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Women's Studies and Women's Movement in India 22-1-2006

Women's Studies and Women's Movement in India 22-1-2006

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Published by Prof. Vibhuti Patel
The UN Declaration of 1975 as an International Women's Year coincided with the Emergency Rule in India. By the time the Emergency was lifted in 1977, several women's groups had developed around democratic rights issues. The press swung into "action" after the imposed silence of nearly two years. Atrocities committed against women during the Emergency were openly documented and reported in the press. These atrocities struck a chord in most women's own experience of life in the family, in the streets, in the workplace and in political groups. The culmination of this process was reached in 1980 when many women's groups took to the street to protest. During the 1980s, the issue of women's oppression was depicted not only in discussion forums, seminars and `serious' articles but also in the popular media. Women, who had on their own identified the sources of their problems and indignity, began to acquire a language, an organisational platform, a collective identity and legitimacy they did not have earlier.

The Status of Women's Committee appointed by GOI released a voluminous report in 1974. This report called Towards Equality was prepared by the scholars with an interdisciplinary perspective and was presented in the Parliament of India, where it received a tremendous response from the decision-making bodies, the state apparatus and the print media. Shocking description of Indian women's reality, which manifested in declining sex ratio, very high rate of female mortality and morbidity, marginalisation of women in the economy and discriminatory personal laws were some of the major highlights of the report. But the report failed to throw any light on violence against women in the civil society and by the custodians of law and order. Major achievement of the report lay in the policy decision taken by the principal research body like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) i.e. to provide financial support to scholars committed to the women's cause, to conduct research into problems faced by women in poverty groups.
The UN Declaration of 1975 as an International Women's Year coincided with the Emergency Rule in India. By the time the Emergency was lifted in 1977, several women's groups had developed around democratic rights issues. The press swung into "action" after the imposed silence of nearly two years. Atrocities committed against women during the Emergency were openly documented and reported in the press. These atrocities struck a chord in most women's own experience of life in the family, in the streets, in the workplace and in political groups. The culmination of this process was reached in 1980 when many women's groups took to the street to protest. During the 1980s, the issue of women's oppression was depicted not only in discussion forums, seminars and `serious' articles but also in the popular media. Women, who had on their own identified the sources of their problems and indignity, began to acquire a language, an organisational platform, a collective identity and legitimacy they did not have earlier.

The Status of Women's Committee appointed by GOI released a voluminous report in 1974. This report called Towards Equality was prepared by the scholars with an interdisciplinary perspective and was presented in the Parliament of India, where it received a tremendous response from the decision-making bodies, the state apparatus and the print media. Shocking description of Indian women's reality, which manifested in declining sex ratio, very high rate of female mortality and morbidity, marginalisation of women in the economy and discriminatory personal laws were some of the major highlights of the report. But the report failed to throw any light on violence against women in the civil society and by the custodians of law and order. Major achievement of the report lay in the policy decision taken by the principal research body like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) i.e. to provide financial support to scholars committed to the women's cause, to conduct research into problems faced by women in poverty groups.

