Lecture abstract

Kamal R. Adhikary kradhikary at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Tue Mar 10 00:16:53 UTC 1998

Dear colleagues:
        An absract of the talk "Reading and Writing Indian Women: the Last
50 Years",
        by Geraldine Forbes, given at the South Asian Seminar at Asian
Studies, UT Austin is given below.  The abstract is also posted at:


                                        Reading and Writing Indian Women:
the Last 50 Years

Geraldine Forbes,

      The focus of this paper is the changing scholarship about Indian
women since independence. Key aspects of this dynamic scholarship are 1)
living women are its principal subjects, 2) newly discovered sources
provide its material, and 3) the reformulation of basic questions sets the
      The period 1947-97 is divided into three periods, each illustrated by
a few representative works. The works selected for each period are analyzed
in terms of how they defined women, their relationship to traditional
disciplines, and the questions they deemed most relevant. Each set of works
is examined in relation to the context that framed it as well as its
relationship to more general reinterpretations of South Asian history.

  Synthesizing the Past and Assessing the Present, 1947 - 1969
      This period was characterized by books on prominent nationalist women
and synthetic works that surveyed history and commented on women's position
in the new Indian state. Although old-fashioned in many ways, these studies
mark the beginning of scholarship on women which placed women and gender
questions at the center of the analysis and interrogated records in new

  Critiquing the Present and Excavating the Past, 1970 - 1985
      This period was dominated by Toward Equality: the Report of the
Committee on the Status of Women in India. The first systematic effort to
question what constitutional guarantees of equality and justice actually
meant to women, Toward Equality dramatically altered the study of women and
gender in India. In addition to the studies commissioned for the report,
this period witnessed the publication of a number of interdisciplinary
anthologies with articles challenging conventional assumptions about women
and their history.

          This was also a period of discovery and institution building.
Historians discovered rich sources for writing women's history and worked
to preserve them. Throughout India universities used UGC grants to set up
institutes or units to carry out research on

      The energy and dynamism generated by Toward Equality was put on hold
during the Emergency only to re-emerge in the early 1980s as a full-blown
feminism movement supported and nurtured by academic women. By the end of
this period India had a number of women's studies programs, a feminist
press, and a feminist magazine. Challenging Categories, Reassessing
Colonialism, and Revisiting the 'Third World Woman': 1986- 1997

      This last period witnessed a significant shift in terms of redefining
Indian history within a post-colonial framework, working gender into the
meta-narrative, and developing theoretical perspectives. Innovative work in
the discipline of history set the tone for a reconsideration of the past.
During this period a number of anthologies and books of women's writings
were published.

      Meanwhile, Subaltern Studies presented a significant challenge to
elitist colonialist, nationalist, and Marxist historiography though they
largely ignored women and gender until the ninth (1996) volume. In this
last volume a way of recovering the subaltern woman's history is finally

      This period was again one of synthetic works in history and the
social sciences.
      The talk concludes with a look at dominant trends in India and the
USA. In India, Women's Studies programs are engaged in professionalization
while many women academics feel challenged to respond to hindutva.  In the
USA  post-modernism has  left its mark and current studies pay attention to
discourse, symbols and representation, the diaspora, and transnationalism.
In this new work gender is central and authors are motivated to make
contributions to theory.
      Has the scholarship on women and gender in India changed the fields
of Indian History and/or of Women's Studies? The field of Indian history
has been only marginally affected. Women's Studies scholars remain in the
grip of the downtrodden 'Third world' woman paradigm, and unless they are
area specialists, pay little attention to new research on Indian women.



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