Research Project by: Prof. Etienne Rassendren PhD:
Abstract: Executive Summary
Of UGC Minor Project under Plan XI
Completed April 2012
GENDER AND NATION: “INDIA” AND ITS CULTURAL NARRITIVES AND DISCOURSES
Etienne Rassendren PhD
Department of English
St Joseph’s College (Autonomous)
Ref No: MRP (H)-756/09-10/KABA044/UGC-SWRO-
The idea of nation is most certainly interwoven with questions of gender in the Indian context. Some thinkers in fact argue that the nation of India, in its form and structure, is dependent on differing processes of gendering emanating from a highly unequal sexual-politics, located within a simultaneously discriminatory gendered cultural-politics. Others argue that such a perspective is deeply reductive and tautological as a wide variety of other totalizing practices such as caste, class and sometimes ethnicity (read race) are equally responsible for the rather hierarchically situated nation that has emerged after colonialism. Yet others claim that it is the project of colonialism, with its ideological uses of indigenous categories of discrimination, namely those of caste, religion, language and region that reformulate a peculiar convergence of discriminatory forces to bear on gender, which in its turn produces a comprador cultural politics to mark and structure the emergent nation. However what I wish to argue here is that a variety of discriminatory practices that include the cultural specifics of caste and class, the peculiar politics and sociology of religion and culture converge on processes of gendering in the contemporary Indian context in order to shape and construct the idea of nation in India. This includes, I argue numerous ideological mobilizations, such as caste-wars, class-conflict, communal discord and right-wing majoritarianism, which serve to formulate differing gendering practices to produce, sustain, and renew the Indian nation. It is visible in this context that the state, the accompanying long-arm of the idea of the Indian nation, often supports by its absence—and sometimes by its helplessness—the unequal arrangements emerging out of a highly diverse project of continued gender discrimination in the nation’s cultural politics. Despite its sometimes salutary contributions to stem the cruelty and violence on women, the oppressed in caste and class and the minorities in the nation, the state has been unsympathetically hesitant and spectacularly disenabling, because of its own limitations, although its abilities to intervene has always been an eminent cultural-political possibility. Yet human rights groups, women’s organizations, civil-society groups and social service sectors (under government or otherwise) have no doubt returned to the state for some reprieve, possible remediation and for the enactment of justice; they do so particularly to restore communal harmony, seek after justice for sexual violence, both domestic and public and for equal treatment in the context of unjust practices against women and subalternised communities. This then has been the project of resistance that the gendered in a society have waged against its oppressing patriarchal elite, its insensitive maleness and masculinity and its deliberate marginalization of suppressed, dalit and subaltern communities.
This study is divided into eight chapters each of which engages a certain set of question related to how gender converges upon nation. This first chapter titled “Gender and Nation: An Introduction” is followed by the next titled “Contemporary Debates in Post-colonial Studies” in which I study the contemporary critiques on Post-colonialism. Since the subject of my exegesis relates to nations and nationalisms, an engagement with theories of postcoloniality appears relevant, if not essential. The notion that post-colonial theory is irrelevant appears too hurried as some of the feminist questions are situated in our understanding of anti-colonial resistance. Hence I argue in that chapter, that despite its many failings some feminists including Jasbir Jain, Rekha Papu and Gayatri Spivak and certainly not forgetting, Chandra Mohanty Talpade, continue to use Post-colonial theories to produce “situated knowledges”, that raise questions for new analytics, particularly regarding” Language, Antiquity and Fatherhood”; which only appropriately translates into semiotics, history and gender.
The third chapter titled “Intellectuals, the Nation and the Public Sphere: Gandhi and Ambedkar” revisits the caste debates in order show the intellectual fabric from which the nation was born. It also attempts to comment on the nature of caste-politics and its implications for national culture.
The fourth chapter is titled “Draupadi and Other Stories” where I attempt to track the travel of one of India’s cultural icons, particularly in literary and cultural narrative. I argue how the trope of figuring out the nation enforces inscribing the body of woman from her representations in the puranas to her presence in Mahasweta Devi’s stories. I also attempt to expose how the puranic nation is reinstalled in contemporary narrative of nation through the figure of the gendered woman.
The fifth chapter titled “Re-Membering Women: Notes on Sexual Violence in the Contemporary Indian Context” explores the violence in Godhra 2002 and attempts to demonstrate how the specific case of communal violence in the name of nationalism is invested with sexual violence on the bodies of enemy-women.
The sixth chapter titled “Invisibilising Women: Globalization and its Impact” explores the discourse of globalization as it affects women particularly women farmers’ suicides. It also attempts to demonstrate the absence of the state in the political economy of current society. Even globalization, I argue, rests on the gendering processes of society and lives off the labour of women and produces a specific kind of cultural economy based on gender.
The seventh chapter titled “Gender and Subalternity: The Uses of Autobiography” attempts to explore how despite the modern nation, the cultural-politics of contemporary India remains heavily marked by caste and its convergence on gender. I use the autobiographies of dalit women in order to demonstrate the failings of caste society. I also explain why ‘Dalit women speak differently’
The last chapter is titled “Masculinising India: Framing Gender Questions Differently” attempts to conclude by raising questions concerning the frames of reference by which we have been undertaking a critique of patriarchy, male ideology and national culture. We also witness differing modes of masculinisation particularly in the context of communal violence where women support violence on enemy women or protect men undertaking sexual violence on enemy women. I argue here that one needs to engage less the question of women and more the issue of masculinity; I also explain the interwoven nature of caste, class, gender and community in the nation today.