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Patriarchy And Forbidden Love

Nilanjana Ray

By Aparna Bandopadhyay
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2016, pp. 303, Rs. 1095.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

Aparna Bandopadhay’s book creates a narrative out of the heartrending journey of desire and defiance that women in colonial Bengal went through for daring to assert the aspirations of their hearts. Caught between a patriarchal society and a patriarchal state, it shows in detail how classic patriarchy excludes and punishes women who challenge its control over their sexuality. The chapter ‘Quest for Legitimacy’ recounts the instances when women from kulin Hindu and Brahmo families asserted their right to choose their life partners. The Hindu ideal of marriage was a non-consensual marriage at a pre-pubertal age. Although the Brahmos accepted the concept of mutual consent, they too imposed restrictions of caste endogamy, Brahmo endogamy, regional endogamy, and obtaining the approval of the families. Any choice that did not meet with these criteria was considered transgressive. Young kulin women, haunted by the spectre of lifelong spinsterhood or marriage to a polygamous older man and subsequent early widowhood, married men who were not vetted by their families. Such acts of daring by the kulin women obliterated all contact with their natal families. Brahmo couples, on the other hand, sought legitimacy for their relationship. However, marrying by declaring non-affiliation to any religion (Special Marriage Act of 1872), marrying across regions and even across religious lines were transgressions that met with resistance to granting legitimacy. Marriage became a public issue and the decision of legitimacy was made by the larger society and not just the family. The chapter, ‘Novels and the poison of Love’ illustrates how the reformist intelligentsia sought to transform middle class wives into bhadramahilas through censoring their access to popular culture and creating a ‘reading list’ for the newly educated women that would teach them moral values and virtues desirable for nation building. However, women subverted this hegemonic agenda by reading novels, an imported genre of literature from the West based on individual’s emotions and romantic love. Although the novels written by the male authors consciously de-eroticized the literary style and always ended on a note of conformism, the genre itself was built around the romantic heroine. Some of these novels also explored ideas of love by widows, unmarried young girls and wives, thus heightening the fear among the intelligentsia that western [lack of] morality was entering their andarmahal. While they were successful in banishing indigenous popular culture and artistes from the urban space, the dominant culture collaboration between the colonial ...

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