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Indian Women...A Study In Sepia

Kalyani Menon-Sen

Edited by Devaki Jain and C.P. Sujaya
Publication Division, 2015, pp. 235, Rs. 335.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

This collection of essays edited by two eminent Indian women brings together contributions from some of the best known and most respected scholars and activists in the country. It is the second edition—coming three decades after the first—of a collection of essays that is described as a precursor to the ‘Towards Equality’ report. Surely a book that will endure as a benchmark in the field of women’s studies, to be quoted and cited for many years to come. All of the essays in this book are substantive and thoughtful, as is only to be expected from authors of this eminence. The book opens with Romila Thapar’s magisterial reflection on women’s position in ancient India, and moves on to a compilation of official data on the current ‘gender scenario’; reviews of women’s situation with respect to some key issues (legal rights, education, political participation), and reflective pieces on the situations of particular categories of women (Dalit women, Muslim women, Malayali women). There is a piece of almostfiction (a description of a day in the life of an ageing upper-caste woman in a Tamilnadu village). Bringing up the rear is a statistical profile highlighting changes in indicators of women’s status since the 1980s. What is the thread that knits these essays together, apart from the obvious one of their all having to do with Indian women? Why have they been sequenced in this particular way? What is the conceptual framework that underpins them? What do the editors think about these issues and the positions taken by the authors? The introduction, which is usually where the answers to such questions can be found, is strangely tepid. Instead of the forceful opinions one looks for from Devaki Jain and C.P. Sujaya, we have the kind of inane pronouncements that would be more at home in a govenment report than a volume of feminist writings: ‘While there is progress for many, success is still very distant for all women’ and ‘while all women are not homogenous and uniform yet there are running threads that bind them together’ and ‘it has been a long journey for all Indian women to walk through many new paths and learn many new lessons.’ The introduction does little more than string together the supposed highlights of each chapter, but these are often framed in terms that the authors themselves might have difficulty ...

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