The construct of the rural woman is vitally significant for the centrality of the village in the Indian literary canon. The concentration of the Indian English feminist canon on the urban-centric metropolitan discourse to the marginalization of native, subaltern voices and traditions from varying geographical and culture sites in the national state in terms of caste, class, religion and gender posits the need to relocate the marginalized rural centre and reclaim and reinvent the rural woman’s images in the backdrop of the polemic of representation and pedagogy, on the one hand, and the nuanced multi-layered, multi-faced and multi-dimensional embedded caste and class structure, on the other. In this study Dimri examines the image of rural woman and her representation in eight novels of kamala Markandaya and Arundhati Roy (English), Maitreye Pushpa (Hindi), Ashapurna Devi (Bengali), Indira Goswami (Assamese), M.K. Indira (Kannada) and Dalip Kaur Tiwana (Punjabi). The focus in this study is not so much on tracing a line of normative fictional image, but more on the exploration of new tropes and trajectories in the nation state.
The construction, popularization, memorization hierachisation and omission of any social or culture-specific image has never been an innocent act, and is by and large, determined by the paradigms of dominance and subordination in patriarchy, the culture priorities of a community, and at the larger level by the social and political agency. Representation is currently a much debated issue in all discourse postcolonial, feminist, subaltern as well as culture studies. The focus in this study is not so much on the stereotyped representation of rural woman, but on the varying modes of acceptance and resistance, and shifts in point of view. In the last few decades the feminist focus has distinctively shifted to theoretical analyses of gender, sexuality, race, nation and class wherein memory plays a decisive role. The author explore the role of rural woman as a catalyst in the formulation-reformulation and conceptualization-reconceptualisation of collective cultural memory.
Dr. Jaiwanti Dimri retired recently as professor of English from Himachal University, Shimla. She also taught in Nigeria (1982-83)and Bhutan (1997-99) under the Colombo Plan. A bilingual writer, translator and critic, she has numerous research paper in journals and major anthologies, short stories and eight books in Hindi and English to her credit. She completed a major UGC project on the representation of tribal in fiction and films in 2006. Some of her publications are Drukpa Mystique: Bhutan in Twenty First Century (2004), two novels in Hindi ‘Surju Kei Naam’ (2006) and ‘Pinddaan’ (2012) and Sahastra Netradhari Nayak (2009), a translated work. This work is the product of her fellowship at the IIAS, Shimla.
The construct of the rural women is of vital significance for the centrality of the ‘village’ in the Indian literary canon. In any study of the Indian women rural, urban or any subaltern group—the nuanced framework of the Indian society needs to be kept in mind. “Western stereotypes and generalization about Indian women are based on inadequate knowledge and class structure (India has a large middle class alongside a wealthy class and considerable poverty), regional context ( women’s status and opportunity for education vary markedly within India ), and India’s vibrant feminist organization ( working on health issues and violence against women, primarily )” ( Riessman 119-139 ). The ambivalence is not delimited to class structure but is equally true of the hierarchies of caste, gender and religion.
Class structure in fact is not the only but one of the defining coordinates of Indian social structure. In fact the image of a women in the social and literary canon is impacted by various other factor such as the patriarchal structure Brahminical or feudal—the caste stratification, gender binaries and locale. Culture and regional factor are pivotal in shaping the status and position of women in various rural areas of India. “ The changing position of Indian women [ in this context the rural woman ] has many facts and generalization is impossible because of the existence of considerable variation among classes and finally among different religious, ethic and caste group while in certain context, the Indian sub-continent is a single culture region, in many other it is heuristically more rewarding to look upon it as a congress of micro-regions, differences between which are crucial”.
To begin with, the ‘Indian Rural’ in general, and the rural woman in particular have been some of the most subalternised, debunked and retrogressive categories in the postcolonial and feminist discourse in the post-independence era. The concentration of the Indian English feminist canon on the urban-centric metropolitan discourse to the marginalization of native, subaltern voice and tradition from varying geographical and culture sites in changing familial and social context in terms of caste, class and gender posits the imperative need to reclaim the rural woman’s voice and image in their fiction. What postcolonial often fails to recognize is that what counts as “marginal in relation to the West has often been central and foundational to the non-West”.
Since the social construct of the village and the village woman are complementary t each other and cannot be examined in isolation, there is the imperative need to locate the village woman in a contextualized locale for the purpose of the investigation of her image and representation in the backdrop of the social, economic and culture variants. As Dirks has pointed out: “The power of colonial discourse was not that it created whole new meaning instantaneously but that it shifted old meaning slowly, sometimes imperceptively, through the colonial control of a whole range of institutions” (Dirks 75). Caste, tribe, religion and the village are some of the key institution to have acquired new signification in the colonial state.
Taking full cognizance of the facts that the Indian rural woman similar to any other construct of an urban or dalit Indian woman is not a monolithic entity, and the rural woman in the Indian literary canon—dominants as well as the feminist—is located on the image of rural women and their representation in eight women-authored novels, two of which are written in English and the remaining six in five regional language –Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi and Kannada. These are Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve (1945), Ashapurna Devi’s Pratham Pratishruti (1968, trans. The first promise,2004), Maitreyi Pushpa’s Idannamam—this is not Mine (1994) and Chaak—The Potter’s Wheel (1997) in Hindi, Indira Goswami’s Une Knowa Howda (1998, trans. A Saga of South Kamrup, 1993), M.T. Indira’s Kannada novel Phaniyamma (1976, trans. Eponymously in 1989) and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). Such a study is per missed on what Fanon calls the “need to realize the ‘Truths of the Nation’ in the backdrop of the systematized polarization of village as a geographical, social and culture site”.
Acclaimed at national and international level these selected novels are central not only to the feminist but also to the dominant canon for their representation of the rural woman suggestive of new tropes and trajectories in the nation state. Realising fully the politics of representation and the polemics of subjectivity, the selection of these novels is foregrounded on their serious engagement with the feminist issues of identity, subjectivity, sexuality and resistance in a regional, localized context, on the one hand, and secondly for their localized focus on the women of caste, class and gender.
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