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Looking Back: A Critique Of Colonized Patriarchy

Trina Nileena Banerjee

By Dipannita Dutta
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 368, Rs. 895.00


Dipannita Dutta’s book Ashapurna Devi and Feminist Consciousness in Bengal: A Bio-Critical Reading comes at a time when debates concerning possible trajectories of feminist politics and activism in India have critically intensified. Along with growing reports of incidents of sexual violence, there appears to have been a steady rise in misogynistic hate speech and systematic brutality towards women. In sev­eral cases, an almost-methodical aggression appears to be aimed at those women who appear to have crossed patriarchal lines by asserting their right to sexual and financial independence. Such violence appears to be intended as punishment for women or girls who have become too big for their boots in the eyes of their community. Hindu Right-Wing views of what constitutes ‘ideal Indian womanhood’ have, in recent times, gained a popular currency that would have been un­imaginable even a decade earlier. In instances of rape, domestic abuse, as well as sexual harassment, ‘victim-blaming’ seems to have become a norm across the board. In the most recent instance of conservative patriarchal backlash against the growing clarity of women’s demands for dignity and freedom, the Minister of State for Home Affairs has declared in Parliament that the concept of marital rape cannot be legitimately applied to the Indian context, since marriage is con­sidered sacred in India. We can, of course, expect more fascinating revelations of the same kind in the days to come, since the last nails on the ‘progressive’ coffin are yet to be hammered into place. Consequently, where the benevolence and openness to reform of entrenched patriarchies (when left to their own devices) cannot be taken for granted, it becomes critically important to ask questions about the relationship that women’s move­ments of the future can or should have to institutions like the ‘traditional’ Hindu fam­ily. In such a scenario, the task of feminist scholarship, when it attempts to look back at the work of feminist literary pioneers of the last century, becomes doubly critical. Such a work potentially places before us the narrative of a difficult time, where we may discern a nascent feminist consciousness and the first difficult, tentative steps taken by women writers towards artistic autonomy. Dutta begins her work declaring her intent to understand the unique nature of ‘Indian feminism’ and tracing it back to the times of the anti-colonial struggle, when men and women fought together against imperialist oppression. Dutta ...

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