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Women's Studies and Women’s Movement in India
by
Dr. Vibhuti Patel, Professor and HeadPost Graduate Department of Economics,
SNDT Women’s University,Smt.Nathibai Thakersey Road,
Churchgate, Mumbai-400020Tel
91) (22) 22065059/ 22031879, Ext.243, Mobile-9321040048
TOWARDS EQUALITY Report prepared by the Committee on Status of Women in Indiaappointed by Government of India and published in 1974 acted as a catalyst for foundation and promotion of women's studies in India. This report was debated in the parliament and served as afocal point around which most of the programmes to celebrate the International Women's year (declared by the UN) were organised. Three shocking aspects of Indian Women's reality:a. declining sex ratio, high mortality and morbidity rates among Indian women; b. extremely low level of female literacy;c. marginalisation of women from the Indian economy made our policy-makers alarmed.Major policy level decisions on women's studies were taken in 1975 because the Government of India had signed the UN charter of EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT and PEACE on the eve of International Women's year (IWY). As IWY coincided with an emergency rule in India, most of thewomen activists involved in the militant mass movements of the early seventies were silenced withthe help of state repression.
1
In the post-emergency period, several of them became pioneers of thewomen's rights groups in India.
2
Their dialogue and collaborative ventures with women's studiesacademicians, mainstream research organisations, government departments and pioneer women'sorganisations like AIWC, YWCA, NFIW and women's wings of different political parties enrichedwomen's studies as a discipline. Declaration of International Women's Decade (1975- 1985) createda conducive atmosphere for women's studies researches by establishment of women's studies unit inthe universities, autonomous women's studies centers and the provision of massive research grants by the international aid organisations to women's studies scholars and women's rights activists.
Landmark Contribution of Towards Equality Report
The most important features of Towards Equality report were its analytical vision, its authenticdatabase and all India coverage. The report-examined women's material reality from inter-disciplinary perspective. It helped Indian decision-makers to come out of their complacencyregarding "high social status accorded to Indian women by goddess worshipping Indian culture". Inthe post-independence period, visibility of highly educated upper and middle class women in theeducational institutions and elite organisations had blurred the vision of Indian Policy makersregarding acute survival struggle of mass of Indian women in the poverty groups. Comprehensive picture of socio-economic-legal-educational-cultural life of women given by the report were
1
Neera Desai and Vibhuti Patel
Indian Women Change and Challenge
, PopularPrakashan, Bombay, 1990.
2
 
 Neera Desai(ED):
A Decade of Women's Movement in India
, Himalaya Publishing House, Bombay, 1988.
 
followed by concrete suggestions/ recommendations and guidelines for the government. Officialmeetings, seminars, conferences to debate different chapters of this report set the agenda for expertsin different fields. The report was translated into several Indian languages and widely circulated inall those states where pioneer women's organisations and women's wings of political parties wereactive. As the middle class, educated women were actively involved in this effort, the newspapersand magazines gave massive coverage to this report. University Grants Commission established thefirst Research Unit on Women's Studies (RCWS)
3
and Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS)established its women's unit in 1974.
4
RCWS concentrated its efforts in commissioning primaryresearch and TISS women's unit focused on teaching and training. National Council for Education,Research and Training (NCERT) started special cell to focus on women's education and toeliminate sexist biases in the existing syllabi.
Indian Council of Social Science Research Directive (1975)
Landmark decision of ICSSR in 1975 in terms of prioritising researches on women in povertygroups
5
helped committed social scientists to closely examine crucial problems faced by workingclass women in the urban, rural, tribal areas in the changing socio-economic and cultural contexts indifferent parts of India. Workload of cashew and coir workers in Kerala,
6
plight of paddy workersof Kerala,
7
implication of land-reforms on land-rights of women,
8
Worsening survival struggle of women due to shortage of fuel-wood, fodder and water 
9
, interplay of caste, class and gender amongsweeper/scavenger women,
 condition of dalit tobacco worker women and temple prostitution
11 
relationship of purdah with female literacy
made many social scientists give up their approach of maintaining 'academic distance' and 'value neutrality' in social science researches. Stark reality of 
3
Maithreyi Krishnaraj:
Women's Studies in India
, Himalaya Publishing House, Bombay, 1988.
4
Suma Chitnis:
 Review of Status of Women in India
(Mimeo), Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay,1974.
5
Neera Desai and Vibhuti Patel:
Critical Evaluation of Women's Studies Researches in India, 1974-1988,
Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi, 1990.
6
Molly Mathew: a.
Women in Coir Industry in Kerala
, b.
Women in Cashew Industry in Kerala
Centre for Regional Development Studies, Kottayam, Kerala, 1984.
7
Joan Mencher and Sardamony:
Muddy Feet, Dirty Hands
, ICSSR, 1982.
8
Sardamoni:
 Land Reforms in Kerala
, ICSSR, 1983.
9
Bina Aggarwal:
Cold Hearth and Barren Land 
, Kali for Women, 1988.
10
Malvika Karlekar:
Sweeper Women of Balmiki Community
, ICSSR, 1985.
11
a. C. S. Laxmi:
Women Workers in Nipani,
Women's Diary, Reaching Out, Bombay, 1982. b. PrabhaMahale:
Tobacco Workers of Nipani,
Research Centre for Women's Studies, Dharwad University, Dharwad,1987.c. Chhaya Datar:
Women in Belgaon Beedi Workers Union,
Kali for Women, 1990.
12
Kalpana Shah:
Women's Liberation and Voluntary Action
, Ajanta Publications, Delhi, 1984.
2
 
