Gender and Cultural Identity in Colonial Orissa

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Item Code: NAG082
Author: Sachidananda mohanty
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788125034315
Pages: 184 (9 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 220 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

In recent years, academic publishing has unveiled the colonial history and regional formations in India. Regrettably, Orissa remains an area of darkness. A volume that examines the nineteenth-century cultural history of Orissa from the postcolonial angle by drawing primarily from literary sources has been largely absent. How is Orissa's identity defined during the Raj? This book focuses on issues such as feudalism and colonial modernity, language politics and the rhetoric of progress, westernization, nativity and border crossing. It brings the archive to centre stage and employs theoretical tools from the field of gender, translation and culture studies. We witness the intersections between memory and desire, colonial subjugations and postcolonial longings.

About the Author

Sachindananda Mohanty is professor and head, department of English university of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India. He is the recipient of several national and international awards including those from the British council, the Salzburg, the katha and also the Fulbright. He has to his credit seventeen books in English and oriya including understanding cultural exchange, literature and culture, travel writing and the empire, travel writing and colonialism, early women's writing in Orissa 1898-1950: Alost tradition his forthcoming publication is sri aurobindo: A contemporary reader.


In recent years, thanks to a number of theoretical, demographic, political and pedagogic factors, there is a welcome new look at the history of regional formations and community building in India. Problems of centre-state relationship in the post-independence period, manifest through once ubiquitous language riots and river-water disputes of the sixties and seventies (the latter casting their looming shadow till today), have been of interest traditionally to the students of federal politics and constitutional governance in India.

The emergence of the era of coalition politics and the continued spectre of a hung Parliament have brought regions and regional life radically centre stage today. Regional leaders, once regarded as powerful satraps, largely confined to their support base (a Biju Patnaik or a Pratap Singh Kairon) today play decisive roles as king-makers, or participate more often, in selfcoronating activities. Indian languages, once relegated to the backburner as 'mere vernaculars', have made a spectacular comeback today vis-a-vis the once more honorific or valorised 'National Press' (read English language press). Media headlines today grab attention no longer of the metropolitan centres, but of the life of provinces and small towns. Bhadrak and Bhatinda, Meerut and Muzzafarpur are constantly on the antenna of cable network, event managers and civil society. Research institutions and think tanks must turn inexorably to Kalinganagar and Raygada rather than Bhubaneswar or Mumbai. A new generation of social scientific research has put a seal of approval upon the region, both as the subject and object of enquiry.

This new shift in perspective has notably coincided with what has come to be known in literary-cultural studies as post- colonial theory and practice. Parallel to the 'empire writing back' phenomenon, new publications through such smaller but significant publishing houses such as Katha (Delhi) or D.C. Books (Kerala) have created space for significant writings from the margins. The Bengal school (my coinage) of historians and critics, such as Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Sumanta Banerjee, Sumit Sarkar and Dipesh Chakrabarty have unveiled aspects of narrative trajectories of colonial Bengal, hitherto unavailable to most Indians. Their work parallel and intersect with the theory of metropolitan critics such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and closer home, Harish Trivedi, Meenakshi Mukherjee and D.R. Nagaraj. However, despite these salutary developments, there is continued asymmetry and imbalance in the way we look at different regions. Newer understanding of states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Bengal have not been matched by equal attention paid to others such as Assam, Bihar and Orissa, for instance. The roots of the current crisis and neglect in many of these provinces perhaps lie in their colonial past. A retrieval of this history (or histories) therefore becomes an essential requisite for corrective action by policy makers and reformers. Orissa, in particular, has suffered immensely in political, economic and intellectual terms from this neglect. Interdisciplinary culture studies, here and abroad, may have illuminated our understanding of regional formations, but Orissa continues to be an exception. The state seems to plunge increasingly into a morass of apathy and despair.

A book devoted to unraveling the colonial history of Orissa therefore has a compelling rationale today. Academic/intellectual work of the kind that has made possible cutting edge scholarship elsewhere is regrettably lacking in the context of Orissa. The state was one of the first provinces to be created on the basis of language on 1 April 1936. Today, the Oriya language is relegated in state schools to those belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata. English has become a dominant marker of status? And finally, a book dedicated to gender and the cultural identity of Orissa has lessons for the making of the Indian nation.

