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Panel 7. Women and Gender in South Asian Modernity: Vulnerabilities and Violence

Chair: Ulrika Andersson, Lund University, Anna Lindberg, Lund University, Nishi Mitra vom Berg, TISS

VENUE: Tornrummet, Akademiska Föreningen (AF), Sandgatan 2, Lund
 

Session 1: Femininity, Concepts and Notions

September 20, 2016 Time: 14.30-16.30 
Paper presenters: Soibam Haripriya, Rachna Chaudhary, EM Varughese, Sheba Saeed

 

Session 2: Contesting Practices and Negotiations

September 21, 2016 Time: 10.00 -12 .00
Paper presenters:Jillet, S Sam, Sunita Dhal, Nilima Srivastava and Linda Lane, Lalita Kaundinya Bashyal, Seema Arora-Jonsson, 

 

Session 3: Power, Violence and Conflict 

September 21, 2016 Time:15.30-17.30
Paper presenters: Mirna Guha, Lauren Wilks, Nishi Mitra vom Berg  

 

Concept Note:

There are momentous changes in geographies, economies, societies, law, politics, and popular culture that define gender and its expressions in modern day South Asia.  Globalization and resistance to these changes are one set of factors defining the women's movements in the region. Others are our persistent struggles with caste, class, religion and other traditional patriarchies that intersect with gender to define women’s lived experiences of interlocking vulnerabilities and violence.
For women and other marginalized genders   in many parts of South Asia, the experience of modernity   even when extraneous, colonialist, non-compatible with indigenous social structures and culture, is attractive.  It makes for new possibilities of contestations, negotiations and adaptations in re-articulating gender relations in private and public domains. Women are breaking boundaries and enhancing their representation in all aspects of public life. Contestations are inherently violent and negotiations imply critique, complicity and counter-violence. New adaptations make for complex interpretations of women's agency and impotency. Fragments of tradition and selectively appropriated elements of western modernity define the cultural landscape on which the drama of new gender relations is played out. 
This period on the one hand expands the possibilities for women and other suppressed genders but simultaneously makes for new discriminations, marginalization and struggles. The varied demands made on women from co-existing traditions and modernity, old and new worldviews make for unease and tension and new forms of violence. Fragmentation of the domestic and the community, increased commodification and objectification, expanding markets and new forms of political governance, all make for many changes in lifestyles and consciousness but patriarchy is resilient. Hybrid and more fluid forms of social and public reorganization mask their conflict ridden genesis in such aspects still highly marked by tradition as for example gender roles and gender relations in families, children’s socialization in schools and homes, media representations, sexual divisions of labour and leadership in workplaces, increasing inequalities of wealth and resources and male dominated social networks, ideologies and politics.
This panel invites papers reflecting on rapid social changes in South Asia: how these are impacting vulnerabilities of men, women and other genders and how they make for new transgressions, freedoms – or new forms of violence.   
 

Chairs:

Prof. Ulrika Andersson, Faculty of Law, Lund University
Dr. Anna Lindberg, SASNET, Lund University
Prof. Nishi Mitra vom Berg, ACWS, TISS

 

Session 1: Femininity, Concepts and Notions

September 20, 2016  Time: 14.30-16.30
 

Structure
Introduction of all participants: 10 mins
4 papers in this session: 20x4=80 mins
Discussion at the end: 30 mins
 

1.Title of Paper: Married to Death: The Widow, the Sati, the Martyr
   
Author: Ms. Soibam Haripriya

The post 1984 situation in Punjab indexes the importance (and fascination) of the symbol of the martyr (Shahid) and martyrdom (Shahadat) in Sikh religion and culture.  The figure of Bhindranwala seems exalted as compared to other martyrs post 1984. Much to the chagrin of the Indian State, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala’s portrait was installed in the Central Sikh Museum by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) on the 29th of November 2007, an act which signals an official endorsement of his martyrdom. The article attempts to link the symbol of martyrdom to that of the widow by specifically examining the narrations of a widowed informant. The widow, Bibi’s ‘militant’ husband was killed in police encounter. Paradoxically, though remarried, Bibi insists on calling herself a ‘widow’ of a ‘martyr’. The article examines Bibi’s embracing of widowhood as a celebration of identity that is enabled through the Sikh religious culture of martyrdom and yet there is a contestation between the public image of the ‘widow of the martyr’ and that in the private of being married gets negotiated in the form of the ‘sibling-like’ non-conjugal relationship she shares with her present husband.  The concepts of Sati and the widow of the martyr becomes an entry point to open up the concept of martyrdom as used in contemporary times. Through two figures, that of the ‘martyr’ and ‘widow’ I attempt to bring up the self referential way of not only being the widow of a 'martyr' but also posing herself in different ways of looking. I do this by choosing the figure of a woman who is neither a widow nor (according to her) married to the man who is her present husband. How the subject enters into and acquires pre-existing meanings and also resists them to create new ones though at the same time drawing from the existing arrays of symbols of memorialization is explored.

