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Professor Of Sociology Srila Roy On The Feminist Resistance In India And Intersectionality

  • IWB Post
  •  June 10, 2019

It is a given that feminism in India would be quite different from the feminist movements in the west as both regions have different social structures and norms. Early Indian feminism might not have been labelled as such because the issues being discussed were very different from the ones being discussed in the contemporary western feminist waves.

Maitrayee Chaudhuri writes in her paper titled ‘Feminism In India: The Tale And It’s Telling’, “that feminism was being debated, but differently, (…) such attempts at articulating difference were taking place in a context uninformed either by the language of difference or the more recent political legitimacy accorded to it… concepts which have ‘local habitation and name’ today and which slide spontaneously to the tip of the tongue and pen (‘gender construction, ’ ‘patriarchy’, ‘empowerment’, ‘complicity’, ‘co-option’) were couched in different labels a century ago.”

And as Vina Mazumdar states in her paper, ‘Emergence Of The Women’s Question In India And The Role Of Women’s Studies’, the feminist resistance in our country can be broadly categorized into five phases starting from the anti-colonial movements of the 19th century.

The anti-colonial and reform movements paved the way for women’s voices to be heard in that period. Most of the movements in that era were to imitate the west, that amongst other things frowned upon India’s treatment of widows, and treat women like the ‘Victorian ladies’ who were graceful and feminine.

The second phase began with political movements against the British rule in the early part of the 20th century when women also started to participate. The third phase was during and after India’s independence where women’s issues took a backseat amongst the turmoil India went through. The next phase began with the resurgence of feminism and women’s issues in the ’70s and ’80s and the last phase is the feminist resistances from the ’90s onwards to the situation currently, what with the #MeToo movement blowing up here and even more recently the #WomenMarch4Change, where women marched to highlight their opinions about the current political situation.

“Unlike Western feminism which was men vs women, Indian feminist movements always included men, not as allies, but as part of conjoint struggles for a broadly socialist vision of justice (I am thinking especially of the 70s-80s here),” says Srila Roy, who is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is also the author of ‘Remembering Revolution: Gender, Violence, and Subjectivity in India’ Naxalbari Movement’.

In a recent Twitter chat with IWB, she discusses the feminist resistance in our country, its definition, and the nature of its intersectionality.

The growth of the feminist movement in India

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog There are various ways to tell this story. You can tell it as a linear account, starting in anticolonial and reform mvs of the 19th C, moving to period of ‘quietism’ in the 50s, then resurgence of the 70s-80s, period of skepticism with the changes from liberalisation in 90s …

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Contp period of ‘new’ feminisms, esp. ‘minority’ ones by queer and dalit voices. Some would say this is a story of growth and expansion while others would say its a story of decline…

On what feminism means in India and the South Asian Region

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Definitions of ‘feminism’ change and are contested. ‘Indian’ feminists of a certain zamana would not even use the label of ‘feminism’ because it was associated with westernisation, colonialism, and elitism. remember that ‘our’ feminism arose out of anticolonial struggles…

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Today, I think feminists are not so concerned about the ‘western’ label; young people don’t seem to shy away from the label of feminist itself…

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog But ‘feminism’ is contested, and more so than ever before. We have recently seen many incidents where issues abt something else – sexual violence – have become contestations and conflicts about feminism itself, eg #TheList #Metooindia #India’sDaughter

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Not just gender! That’s another thing I want to say about ‘our’ feminism in India/South Asia- how it was always intersectional from the start, never arguing for gender justice on its own, outside of class, caste, state violence, religion …

On the nature of feminism in India

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog More than being ‘classist’, it has been casteist. Given its roots in socialist politics, there was, at least at the start, an awareness of class privilege and Indian feminists always prioritised poverty over other issues. This had certain contradictory implications…

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Feminist activism in India has been dominated by middle-class metropolitan voices, at the cost of voices of the many – rural, working class, dalit, indigenous …

On the resistance of the ‘invisible’ and ‘voiceless’ communities in India

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Like I said earlier, there is a lot to say that those we considered invisible/voiceless are claiming voice, space and changing our politics (like @dalitwomenfight and #TheList). But more can be done, of course, in occupied #Kashmir and the north east, around #adivasi feminisms

On the role of feminist resistance in our democracy

Srila Roy on Twitter

@indianwomenblog To ensure that women’s bodies are not used instrumentally for political gains; to ensure that women’s voices are not dismissed as #antinational; to constantly politicise gender/sexuality; to bring forward and expand issues of minority rights, resist state violence/occupation






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