Linguistically and culturally, Orissa has been a confluence of culture, ethnicity, and language groups. Located on the eastern seaboard of India, it is a meeting point between the north and the south. The Oriya language belongs to the eastern branch of the Indo-Aryan family which has been named 'Magadhi Prakrit' by the eminent Suniti Kumar Chatterjee. According to the linguist, D.P. Pattnaik, the Siddhpura and Maski edicts found in this area confirm that the organisation of the region known as Kalinga had begun before the reign of Ashoka. Oriya soon branched off as a separate language belonging to the eastern branch of the Indo- Aryan family. It may, therefore, be considered, as critic Panchanan Mohanty argues convincingly, as the elder sister of Assamese, Bengali and Maithili. Both Chatterjee and Pattnaik maintain that Oriya had become a developed and distinct language by 1000 A.D. The Bhubaneswar bilingual stone inscription, written both in Tamil and Oriya and inscribed in the twenty-second year of the reign of Narasimhadeva IV (1396 A.D.) suggests that Oriya had received royal patronage by that time. The language is also a product of a close interaction between the Indo-Aryan streams and the Dravidian or Munda languages. It is significant that Lord Jagannath is seen in the world of Oriya legends and folklore as a tribal god (all the legends associated with the deity suggest this) and a very strong Dravidian influence can be noticed not only in the vocabulary and structure of the Oriya language but also in its system. Thus, it may be safely said that the Oriya language and culture have a Dravidian substratum.

Four major dialects are spoken in Orissa. The so-called standard one is spoken in the districts of Cuttack, Puri, parts of Dhenkanal and Keonjhar. The western dialect is spoken in Sambalpur, Sundargah, Kalahandi and Bolangir. The southern dialect is used in the districts of Ganjam, Koraput and Bauda- Kandhamahal. And finally, the northern dialect is spoken in the districts of Balasore and Mayurbhanj.Although the early history of Orissa has many fascinating chapters in terms of language, culture (dance, drama, sculpture and architecture) and folklore, and these clearly contributed to the notion of an Oriya consciousness as reflected in common myths, legends and folklore it is undoubtedly the coming of the British to Orissa in 1803 after the arrival of the Afghans and Marathas, that led to the crystallisation of the Oriya identity.The present study attempts principally to unveil the cultural history of colonial Orissa. It is therefore important to bear in mind the factors that were responsible for the emergence of the Oriya-speaking community from the 16th century onwards. In an important study of dissent and protest movement in Orissa (1400-1700), critic Basanta Kumar Mallick concludes:,

Orissa was principally a tribal state and the process of state formation gradually developed with the expansion of Sanskritic culture, growth of land-grants to Brahmins, officials and temples. Simultaneously there was integration of the tribes and the features of tribal lives, instead of their being totally decimated, their assimilation and not their 'sustained displacement' was the hallmark of this process of integration. A new syncratic culture flourished with an ongoing exchange of the cultural traits between the 'Aryans' and 'tribals', in which the former dominated, but it could not succeed in displacing the latter altogether. In the new socio-political structure, the ruling chiefs of the local tribes were admitted as Kshetriyas, but the vast majority of their tribal kinsmen were degraded to the status of the Sudras. The Kshetriyaized members of the tribes fought and commanded the battles for the kingdom and defended the borders, while their Sudraized kinsmen supported the maintenance of the court circle (ie. priests, officials and soldiers) and the construction of gigantic royal temples of the Hindu Rajas with their agricultural surplus. In this way, the state formation was accomplished, the Sanskritic culture was spread over, and the king achieved his legitimate authority both inside and outside his kingdom. As Mallick has shown in his study, it is my contention in this book that literature and discursive practices play a pivotal and indeed decisive role in the engendering of identities. Literary sources reinforce, subvert or hybridise the collective self-image of a set of people. As Bishnu Mohapatra cogently argues while examining the Kanchi-Kaveri legend: Only by interrogating the totalizing dimension of a cultural identity can we have a better understanding of it, and second, that there is a better way of understanding identity by critically examining the underlying cognitive and ethical claims which are invariably lodged in and emanate from contradictory social locations. It is through the analysis of Kanchi-Kaveri that I explore the reasons for its flowering and its multiple invocations within a historical frame. While Mohapatra's position is amply confirmed in my study, it seems to me that we need to frame our arguments in a wider sociocultural context in order to determine the precise nature of identity formation in colonial Orissa. Several factors seem to impact on the making of the Oriya self-image in the 19thcentury. They include the advent of the printing press in the Serampore Mission for the printing of the Oriya Bible as well as the promotion of Christian and secular literature, the publication of the Utkal Deepika, the Great Famine of Orissa of 1866, the draconian 'Sunset Law' and the abolition of the Oriya zamindari system, the advent of the Brahmo Samaj, language politics, the campaign against widow remarriage, legal abolition of untouchability, struggle for national independence, female education, the trade union movement and the other movements for social, economic and spiritual emancipation.

