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Divergent Stakes in Feminism


Rekha Pappu

GENDER & CASTE: ISSUES IN CONTEMPORARY INDIAN FEMINISM
Edited by Anupama Rao Series Editor: Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
Kali for Women in association with The Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 377, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 1 January 2004

Gender & Caste is a significant contribution to the ongoing efforts at understanding the imbrications of caste related issues with other political concerns. It represents the first attempt at bringing together essays that are exploring the critical interconnections between caste and gender. And precisely for that reason it is striking that this anthology on caste is the first in the series “Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism” edited by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and published by Kali for Women in association with the Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi. Emphasizing the contemporary importance of the subject, the editor Anupama Rao notes in her introduction to the book that the dalit understanding of feminism carries with it a potential to reframe the “mainstream” understanding of feminism. According to her, “Dalitbahujan feminists have gone further than merely arguing that Indian feminism is incomplete and exclusive. Rather they are suggesting that we rethink the genealogy of Indian feminism in order to engage meaningfully with dalit women’s “difference” from the ideal subjects of feminist politics” (p.2)   The 24 essays collected into the book are ones that have appeared in print earlier either as responses to certain incidents, or as pamphlets, newspaper articles, theoretical explorations, book reviews, as argument strands within anthologies or monographs. These are grouped into five themes: ‘Dalit Women, Difference and Dalit Women’s Movements,’ ‘Voice, Literature,’ ‘History and Anthropology,’ ‘Violence and Sexuality’ and ‘Land & Labour.’ Read together these essays provide an insight both into the historical process as well as the present provocations by which the dalit woman has become a recognizable political identity. To my mind this is the most important function of the book. As noteworthy is the fact that the anthology includes essays which while retaining the focus on the dalit woman, pay attention to the positioning of the upper caste women in the larger societal structures of patriarchy and the caste system. The introductory essay as well as the ones by Susie Tharu, Sharmila Rege and Uma Chakravarti for instance explore the different implications that space, desire, politics and reforms have for the upper caste women on the one hand and for the dalit women on the other. These studies are significant in a context in which “caste” is usually understood as lower caste. Such an equation has the effect of ignoring the simultaneously differentiated and connected nature of the social and political space occupied by women of the upper ...


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