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History of Dissent and Conflict

Prathama Banerjee

Edited by Bharati Ray
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xlix 622, Rs. 1950.00


Women of India is an important volume, not only because as editor Bharati Ray has to gathered in one place essays by almost all the important gender studies scholars in India, but also because it seeks to put into one text all the imaginable aspects of the history of women in modern India. The collection is part (vol. IX, part 3) of a larger project on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture of Indian Civilisation, coordinated by D.P. Chattopadhyay, a project that has already produced a large body of work seeking to chronologically and comprehensively describe all that there is to know about Indian history, culture, knowledge-systems and religions. Placed within this oeuvre, the book under review acquires a kind of a larger claim to representativeness, which readers of the volume must necessarily engage with.   A few preliminary remarks on this. The very fact that such a volume takes the form of a collection of many texts rather than one continuous narrative is important. It shows that from the perspective of gender studies, there could be no illusion of a civilizational totality—though civilization is a term central to the larger project of which the volume is a part—that could seek to encapsulate women’s history in India. For the history of women, if anything, has been a history of dissent and conflict, especially over so-called civilizational terms and claims. Bharati Ray’s introduction too makes no attempt to weave the various essays into any one structure, or even argument, on ‘women of India’. Though one is left somewhat dissatisfied with the introduction, which works as merely a classificatory list of the essays to come, perhaps this was a deliberate editorial strategy—to refuse to give a false coherence to gender studies in the name of it all being about India and Indian ‘civilization’? Yet, the title of the volume speaks differently. The earlier volume on women in ancient and medieval times was called Women in India. The fact that the volume on women in modern times is called Women of India does seem to suggest that there is a presumption at work here—that with colonialism, gender politics get automatically imbricated in the nation. But is this not the precise point on which gender studies in India have been most vocal—that bringing gender to the centre-stage must necessarily proceed though a critique of the idea of nationalism ...

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