Missionaries made a pivotal contribution to the shaping of the Oriya literary sensibility and the canon. Beginning with the Serampore Mission in Bengal (1800) evangelisation was largely carried out through the instrument of education. So decisive was the intervention of the missionaries in the printing of the Bible and the New Testament and promotion of literary genres such as the primers, novellas, travelogues, drama and biography that one can hardly underestimate their influence in the growth of modern Oriya language and literature. William Carey, Amos Sutton, Claudius Buchanan, among others, played an influential role in the culture of evangelisation in Orissa. The literary influence of the missionaries has been aptly summed up by Manjusri Dhall in her pioneering study: The first printing press was established at Cuttack by the British Baptist Missionaries of Orissa. Like the Serampore Mission Press and the press at Fort William College in Bengal, they worked for the development of early Oriya printing. Their work inspired indigenous scholarship and zeal. Subsequently it led to the work of the indigenous printing company in 1864, known as the Cuttack Printing Company .of when the Oriya language faced severe attack tram some Englishmen and ncn-Oriyas, it was saved only by the sustained efforts of the literary and linguistic works done by the printing press. Various socio-political and religious issues were discussed through publication and debated by the educated youth through different organizations. The literary awakening through these efforts encouraged unity amongst the Oriya speaking people under different administrative set-up of the British rulers. The formation of an independent state for the Oriyas was the result of such. a feeling that developed out of such circumstances. While missionaries played a decisive role in the formation of the Oriya literary identity, internal colonisation based on the primacy of the Bengali language helped determine the psyche of the emerging Oriya gentry. We see this manifest in some of the eminent nationalists who travelled to Kolkata for higher education. In Orissa too, many positions in schools were held by Bengalis. Madhusudan Das, the architect of modern Orissa, records this phenomenon in moving terms: I was the target. All my Bengali class comrades constantly fired their volley of sarcasm and insult. I was dressed in clothes which were the product of the village weaver. The English shirt had not then made its way to Orissa. I was dressed in what is called 'Mirjai'. The insult and scorn was my share in the daily life at school. .. I had long hair which was tied at the back. This they considered my sign of being a girl, not a boy. In Bengal at that time, short cropped hair was the fashion. One day one of my Bengali companions cut off my hair with a pair of scissors. Thus language politics in Eastern India in the late nineteenth century was a significant driving force for the emergence of regional consciousness in Orissa. It characterises the cultural milieu poets such as Radhanath Ray inherited as writers. The use of language for the acquisition of secular power gained a particular urgency during the colonial period in many parts of British India, though there were bound to be specific regional manifestations. In 1867, for instance, Deputy Magistrate Rangalal Bandopadhyaya spoke in public of the primacy of Bengali over Oriya. Likewise, well-known Bengali scholar Rajendralala Mitra who came to study the temples of Cuttack declared that there was no need to have a separate language for a mere 20 lakh Oriya population. In fact, Mitra argued that Orissa was doomed to remain backward so long as it had a separate language. Around this time Pandit Kanti Chandra Bhattacharya of Balasore Zilla School published a pamphlet entitled 'Oriya is not a Separate Language'. It was ironically left to the English scholar-administrator, John Beames, to defend the cause of Oriya in a special meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society in Calcutta, devoted to the topic 'The Relationship of Oriya to Other Aryan Languages'. Refuting the arguments of Rajendralal Mitra and Kanti Chandra Bhattacharya, Beames maintained that Oriya was in fact older than Bengali. It extended up to Medinipur in the north, Nagpur in the west and Telangana in the south.

