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Empowerment Consciousness

Kanchana Natarjan

Edited by Meena Kelkar and Deepti Gangavane
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2003, pp. 254, Rs. 500.00


Feminism in Search of an Identity is the outcome of a University of Pune research project in the newly emerging discipline of feminist studies in India. In the book’s foreword, Professor Sharad Deshpande of the university’s Department of Philosophy reminds us that it is “devoted to a dialogue with the Indian tradition in its manifold appearance with the objective of searching for theoretical possibilities available within the tradition itself that may serve as a new vantage point in the struggle for the empowerment of women.”  The editors confirm this in the introduction, by cautioning the reader about the imposition of “non-indigenous concepts and  frameworks on the studies of problems of empowerment of women in India”.   The first essay, ‘Identity, Freedom, and Empowerment: Some Theoretical Reflections’, asserts that if we can view identities as conventional descriptions based on ontological resemblances, they do not become rigid and determinate like essences, for “they can be remoulded in the changing contexts of needs”.  In the case of female identity, Kelkar and Gangavane claim that ontological resemblances have a biological root.  Gender identity, they argue, cannot be separated from the biological one. What is to be rejected is gender hierarchy, which is a social construct. The authors define freedom as “a state of mind wherein one can doubt and question everything and therefore it is so intense, active and vigorous that it throws away every form of dependence, slavery and acceptance”. But the authors suddenly shift from concepts of social/external freedom to the concept of a mental space where it becomes possible to emancipate oneself from the bondage of all thought constructs. At this level, the realized self transcends gendered identity as male or female. This leap from social freedom to absolute moksha is difficult for both men and women. The question is, whether a woman is even free enough to try and achieve it.       Sucheta Paranjpe’s ‘Position and Role of Women in Rgveda’ does not contain a single bibliographic reference, and the text itself is studded with glaring mistakes such as “Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi dialogue in the Chandogya Upanisad” (p.47), instead of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad. Paranjape’s inclination to revel in the mythic past is demonstrated via sweeping assertions such as “the position of the women in Rgvedic times is enviable”, “society tried to be just and fair to the women”, women had “two major qualities…self-confidence and self-respect”, “scores of hymns (...

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