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Gods That Failed

Jasodhara Bagchi

By Devaki Jain . Foreword by Amartya Sen
Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2005, pp. 230, price not stated.

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

In his Foreword Professor Amartya Sen has rightly celebrated Devaki Jain’s refusal to take up the theme of her book in a minimalist framework of a tedious chronological regurgitation of what Charles Dickens would call ‘facts, facts and facts’. Instead, we have been offered a rich narrative of development, a history of women’s movement worldwide, its dreams, challenges and fissures, bringing alive a distant policy-making body like the United Nations, jiving with development refracted through the world’s women. The task, as Professor Sen points out, was an onerous one and one, moreover, made more so by the stringent standards set by the author herself. The issues were never allowed to be oversimplified, nor did the massive amount of primary data uncovered permitted to clog the flow of the argument. The expectations of readability raised in the Foreword is not allowed to flag for a moment.   The author has used her vast expertise in the area to the best of advantages. This has got interestingly translated in the way the sixty-year trajectory has been mapped.The Introduction tries to capture an overview of the terrain, without, if I may say so, spoiling the sense of discovery that each successive slot has in store for us. Jain’s early years of apprenticeship in Ruskin College and St. Anne’s College in Oxford and the experience of working with Gunar Myrdal got reflected in her organization of the first twenty years of the UN as a hard battle for inscribing equality between men and women into the agenda of the United Nations. What has emerged as an issue of interest to me is the way women’s claims over equality, as her entitlements in the entire developmental process have been made to meet the reverse process, viz. equality’s claims over women’s equitable share in the developmental process. The dialogic nature of this negotiation, however imperfect the dialogue might have been, has made the narrative etched by Devaki Jain so compelling. A global organization built on the ruins of a World War that had to steer through one after another of independent nation states born out of the ashes of colonial states, had a long way to go before women could emerge as a distinct category Devaki Jain’s sure-footed traversing of the bumpy terrain lays bare, what she herself, rather dramatically calls ‘A new constituency in UN politics ...

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