As I point out in a later chapter of this book, the Bengali-Oriya language conflict, not surprisingly, had an economic origin. Bengalis who naturally wished to maintain their hegemony with the help of their language largely manned the echelons of Orissa's educational and administrative system. Many enlightened Bengalis themselves, as has already been pointed out, opposed such a policy. It is significant that many such individuals made a substantial contribution to progressive causes including that of the preservation of the Oriya language. The first novel in Oriya, Padmamali was, for instance, written by Umesh Chandra Sarkar, and the first school for girls in Orissa was started in 1871 by Abinash Chandra Chattopadhyaya, both Bengalis.

The middle half of the nineteenth century witnessed a crucial intersection of the Oriya language with the social and political imaginary of the Oriya-speaking people. Radhanath Ray (1848-1908), Fakir Mohan Senapati'? (1843-1918) and Madhusudan Rao (1853-1912) are generally recognised as the forefathers of modern literature in the Oriya. Of the three Fakir Mohan and Radhanath became pioneers of Oriya nationalism. Fakir Mohan identified economic, cultural and political factors responsible for the backwardness of Oriyas. He argued that through an effective use of prose fiction, drama and lyrics, one could popularise one's mother tongue. After all, he declared, 'the sudden rise to fame of Bengali is due to the novels of Bankim Chandra, the plays of Dinabandhu and the songs of the world-renowned Rabindranath. It is only recently that new scholarship from the social sciences has radically illuminated cultural aspects of colonial Orissa. Bidyut Mohanty's excellent study of the Great Famine of 1866 greatly contributes to our understanding of nineteenth-century Orissa.!" Her work shows us the many interesting ways in which economic events shape cultural identities.

The history of nationalist politics in Orissa is marked by two parallel drives that do not seem to converge until 1920. The quest for an independent linguistic cultural identity and the demand for a separate province do not get aligned with the broader anti -colonial movement spearheaded by the Indian National Congress.

Significantly, it is the enlightened feudatory chiefs and zamindars such as Baikunthanath De of Balasore, Kalipada Bandopadhyaya of Cuttack, Basudeva Sudhal Dev of Bamanda who led the drive for Oriya linguistic identity. Their politics was based on the principle of non-confrontation with the anti- colonial rule. Further, the Indian National Congress was then dominated by Bengalis unsympathetic to Oriya aspirations. Until 1905 not a single Oriya spoke at any Congress session although Baikunthanath De attended the session in 1886 a year after the formation of the Congress.

The immediate reason for the parting of the Oriyas from the parent body was the Madras session of the Congress in 1903 that passed a resolution stating that 'the Congress deprecates the separation of the district of the Ganjam and Vizagapatnam from the Madras Presidency'. This led to the formation of the Utkal Union Congress. It was only in 1920 that the UPCC (Utkal Provincial Congress Committee) was created. However, the conflict within the union itself between the old and the new had always persisted. In 1904 for instance, Gopabandhu Das and his friends had walked out of the Congress hall and written a letter to Madhusudan Das. The new group comprised others like Nilakantha Das, Godavarish Mishra, Anant Mishra, Harihara Das and others. By 1918, under the leadership of Gandhiji, the Congress leadership had found ways to coordinate anti-colonial movements in the different regions. In late 1919, a nationalist study circle called Bharati Mandir was started at Cuttack. It comprised members such as Harekrishna Mahtab, Nabakrishna Choudhury, Nityananda Kanungo, Bhagirathi Mahapatra and others. Soon the Nagpur session of the Congress in 1920 witnessed a reunion with the Oriya nationalists. It is the period from the British rule to the independence movement in Orissa that is covered by the present volume. The book is divided into two sections: gender and culture. Although somewhat overlapping, the sections focus on two distinct but related categories for analysis. Section one brings in a set of critical essays that define the Oriya identity during the colonial period from the perspective of gender. Similarly section two concentrates on identity formation through the study of culture in Orissa during the Raj.