 

2.Title of Paper: From Prostitute to Sex Worker: Rehabilitating the ‘Deviant’ and the Nation 
    
Author: Dr. Rachna Chaudhary

This paper focuses upon judicial construction and treatment of the prostitute/sex worker, both as an entity as well as a cultural construct through related select judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court of India during the last fifty years. The essentialist assumptions in these judgments about femininity, sex work, chastity, compulsory monogamy, motherhood are not only based upon statutory provisions or their interpretations by the judges and other legal agents, but also upon the textual and visual depictions of the prostitute. The figure that then emerges is then not the work of one single discursive element and the discursive journey from prostitute to sex-worker is both a product and is constitutive of modernity.
The legal domain emerges as a crucial site of producing modernist, nationalist masculinity as public spirited lawyers and predominantly male judges rescue these ‘fallen’ women or their children depending upon the case in question. The prostitute is thus both the effect of (discursive) power and what Naffine calls the element of its articulation. ‘Need’ gets redefined as poverty in these judgments to exonerate the family from the charges of pushing children into prostitution. This helps in ‘normalisation’ of the defendant by the lawyers since ‘need’ happens to be subjective and not a valid ground for lenience, poverty is a social category over which the individual has no control. The prostitute is constructed as not only as a reluctant mother but an inefficient one as well. And rehabilitation is not just economic but social as well as sexual. Their bodies are recuperated in a more productive and conformist way by benevolently refashioning their lives in a more domesticated way through marriage or institutionalization. The nation is also being ‘rehabilitated’ by exhorting the youth to purge the society of such social evils. It is hard to locate the ‘speaking’ and ‘animated’ subject that some feminist and critical theorists have claimed to recuperate in the context of sex work/prostitution. Interestingly, the much talked about safe existence of sex within legal discourse seems to have disappeared as sex itself is barely mentioned in these judgments. This is in stark contrast to the predominant presence of sex and its importance that has been regularly harped upon in successive judgments related to matrimonial disputes.

 

3.Title of Paper: Pre-millennial and Post-millennial Paro: Charting Modernity through the Book Cover designs of Gokhale’s Female Protagonist.
   
Author: Dr. E. Dawson Varughese

This paper considers the encoding of modernity through the vehicle of the Indian domestic (fiction) book cover. Here I am interested in the book cover designs of Gokhale’s female-centred novel Paro: dreams of passion first published in 1984, its various editions from the 1990s and finally the book’s post-millennial reprint and also its sequel, Priya in Incredible Indyaa, both published in 2011. The analysis of the book covers examines society’s engagement with notions of femininity and the display of the female body against ideas of modernity and young India. The paper reveals that the older covers of Paro invoke the role of a particular Indian (Hindu) mode of visuality - darśan - whereas the post-millennial edition of Paro and its sequel Priya impede the opportunity fordarśan to take place. I suggest that particular market and distribution opportunities have resulted in a non-reliance on darśan and rather, a turn to other modes of (global-cum-western) visuality and consumption have taken place. In this way young people in particular are engaged in negotiating (Indian) traditions of visuality alongside non-Indian modes of visuality. To further explicate this point, I draw on my work on the Indian graphic novel, highlighting how the post-millennial book cover designs of Paro and Priya (both from 2011) have been produced by a well-known Indian graphic artist and in choosing this particular medium of design, the novels push the boundaries of how the Indian woman might be ‘seen’ against notions of ‘good’ (respectable) female modernity within present-day India.

