The essays collected here represent a variety of contemporary writings about gender, culture and society in South Asia, pertinent in the present context of a growing sectarian fundamentalism. The writers are all participants in debates about feminist epistemology ; the growing grassroots democratic movements ; the challenges and pitfalls of globalization ; women's intellectual property rights as well as the articulation of alternative strategies for current legal and social problems. The works included in this volume allow for a number of different themes, viewpoints, methodologies to emerge. The book is divided into five sections namely - Theory, Praxis and History ; Thematic issues with relation to Religion, Law, Secularism, and the Placement of women in Trade Unions and in Organisations ; Regional Representations ; Self Representations and Identity Politics ; Postscript. The Contributors to the volume are Flavia Agnes, Sara Ahmed, Barbara Watson Andaya, Videsha Bagchi, Aparna Basu, Gillian Castellino, Shivani Banerjee Chakravorty, Vinitha Jayasinghe, Bernadette Joseph, Nalini Kasynathan, Ratna Kapur, Lashvinder Kaur, Madhu Kishwar, Helen Lay, Gitiara Nasreen, Indira J. Parikh, Santi Rozario, Seemanthini Niranjana, Tanika Sarkar, Nayana Shah, Renuka Sharma, Olga Valladares, Fareeha Zafar.
Renuka Sharma. Has worked within India, in the area of health provision for women with various NGO's and established the South Asian Women's Studies and Support Group in the diaspora as well as provide consultancy for a wide range of Immigrant Women's Groups. She has published in the areas of feminist studies especially Asian . Gender studies, psychoanalysis and health issues for women. She currently teaches Asian Gender Studies at Monash University, Australia.
The essays collected here represent a variety of contemporary writings about gender, culture and society in South Asia, pertinenent in the present context of a growing sectarian fundamentalism. The authors are all participants in debates about feminist epistemology; the growing grassroots democratic movements; the challenges and pitfalls of globalization; women's intellectual property rights as well as the articulation of alternative strategies for current legal and social problems. This then is what I feel is the Other Revolution, a chipping away of hegemonic, monolithic traditional and or western perspectives.
In returning to an examination of identity politics hinging on an examination of race, gender and nationalisms needed analysis of and democratic strategies may emerge for the reframing of difference be that in the form of constitutional laws, family laws, nation-states and the implications of these changes for the lives of women as subjects but also as agents of change. In moving away from the nihilism of choice reflected in the first 40 years of identity politics, this return I believe, reflects the dissatisfaction with staid dichotomies to the space occupied by the middle ground. Here, where the issues are not so clearly demarcated, the phenomenon of different lived experiences points to the need for not exclusivisms but generative options to issues faced by grassroots non-governmental organizations on the debates broadly around human rights.
This collection began with dissatisfaction with existing perspectives within the history of feminisms. Over the period of time of working with the perspectives in this volume, post identity politics have emerged. Yet the return to identity politics often reflects an incompleteness of the original analysis as redefinitions continue to emerge to remind us of the lost aporias of various kinds. Thus it seems fair to say that the trajectories of identity and post identity politics mingle, co-inform and are not discontinuous strategies of analysis. Stratagems of knowledge co-inform i.e. the groundedness of citizenship and nationalisms debates on geographical identities exists with other kinds of needs such as to transform narrow boundaries towards global 'hybrid' ideologies. This also leads to the deconstruction of traditional episteme as well as the creation of new liberating episteme; a reaching back as well as a reaching forth. No essential structures can be prescribed. Thus no hegemonic constructs are prescribed, no attempt is made to create a fetish of difference; only reflections on gender, aspects of democracy and identity can be glimpsed in this collection of essays.
The works included here allow for a number of different themes, viewpoints, methodologies to emerge. Five main thematic sections have been arbitrarily constructed however, the articles may be read also in a regional and geographical historical sequence as outlined later in the first chapter. This historical introduction hopes to elucidate geographical timelines in contrast to the thematic organization of the chapters presented in the general introduction. The hope is that the two frameworks provide different perspectives that complement each other and provide referents of another sort to the same material.
