This book has taken me nearly two years to write, but it was much longer gestating within me. At an intellectual, theoretical level, it is an attempt to analyse my sense of unease all through my growing years and, later, my time at university abroad, when feminist literature and the women's liberation movement were suddenly all around me.
At another, more fundamental, level this book is the culmination of innumerable experiences, personal and observed, as a woman in India, of responses, of moments long-felt need to contextualize all these different states of being in a disciplined manner. I had talked about them, agonized over them read papers, published pieces in newspapers and journals, but had only vaguely considered that the search going on at the back of my mind could develop into an obsessive study.
It was David Davidar who first flung down the gauntlet. 'Write an Indian counterpart to The Female Eunuch,' he said over a helf-hour coffee meeting! The more I thought about it, the more attractive his proposition seemed. It was challenging in a very basic way, because in spite of the growing literature on women's issues in India, the fact remained that we still lacked a text that had the compelling power to 'let the people think' (as Russell said in a very different context). In the manner The Female Eunuch had done.
Moreover, I was not even sure I wanted to merely produce an Indian Female Eunuch. Typing to do so would have negated my conviction that something different was needed. It was time we had a book on feminism in India, which would interest average readers (the kind who would normally avoid anything with a vaguely feminist slant) because its terms of reference were close to their own. These, developed for the most part through language such as men do speak, called for a slightly divergent mode from the brilliant polemics of Greer's book.
David's faith in the ultimate soundness of my thesis encouraged me to move on from my first impassioned synopsis to a framework which best encompassed my study. Handicapped as I my by my lack of Sanskrit, I have had to rely heavily for my references on authorized translation and commentaries.
I realize that the pedant would see this as reason enough to dismiss this book outright. But the pedant would, in any case, not be sensitive to how my ignorance of Sanskrit itself proves a basic point in my argument, viz. that received ideas frequently acquire the status of unshakeable truths for the vast majority which, for various reasons, has no access to the original sources. This is all too clear in our socio-cultural practices and in our attitude to women.
While my use of sources may appear haphazard, there's method in my seeming madness. My purpose was not to attempt a comprehensive analysis-sociological or otherwise-of gender-operations in India. Personal experiences and observations form the nucleus of the book's raison d'etre. These are contextualized as far as seemed possible, and necessary, in order to understand better the consciousness. I have argued in the book that tradition and individualism are two of the primary distinguishing features of the Indian and Western world-views, and that these differing outlooks would colour and contour any feminist agenda.
My references to various sources in the Indian sociocultural past reinforce my stand with respect to the hold tradition has over our present. These sources have seeped into the complex lives of cross-cultural factors and influenced the general overview of gender irrespective of differences in religion. Therefore, while my historical references are overwhelmingly 'Hindu', their contemporary relevance is pan-Indian in that they affect the general attitudes and prejudices confronting Indian women as a whole.
I am grateful to Professor Sindhu Dange of the Sanskrit Department at Bombay University for the untiring patience with which she guided me to various sources, and shared the fruits of her own research with me, though I must qualify this by adding that the conclusions drawn and the opinions expressed in this study are my own. They are largely independent of her scholarly but differing world-outlook, both in their stances and in the logic of their selectiveness.
Dr. S. D. Karnik, Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University, recognized the importance and validity of my study and graciously allowed me to take off for a five-months' stay at Northwestern University, Evanston, USA. Mr. R. M. Lala of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust needed hardly any persuasion that my cause was worthy of a grant-in-aid. His generous gift helped me meet part of my horrendous travel expenses.
It was at Northwestern (1992) that I was able to complete a substantial part of my first draft. My research their helped develop a valuable comparative context for Indian and Western feminism, and made me aware of much crucial literature that our libraries could never have provided.
My time as Visiting Scholar in the English Department at Northwestern (kindly arranged by Professor Chris Herbert) made it possible for me to interact with several people engaged in research in the two areas which most concerned me: post-colonialism and women's studies. Of these I must make special mention of Professor Arlene Kaplan Daniels, Director of the Women's Studies Center, and Francoise Lionnet of the Department of French and Comparative Literature, both of whom enriched my stay through their warmth and professional interest in my work. Arlene made her vast library accessible to me and was herself a source of much useful information, while Franoise's own work in the area of post-colonial studies made our discussions particularly meaningful.
At a personal level, Evanston means a great deal to me, chiefly because of the many individuals who sustained my faith in myself-Ellie Harries, Virginia Rosenberg, Joyce Ibers, Neela Deshmukh and Ashok Kakkar being only a few of them. Though away from home, my siblings Vikram and Veena Nabar, through their many telephone calls and letters. Kept alive the process of family caring and sharing which has always been so important to me.
I remember with affection and gratitude the zeal of colleagues and friends in India who so enthusiastically helped me with source-material of different kinds: Shireen Vakil, Nilufer Bharucha, S. Varalakshmi, and Nasreen Fazalbhoy. To my brother-in-law Suren Navlakha I owe many enlightening hours of rigorous scrutiny and unsparing argument, while Mary Bernard, Lygia Mathews and Roabin Mazumdar have given the word 'friendship' a wholly new dimension.
The three individuals who gave me my essential 'feminist' bearings are, alas, no longer alive: my parents Govind and Mira Nabar, and my maternal grandmother, K. Sundari Bhat. I can only inadequately acknowledge my debt to them, as to my husband Sumit Bhaduri who has kept his promise to 'tread softly' on my dreams, and has supported me through some of my worst crises. Finally, I hope that this book, when published, will help my daughter Suranjana to understand my priorities and obsessions a little better. For my part, her 'Oof, Ma, is not your book finished yet? Was more of an incentive to push on than anything else could have been during the more difficult phases of my writing it.!
From the Jacket:
Where does the contemporary Indian woman stand today? In what manner does she reflect the influences, insidious and overt, of cultural and historical conditioning? Is there such a thing as a 'typical' Indian woman? If so, what are her centres of conflict and harmony? What is the present day reality in terms of progress, the break-up of the joint family, the role of the woman as a wage-earner? Does she find herself leading a life of contradictions?
The issues dealt with in this illuminating book are those that connect female awareness and its struggle against part patriarchy with specific Indian situations and problems. Indian religious texts and shastras are used to reinforce the argument that gender in many ways has become a curious equalizer with respect to Indian women even though the conventional caste-structure continues to dominate social operations.
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