 

4. Title of Paper: Hijra Identities and Vulnerabilities in Contemporary India
Author: Dr. Sheba Saeed

Hijras (Eunuchs) have been a part of South Asian Society since pre-colonial India holding revered positions within Hindu culture according to the vedas, with the ability to bring luck and blessings. Historically, colonial rule brought about a law under the Criminal Tribes Act1871 which criminalized criminal tribes and eunuchs. This labelling of the hijra community as a criminal tribe was later denotified after independence in 1952 by Nehru. However, the stigma of the ‘othering’ process remains even today. Indeed, the above example contains notions of power and control over the hijra community and perhaps the situation is not so different to what we witness in contemporary times despite hijras successfully providing asocial resistance and thus being recognized as a third gender. The traditional roles of singing, dancing and often as a result begging for money are in fact still illegal by virtue of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1957. Further, with many hijras being homosexual, they are again in contradiction of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860. This paper will explore the stigma and vulnerabilities attached to being a hijra in the context of modern day India; it will explore the retrogression of the role of the hijra via legislation and stigmas attached to multiplicities of discrimination associated to class, sexuality, gender, creating a situation that brings about an ‘othering’.

 

Session 2: Contesting Practices and Negotiations

September 21, 2016 Time: 10.00 -12 .00

Structure

4 papers in this session: 20 mins x4=80 mins
Discussion at the end: 40 mins
 

5.Title of Paper: Counting Caste through Gender on the Cyber Thiyyars of Malabar
   
Author:  Dr. Jillet Sarah Sam

How is matrilineality reinterpreted when counting caste takes on a renewed significance? Modern caste identification is distinguished by the “logic of enumeration”, or the tendency of the State and caste associations to attach significance to the number of members in a caste (Kaviraj 1997, Appadurai 1996). I draw on ethnographic analysis to examine how this logic shapes perceptions about matrilineality on a digital caste group, the Cyber Thiyyars of Malabar (CTM). In accordance with a nascent offline mobilization of the Thiyyas (an OBC caste) in Malabar, the CTM stresses on the need to count Thiyyas to ensure that the State recognizes them as separate from the Ezhavas of South Kerala. I argue that the interaction between the “logic of enumeration” and gendered caste stigmatization prompts the CTM to selectively reclaim matrilineality for the Thiyyas. Suppressing regional variation, the CTM projects matrilineal practices, conventionally followed by the Thiyyas of North Malabar, as a definitive feature of Thiyyas in general. It also draws on these practices to counter routine caste stigmatization experienced by members. As much as they drive the reclamation of matrilineality, encounters with the State also draw the limits to it. The CTM would ideally prefer to define caste boundaries through the matrilineal route. However, the group is increasingly anxious about “losing” Thiyyas through marriages between Thiyya women and Ezhavas because of patriarchal practices attributed to the State’s way of counting caste (“only the father’s caste matters”).

 

6.Title of Paper: Becoming Modern? Clean Energy Technology and Gender Empowerment in Rural Odisha
   
Author (s): Dr. Sunita Dhal, Dr. Nilima Srivastava, and  Dr.Linda Lane

Globalization and resistance to these changes are one set of factors affecting gender inequality, others such as struggles with caste, class and other traditional patriarchies that intersect with gender to define women’s lived experiences of interlocking vulnerabilities are still persisting. In this respect, the tenets of modernity seem alluring and attractive with their promises of unimagined opportunities for contestation and re‐negotiation of gender relations in both the private and public domains. Such generalized understandings of gender inequality are problematic especially in the context of rural women in India. Consequently, research based on western indicators tends to under‐estimate improvements in women’s empowerment and as a result stereotypical perceptions of under‐educated, low‐income rural women as ignorant, vulnerable passive victims of modernization without agency continue to persist.

In the context of development in India, improving access to modern energy technology is seen as a potential means of empowering women. However, how the adoption of modern technology contributes to women’s empowerment remains unexplored. For example, we know that technology has empowering potential but whether it actually leads to changes in choices within homes and how this relates to changes in division of tasks and gender roles and relations requires further research.

The paper reports on fieldwork conducted with women, households and other stakeholders in Odisha in Dec 2014 and May-June 2015. The findings suggest that adoption and diffusion of clean energy technology was conditional on two factors, the choice of technology adopted and access to credit customized to women’s needs. The findings further suggest that whether women accept the new technology and how they chose to use it depended on family type, family size as well as local customs and traditions.

We conclude that although the introduction of modern technology has the potential to empower women in rural areas on its own it does not necessarily lead to westernized versions of gender equality, instead understandings of gender equality and empowerment are social and cultural specific and has to be evaluated at the level of the society where the intervention takes place.

 

7. Title of Paper: Modernity in Nepal: Gender Perspective 
   
Author:  Ms. Lalita Kaundinya Bashyal

Mostly, modernity defines at the level of scientific rationalities, excessive technological and material development, which started first in the west and followed by the east. But this is not only one-way to see modernity; many scholars argue that there is no single modernity, but multiple modernity. South Asian countries are the fascinating place for many scholars to study modernity because of diverse culture, religion, ethnicity, tradition and language with the country’s development target. Consumerism is one of the key dynamic, can see wildly in South Asian modernity. Some Scholar argued that South Asian countries like India is adopting only the consumerist culture in the name of modernity, it couldn’t catch the core value of modernity. South Asian countries like India and Nepal experiencing modernity continued with tradition.