discrimination against girl-child in terms of nurturance, educational opportunities, health-care,child-marriage, segregation of women, condition of dalit tobacco worker women and temple- prostitution, repeated pregnancies- miscarriages / child-births, ill-health of women, domestic andsocietal violence faced by women forced women's studies scholars to declare WS as a partisandiscipline wedded to the cause of women's rights/ gender justice and empowerment of women. Useof term 'feminism' implied assertion of women's rights. 'Patriarchy' as an analytical category wasgaining increasing popularity in WS researches to signify 'control over women's sexuality, fertilityand labour'. 'Culture'-mainstream Brahminical and popular/folk culture representing women'sspiritual, material and survival needs became important areas of scrutiny as they played extremelycrucial role in determining 'autonomy' versus 'control' in women's lives.
Curriculum Development in Women’s Studies
It was in the First National Conference of Women’s Studies in 1981 that delegates from over 30universities and representatives from NCERT resolved to change syllabi to accommodatewomen’s studies in the mainstream disciplines. Women’s studies scholars have adopted twoapproaches for introduction of women’s studies in the academia. The first one- separate paper,either optional or compulsory at under-graduate or/and the post-graduate levels. The second one-integration of women’s Studies in all possible subjects that were/are taught. During 1980s, onlyUGC supported women’s studies Centres provided interdisciplinary training programmes,refreshers courses and orientation Courses. But during 1990s, there was a welcome change asalmost all universities in India opened its doors to women’s studies due to the mandate fromUGC. Several universities in the Western and Southern states have been successful inintroducing women’s studies at an undergraduate level and also in the foundation courses. Thefollowing issues regarding Curriculum Development and Syllabi Changes are crucial whileTeaching Women’s Studies in Mainstream Disciplines:
Introduction of elective or compulsory courses in Women’s Studies at an undergraduate and post-graduate levels and dealing with other competing courses in the university system
Priorities (Teaching, training, research, documentation, extension) of the WS Centre
Goals, objectives and expectations from teaching programmes on WS courses to maleand female students from the physical sciences and engineering disciplines. Responsesfrom the decision-makers, teachers and students
Introduction of women’s studies in literature, sociology, psychology, economics,geography, political science, philosophy, home science, polytechnic, architect, medicaland engineering courses
Autonomy over introduction, design, running of course and final assessment of students- papers, project work, assignments, field trip evaluation, exercises, presentations-Distribution of reading materials/Xeroxes of important articles/papers
Acceptability of inter-disciplinary nature of course-content in WS by differentdepartments
Teaching methods and assessment techniques used by different faculties and departments
Resources for teaching programmes in women’s studies- Library, documentation,teaching materials and textbooks
Women’s Studies Component in Refreshers Courses and Orientation programmes in WS
13
a. Veena Mazumdar:
Symbols of Power 
, Allied Publications, New Delhi, 1979. b. Rehana Ghadiali :
Women in Indian Society- A Reader 
, Sage Publications, Delhi, 1988.
3

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Meera Datta added this note
Good informations have been given. I think first discourse on women in the form of essays was brougt by Great writer Mahadevi Verma in 1942 which should be added in this list . the book title is "Shrinkhala ki Kariayan. ___Dr. Meera Datta.
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