The initial section focuses on the history of action and formation of the feminist movements in this region. Basu addresses some of the historical aspects of the women's movement in India at inception. Although the movement can be thought to be a historical and predates the founding of the All India Women's Conference, this nonetheless was a decisive point in time for both the nationalist and current women's movement. Likewise Zafar highlights developments in post-partition Pakistan. The issues of constitution and personal laws are brought into sharp focus on the subject of gender and Islamic Laws. Jayasinghe and Nasreen address more contemporary changes on women's issues in relation to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The presence of the UN in relation to Sri Lanka and the increasing incidence of the use of the veil in Bangladesh at the present time act as a signifier of other global changes.
The second section examines thematic issues in relation to law, religion, secularism, organizations and organizational change. These themes point to the relevance of activist concerns in non-western contexts to the articulation of feminist methodologies. This section intersects 'with the previous section highlighting the different sorts of processes present at any one historical point of time. Time then can be viewed from any one of the these contexts or together to allow for a very different reading of history, place and context. Textualisation of events plays with linear referents to produce complexities that deny simple causal explanations. Feminist epistemology and methodology while placing gender centerstage has implications for a number of other disciplines, such as cultural studies, a genre while promising much remains elusive and runs the risk of essentializing difference as well as for more traditional disciplines, such as history.
However, feminist epistemology devoid of non western representations remains class and region bound. Andaya in examining The Changing Religious Role of Women in Premodern South East Asia, allows for a premodern tradition to emerge into foreground as well the impact of the Diaspora South Asian religions on Southeast Asia. Limited historical research on the pre-nineteenth century makes this work exceptional in the attempt to re-examine her story from a broader perspective than the hitherto anthropological frameworks have allowed for. The interplay between religion, ritual and sexuality during this time period perhaps lead to a diminished sense of authority and power by women in traditional settings but this was certainly not a static or a generalizable norm. In the general paucity of literature on premodern traditions, this paper acts as a signpost to what further examinations of premodern traditions may bring to the area of identity politics and beyond.
Kapur's work on legal literacy again re-affirms the theme of activism by academics. In taking the ivory tower of a historically patriarchal institution, such as law, to the grassroots women's communities in a pertinent and relevant way reveals this as a possible strategy of empowerment. In an issues sensitive approach to legal literacy, three examples of workshop situations are discussed. Firstly, within the purview of a developmental aid organization in the bastis; followed by a workshop within the frames of a governmental organization and finally within a feminist organization. The analysis of context proves as necessary as analysis of process; each organization with widely different goals and structures towards literacy indicating a need for a, 'flexible approach to legal literacy.' The continuum between the understanding of rights both within and without the court structures, literacy, and the issues of traditional law and court processes are addressed in a pragmatic framework. This overall scheme of literacy takes away some of the felt nihilism within the feminist circles in relation to the monolithic nature of the debate on personal laws at the present times. Although many of the articles in this book touch on the issues to do with personal laws, law as a separate field to other disciplines within the social sciences as a potential legal and power discourse on identity and culture has been slow to emerge.
Agnes discusses the theoretical framework that emerged from her engagement during and following the Bombay riots. She provides a much needed historical appraisal of the place of the women's movement as distinct to the increasingly communal nationalist frameworks in India at the present times. The distinctions between the fundamentalist call for a uniform civil law and the feminist review of family laws stem from different epistemological directions, yet the appropriation of a call for universalization of family laws by the BJP in this instance against the minority Muslim population, fuelled into dire consequences for the minority Muslim party and called into question Hindu secularity. The institution of Hindu notions of conjugality leads into an opposition of a group with significantly different ideals of marriage. Following the Shah Bano case the ease of political point scoring by fundamentalist parties on issues of cultural and political difference, has implications for the Indian feminist movements' recognition of difference within its own ranks.
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