In a technical way, modernity in Nepal started since 1951 when Nepali government open the door for outsiders which gave the opportunity for foreign investment, interstate relation and Kathmandu became the center for commercial and political activities. In the context of openness of country, globalization, development and modernity came together. Since then, development had has become the major theme in Nepal. After establishment of Democracy in 1990 (it is well known fact that democracy is one of the key value of modernity which gives space for freedom, transparency, openness, the ability to dissent and the willingness to listen to others) Nepalese people got the space for discussion on gender, women freedom, ethnicity, untouchability etc. Democratic values changed women’s position from private to public, creating a new public sphere and identities through maintaining social prestige, freedom from social discrimination and modernized fashions’ (Liechty 2010) in some amount. Nepal’s constitution guarantees that no one will be discrimination on the basis of their gender and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was approved in 1991 but biases against women are still continue. Modernity established various laws for equality but conservative social values could not caught up with the times, domestic violence is seldom criticize and often treated as normal. Nepali society sees modern women bad and traditional women good which raises some query like what exactly the traditional and modern women in Nepali society, what they project about traditional and modernity and how they sees modernity or what is their understanding about modernity in the context of rapidly expanding consumerist culture in Nepal. This paper tries to deal in the framework of rural-urban, educated-uneducated and migration aspects of traditional and modern way of looking gender prejudices in Nepal.

 

8. Title of Paper:  Discordant Connections: Discourses on Gender and Grassroots Activism in Two Forest Communities in India and Sweden
     A
uthor:  Dr. Seema Arora-Jonsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

The importance of gender-equality and of women’s work in relation to the environment are considered to be crucial questions for development in ‘third world’ rural societies. ‘Development’ and a certain standard of welfare make these issues appear to be less urgent in a wealthier country like Sweden. In this paper I trace some of the contradictions and connections in the ways in which gender equality is conceptualized in women’s struggles vis á vis  environmental issues in rural areas in Sweden and India. The paper throws light on two important insights: first, that in Sweden where gender equality has been actively pursued as the bedrock of modern societal organizing, the space to organize as women in relation to environmental issues was hedged around with ambiguities. Second, development discourses about equality and empowerment of oppressed third world women bear not only on how gender equality is conceptualized and practiced in the South but also shape the space for gender equality in the North. Analyzing the two cases in relation to each other reveals the travel of ideas and conversations across distances. While ideas about the independent, empowered woman are used to deny agency to women’s collectives in India, gendered discrimination has taken different forms in Sweden, making it more difficult to contest. Understanding how this takes place opens an opportunity for interruption in an order and in a space that appears to have become narrower under the umbrella of development, welfare, and growth. It brings into question the category of development both in a Southern but especially so in a Northern context where the North and especially Sweden is taken as referent for questions of development and gender equality.

 

Session 3:  Power, Violence and Conflict

September 21, 2016 Time: 15.30-17.30

Structure:

4 papers: 20 mins x4=80 mins
Discussion of the papers: 30 mins
Discussion of way forward with manuscript preparation and publication ideas: 10 mins
 

9.Title of Paper: “She’s almost like my daughter, but not quite’”: Power, Violence, and Conflict in Relationships between Madams and Female Sex Workers in Eastern India
   
Author: Ms. Mirna Guha

Research on the lives of female sex workers (FSWs) in India has tended to frame the violence within their lives as episodic: inherent to sex work, or a by-product of their medical ‘risk’ status, concerning the transmission of AIDS. This has been influenced by the anti-trafficking and HIV/AIDS discourses in India, which seek to ‘protect’ and ‘visibilise’ FSWs. However, these discourses have tended to exceptionalise the lives of women in sex work, positioning them as atomized individuals on either extreme of the victimhood and agency continuum. Interventions addressing forms of violence, therefore, have tended to exacerbate their vulnerability to other forms of social and structural violence, or focus disproportionately on one aspect of their well-being i.e. sexual health.
In this paper, I challenge this exceptionalism by addressing experiences of violence in FSWs’ lives through a ‘life-cycle’ approach; this places their experiences within a continuum of gender-based violence, and pervasiveness of exploitation within the unregulated labour market in India.  Through an analysis of some FSW’s life-stories, this paper reveals the (i) nature of everyday violence in the lives of these women and (ii) the ways in which they identify, locate, contextualize and negotiate experiences of violence within social relationships that frame their lives within Indian society. These life-stories are part of a set of qualitative data of 50 interviews with full and part-time FSWs across two red-light areas in Kolkata, ‘rescued’ FSWs in an anti-trafficking shelter home in a southern suburb of Kolkata, and former FSWs who have returned to their residences within rural communities in the South 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal, near the Indo-Bangladesh border. Collected across 8 months, through methods combining elements of ethnographic research, participant observation and life-history interviewing, this evidence is part of my doctoral research in International Development.