The first chapter, 'Sisterhood in Colonial Orissa: Search for Identity Through Education' is an attempt to bridge 'a fractured literary-cultural history (of women in Orissa) by subjecting key literary texts of the late 19th century, including those of sympathetic male writers, to a closer study.

In the second chapter, I argue that Fakir Mohan's memorable tale 'Rebati' serves as a prototype for female education in Orissa and that Senapati's larger historical and socio-realistic interest in dramatising the unique conjunction of feudalism, colonialism and ethnicity in Orissa is vital to understanding the woman's question. We return to the woman question, albeit from the point of view of male discourse in the third chapter, 'The Virtuous Woman in the Ideal Home: Female Identity and the Conduct Book Tradition in Orissa'. We examine here Jagabandhu Singh's hugely successful Gruhalakshmi as an iconic text with a regressive agenda. This work, in the form of an 'advice for women' text, widely circulated, is contrasted here with the radical and forward-looking accounts by Oriya literary women.

We next move on to the fourth chapter entitled 'The Burden of Shakti'. It explores the question of female agency and literary creativity in Orissa. The desire of early women writers to strive against adverse circumstances was often achieved by embracing superior role models and icons such as Shakti for empowerment. They also learnt to carry inevitably its burden as well. We see the example of Oriya literary feminist Kuntala Kumari in Chapter Five. Poet, physician, activist, nationalist and social reformer, both in life and art, Kuntala sought empowerment for women. She straddled many worlds. Her, life full of heroism and tragedy' is unmatched by any other counterparts in Orissa. While her poems are redolent of lyrical ardour, her powerful essays affirm the truth of interfaith dialogue and multiple affiliations: linguistic, religious and communitarian.

Similarly, a study of the example of Oriya women in Chapter Six shows that Oriya literary women like Sailabala.'? Kuntala and Sarala Devi constantly eschewed exclusive categories in favour of 'border crossing' and multiple identities, sympathetic and fluid, an example that has contemporary relevance today. Through the invocation of insights from the domain of translation studies, we attempt a better understanding of the literary experience of Oriya women in Chapter Seven entitled 'Gender, Public Space and the Act of Translation'. In this essay, as a self-reflexive critic, I examine my role as a translator and a sympathetic middle-class male. In the process, I discover that these texts get more illuminated with a greater ideological appeal for the readers.

The discussion of female agency takes us to the life and times of probably the most acclaimed Oriya feminist, Sarala Devi. Radical thinker, activist, writer, freedom fighter and feminist, Sarala, I show in Chapter Eight, was far ahead of her own times. Her essay, 'The Rights of Women' is a manifesto of women's rights that reminds us of British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindications of the Rights of Women.

In Chapter Nine entitled 'Remapping Stylistic Boundaries: Translating Early Oriya Women's Literature', I revert to the earlier discussion of the translator as a cultural critic. The experience of translating these texts made me aware of the fact that the idiom, style and diction used by the early Oriya women writers was a conscious decision, integral to their novelistic and ideological intentions. A conscientious translator ought to constantly bear this in mind while trying to render the 'original' experience before the English-knowing world.

Chapter Ten brings in the question of education and social reforms in colonial Orissa by looking at the legacy of Sailabala Das. Like Kuntala and Sarala, Sailabala too was adept at constant border crossing. A powerful essayist, travel writer and autobiographer, Sailabala was born as a Bengali Christian and came to be domiciled in Orissa as the adopted daughter of Madhusudan Das, the architect of modern Utkal. She becomes an institution builder and clearly has played a pioneering role in fashioning out gender and regional identities in Orissa.

