. However, the visibility and presence of women in rural politics has been met with a lot of backlash. In this essay, Mayaram uses qualitative data from her fieldwork in Rajasthan to highlight the ‘new modes of violence’ that elected women representatives face.
The essay details the different forms of violence that elected women are subjected too, like physical violence, forced stripping, and verbal abuse. Dalit women face dual stigmatization on grounds of caste and gender. Mayaram’s essay demonstrates how caste politics, the police, and patriarchy form a nexus to protect the perpetrators.
According to Mayaram, there is an urgent need to recognize this backlash and the hindering impact it can have on women’s development. She believes that institutional reform is needed so that implementing agencies like the bureaucracy are sufficiently sensitized to women’s issues, and that structures of support should be created for elected women. Her essay is thus a testament to the fact that having ‘good’ legislation isn’t enough—ground realities have to be taken into account as well to ensure that policies can function effectively.
First published in Marathi in 1966, this unique novella in free verse tells an age-old story: that of a woman’s deep desire to be a mother
Setting out life as a game in which the moves are predetermined, and yet where rules exist only to be twisted, perhaps negotiated, sometimes even changed, Anuradha Vaidya deftly engages the reader in a sort of play, suggesting a joining of the dots, a connecting of line endings that lead the reader deeper into the story.
As the story traces a relationship that begins with unquestioning love that, over time, transforms into tension and distance, the reader is encouraged to linger, or jump back and forth across stanzas and lines, to navigate, interpret, and savour the beauty of the expression, both in the turn of phrase and the coinage of new words.
The sheer beauty of the almost allegorical imagery of life as a game played on the worldly board by people who are actually pawns, marks every page of this poetic narrative.
Sahba Husain, in her capacity as a consultant with Oxfam, worked in Kashmir at a time when the conflict was already 15 years old. This essay discusses her experiences as a part of the Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project, where her task was to examine the psychological impact of violence on people's lives as well as the echoes of such violence. It brings to the forefront the increasing rates of psychological disorders and cases of suicide, and the utter paucity of resources for dealing with the deteriorating mental health situation in the region. The essay’s observations on trauma and health stem from the author's empirical study of the population of Kashmir, for whom life has been rendered uncertain. Husain explores how faced with loss, suffering and prolonged stress, women in the region have become susceptible to depression and anxiety too, but often cannot seek treatment due to social constraints. By capturing certain experiences of the people, the essay evokes the drastic transition that has taken place in their lives after militancy and has left Kashmir in the dark. The refrain of fear that is pervasive in the region only affirms that no one, irrespective of age, gender or class, has escaped the massive impact that militancy and the AFSPA have had. Husain's piece is a reflective one as she discusses the challenges she faced during her work, which were integral to her subsequent disillusionment with the Indian state . Her essay, too, shatters a certain monolithic image of Kashmir and sheds light on the psychological trauma and health issues that people from the Valley face. It is, finally, a reminder of the patience, endurance and strength that women have displayed in their desire for justice, and above all, peace.
'HIV and Women in the Northeast' explores the feminization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the northeastern states of India. Shyamala Shiveshwarkar illustrates the reason behind the growing epidemic in the Northeast—that the virus has been extending its reach with high-risk sub populations like injected drug users (IDUs) as well as making inroads with the general population—and focuses on how it is impacting women detrimentally. The region has seen the HIV/AIDS epidemic primarily driven by IDUs; states are combating the double dilemma of drugs and AIDS. Transmission of the virus from IDUs to spouses, sexual partners and children has also been established, which has led to statistical increases in sero-positivity. Given that the “Northeast” is a homogenizing misnomer, the author uses tracking mechanisms to outline how differences in socio-economic and anthropological dynamics contribute to different prevalence rates and changes in infected populations over time.
Shiveshwarkar establishes and elaborates on the critical linkages between drugs, violence, and gender inequalities at the individual, family, and societal levels to establish women’s increasing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. She asserts that regardless of whether they are affected or infected, women are being forced to take on a greater share of the socio-economic and psychological burdens of stigma and discrimination, violence, caring for the sick and providing for their families. Many women, including young girls who are forced to drop out of school, are made to work to cover the medical expenses of sick spouses or to repay debts. The author takes care to outline the intersection of these vulnerabilities with the political insurgency in these states and explores the problems with existing treatment and care of HIV/AIDS—focusing primarily on its inadequacy and male-centricism, which severely limits women’s access to prevention and care
In her conclusion, Shiveshwarkar, insists on the need to recognize that accessibility is a web of socio-economic, cultural and physical geographical factors: for women, the presence of services alone is insufficient. The author argues that what is needed is holistic reform which includes addressing the drug problem in these states, demanding state-sponsored medical interventions and gender sensitive medical environments.
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
In which an uncast ballot precipitates social embarrassment and recalls a past love, a young housewife finds her kitchen plagued by unabashed canoodling in the flat next door, an aspiring novelist tries to forget near-manslaughter, a schoolgirl discovers the travails of depilation, and, in a locked room, two medieval noblewomen recount the amorous avowals of a young soldier.
There’s also the small matter of a dead camel lying unattended on the streets of Delhi.
These twelve stories explore the unsaid, the unfinished and the misunderstood, the shocks and nuances of love and sexuality, responsibility and ambition, and our tentative attempts to peel away the layers of stories that make up our lives.
“Beautifully precise writing. These stories capture people with such exactitude that you know they must come from a serious student of life. But this is one of those serious books at which you never stop laughing, for Parvati Sharma’s sense of the world is lively, generous and wickedly original.”
— Rana Dasgupta, author of Solo
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