 

10.Title of Paper: Negotiating Domestic Work: Gender, Domestic Labour, and Commuting in West Bengal, India
   
Author: Ms.Lauren Wilks

In Kolkata and throughout much of India, the feminization of domestic work has been accompanied by a shift away from live-in forms of domestic service towards fixed- and part-time employment, which has brought increased autonomy and bargaining power for many domestic workers. At the same time, however, the advent of more contractual labour relations has led to a number of everyday ambivalences and tensions, as both workers and employers inconsistently invoke and mourn the loss of a more paternalistic employment relationship where domestic servants became ‘part of the family’. Furthermore, while the move away from live-in forms of domestic service has opened up important employment opportunities for women living outside the city and contributed to improvements in working conditions and pay, commuting into the city for work involves a number of specific challenges which can, in some cases, render women workers more vulnerable to violence and abuse – both in the workplace and at home.
In this paper, I draw on sixteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kolkata and rural West Bengal, foregrounding the narratives of one subset of fixed- and part-time domestic workers in Kolkata: daily commuters predominantly residing in South 24 Parganas (south West Bengal). Analyzing their accounts of everyday life, I demonstrate how workers balance their demanding work schedules (usually juggling employment in several different households each day) with both their unpaid work at home and their often grueling commutes; as a result, they experience and negotiate specific challenges relating to their health and bodies as well as to time-keeping and an insufficient and often unreliable local rail service – all of which are exacerbated during the summer and monsoon months. In addition, commuting workers must negotiate various forms of everyday violence and oppression as they move continually between the home and workplace, justifying their public, working lives to their families in the former, while simultaneously justifying their personal, home lives to employers in the latter.
In bringing the accounts of commuting domestic workers to the fore and detailing the daily physical and emotional negotiations involved in commuting to the city for domestic work, I aim to challenge the view that the advent of more contractual employment relations within the domestic service sector in India and the version of ‘modernity’ it represents has been an unproblematic and uncontested process that brings only benefits for employers and workers. More broadly, by drawing attention to the experience of commuting and positioning it as an important site of study in itself, my research aims to extend the analysis of domestic work in India and South Asia, while also contributing to wider debates about gender, labour, and informality.

 

11. Title of paper: Valentine, Love and Pubs: Contested Freedoms, Obscenities and Conflicted Identities. Some Thoughts on Gender and Culture in Globalized India
      
Author: Prof. Nishi Mitra vom Berg

This paper will look into a series of not so recent events which show a changing face of gender and its interpretations in a modernizing, globalizing India. These events may be interpreted as reactionary response to the uneven modernity and culturally suspect western influences such as opening of pubs, women drinking in these pubs, the increasing space in audio- visual and print media on the heady emotion of love and the celebration of valentine’s day, all of which have made for much controversy all over India in recent times, hinting at a social crisis signifying divides between generations, classes, communities and cultures.
Yet these also signify social transition towards a culture of freedom and choice going hand in hand with the fact that middle class urban women with increasing access to work and independent incomes are enabled to try out new freedoms, and experiment with new lifestyles and choices that mark their   escape from the traditionally stifling confines of parental and marital homes. There is bound to be worry and insecurity that this new assertion and freedom cause in certain quarters.
The controversy itself is pinned on raging debates on Indian culture and women; the onslaught of westernization and globalization that threatens to erode this great culture and society, particularly the youth; the need to   make difference between westernization and modernization; the need to protect the corruption and commercialization of Indian values and traditions, particularly the indigenous notions of love (noble and sacred feelings and emotions threatening to become crass and commercial); the family that is threatened by the decadent notions of individualism and freedom . The worries are many, and the manifestations are in terms of violent curtailments of individual freedom, particularly of women by a certain section of the right wing forces in the country, today commonly referred to as the moral police. Are all these developments only negative or are their silver linings?

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