Chapter Eleven of section 2 opens with Fakir Mohan's study of the dialectic of language. Entitled 'Language Dialectic and Fakir Mohan's Rhetoric of Progress', it offers a study of the poignant tale, 'Daka Munshi' (The Postman) by the father of Oriya fiction, Fakir Mohan Senapati. This essay elucidates Fakir Mohan's attitude towards the introduction of the English language and preservation of indigenous knowledge systems in the late nineteenth century. Social villains, morally renegade and ethically reprehensible, are often shown, as in 'Daka Munshi', using the English language. Its secular and scientific role is seen here as violation of the private and public ethic, thereby critiquing the notion of progress. Continuing the cultural identity question, Chapter Twelve has the argument that Radhanath Ray's epic poem 'Usha' modeled after the Latin 'Atalanta's Race', is not an exercise in imitation of a foreign model as traditionally believed, but an attempt at the construction of the Oriya cultural consciousness.

A crucial marker for all identity formation is a pronounced linguistic affiliation of a given community. How does colonial modernity based on the hegemony of the English language impact on native/Oriya aspirations? Like Sarala Devi's role in consciousness raising for women, Fakir Mohan stands out for his lifelong commitment to the preservation and promotion of the Oriya language. In Chapter Thirteen, I discuss the extraordinary life of this celebrated novelist and the way he dealt with the questions of history and the working of historical forces such as nativity and modernity, anglicisation and westernisation in his fiction. Here we have lessons relevant to our own times where English has become part of global culture.

In Chapter Fourteen, 'English in Colonial Orissa: The Missionary Position', we explore the coming of the missionaries to eastern India and the many ways they are seen to shape the Oriya identity. I examine their mixed role in the spread of evangelisation and secular education, especially education for women. Missionary activity in the printing field, I suggest, had a vital bearing on the introduction of new genres and idiom in Oriya literature and contributed substantially to the shaping of the Oriya cultural consciousness.

Chapter Fifteen, that is, 'Travel, Railroad and the Southern Imaginary', is focused on an emerging genre, travel that has been traditionally treated as only a source of entertainment and leisure. In Shashibhushan Rath's Journey to South, we see the construction of the Oriya regional identity through the significant inclusion of a vital Southern imaginary. Chapter Sixteen connects the Oriya literary history with Shakespeare and the English literary tradition. 'Shakespeare in Orissa: Culture, Ideology and Translation Practice', examines the Oriya rendering of Shakespeare's Othello. In the acclaimed Oriya poet-critic, Mayadhar Mansingh's Oriya Othello, we see the working of ideology and translation practice. Although written in the post-independence period, this essay addresses many issues related to colonial Orissa.

These essays, based on neglected texts, together represent a set of cameos that attempt to capture history in action, an elusive category. They speak of identity through gender and language, of ethnicity and nativity, tradition and modernity, colonialism and postcolonialism while attempting a retrieval of Orissa's colonial past. A recovery of this past offers us a clue to understand Orissa's present identity. It holds a key to its future as well.


Author's Acknowledgementsvii
Section one: Gender
1.Sisterhood in colonial Orissa: search for identity through education17
2.Rebati and the woman question in Orissa28
3.The virtuous woman in the ideal home: female identity and the conduct book tradition in Orissa46
4.The burden of shakti: female agency and literary creativity in Orissa57
5.Kuntala kumari and early feminist rhetoric in Orissa64
6.Region, Female identity and border crossing: The case of colonial Orissa75
7.Gender, public space and the act of translation:early women's writing in Orissa82
8.Sarala devi and early literary feminism in Orissa90
9.Remapping stylistic boundaries: translatingearly oriya women's literature100
10.Education and social reform in colonial Orissa:the legacy of sailabala das107
Second two: culture
11.Language dialectic and fakir Mohan's rhetoric of progress119
12.Ovid in Orissa: translation and cultural representation in colonial India125
13.Autobiography as History: the case of fakir Mohan132
14.English in colonial Orissa: the missionary position145
15.Travel, railroad and the southern imaginary: an early travel narrative in eastern India151
16.Shakespeare in Orissa: culture, ideology and translation practice158
Select Bibliography168

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