This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
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622 american ethnologist . nightmustwomenbe heldbytheirprotectors a stateof absolute to with liberty.and colonialized women: the contest in India PARTHA CHATTERJEE-Centre for Studies in Social Science.flexibility. be her conduct. and to submitto wheneverhe choosesto inflict.. will it be a matter wonderthat. promised their sealed.it is affirmed. theirdeityhasallotted womena love of or is neverfitforindependence.as if she deservedto be excludedfromimmortality well as fromjustice.. leftas she is.by a cane or a rope. sanctioned. or so it was believed. Calcutta the women's question in "tradition" Apartfrom the characterization of the political condition of India preceding the Britishconquest as a state of anarchy. gender construction. the colonial mind was able to transform this figure of the Indianwoman into a sign of the inherently oppressive and unfree nature of the entire cultural tradition of a country. of sources. not so much by men or certain classes of men. traditional Indian women and lowclass women. in no conditionof society. upon the wilderness bereavement affliction. colonialism also saw itself as performing a "civilizing mission.Though husband devoidof all good qualities. impure appetites. Day and fathers. lawlessness and arbitrarydespotism. Thisnew patriarchyinvested women with the dubious honor of representing a distinctively modern national culture. nationalism." colonialist critics invariably repeated a long list of atrocities perpetratedon Indian women.it is ruledthata femalehas no businesswiththe textsof the Veda-that havingno knowledgeof expiatory texts. made them appear to perpetrators and sufferersalike as the necessary marksof rightconduct. In the process. but theirsons.mmmm _m 11 mmm .the streams knowledge driedup. it is such protection! theirhusbands. by their religious tradition. guarded barred rewith her impoverished and of and cast out. sinfulwoman to mustbe foul as falsehooditself.A woman. . humiliating. [Colonial discourse. thanthatwhich is ordainedfor the and stateof dependencemore strict. The nationalist response was to construct a reformed tradition and defend it on the grounds of modernity.fromhope as well as fromenjoyment. to be trusted desireof mischiefandbad theirbed. the following account of an early 19th-century traveller in India: Their at no periodof life.contemptuous. are verilycalled her protectors. as she is. for example. they bindthe wife to reverehim as a god. Alongside the project of institutingorderly. a hiscorporeal chastisements.and incompetent bearwitness. it created the image of a new woman who was superior to Western women.and.to fill up as the cup of bitter watersassignedto woman. By assuming a position of sympathy with the unfree and oppressed womanhood of India.. therefore.herwatermaywell be spentin the bottle. Take. such is the estimatetheyformof her yet. the weakersex amongthe Hindoos. lawful and rational procedures of governance. in dependence. but by an entire body of scripturalcanons and ritual practices which. and that moraldiscrimination sensibilities. Colonial texts condemned the treatmentof women in India by identifying a scripturaltradition. nationalism.the springs individual and are anguish. a central element in the ideological justification of Britishcolonial rule was the criticism of the "degenerate and barbaric" social customs of the Indian people.cannoteasily be conceived:and to consummate stigma.andof ornaments. againstwomen in the hourof desolatesorrowand parching religion.of theirseat. by rationalizing such atrocities within a complete frameworkof religious doctrine. they said.on the backparts. cultural modernity] _mmmmmm .and no evidenceof law.shoulda womando anythingat hermerepleasure.To themthe fountainof wisdom is in as of are of consolation. wrath.colonialism." In identifying this tradition as "degenerate and barbaric..
technology. modern methods of statecraft-these had given the European countries the strength to subjugate the non-European people and to impose their dominance over the whole world. What we must note is that the so-called women's question in the agenda of Indian social reform in the early 19th century was not so much about the specific condition of women within a determinate set of social relations as it was about the political encounter between a colonial state and the supposed "tradition" of a conquered people-a tradition that. the complete submission of all Hindus to the dictates of those texts. Underlying each option was the colonial belief that in the end Indians themselves must come to believe in the unworthiness of their traditionalcustoms and embrace the new forms of a civilized and rational social order. This completed the formulation of the nationalist project. because in the spiritual domain the Eastwas superior to the West. And of course it was suttee that came to provide the most clinching example in this rhetoric of condemnation-"the first and most criminal of their customs. rational forms of economic organization. in demarcating a political position opposed to colonial rule. there was much debate and controversy about the specific ways in which to carry out this project. Itwas in the material sphere that the claims of Western civilization were the most powerful. as Lata Mani (1986. the Governor General who legislated its abolition. But this could not mean the imitation of the West in every aspect of life. it was even unnecessary to do so. and the necessary basis of practices such as widow burning in the sanctions of the texts. described it. Indeed. the women's question in nationalism I have elaborated elsewhere (Chatterjee 1986) a framework for analyzing the contradictory pulls on nationalist ideology in its struggle against the dominance of colonialism and the resolution it offered to those contradictions. pp. suffering sorrow? lengthening 153-1541 An effervescent sympathy for the oppressed is combined in this breathless prose with a total moral condemnation of a tradition that was seen to produce and sanctify these barbarous customs. and as colonialized women: the contest in India 623 . a problem of Indian tradition. darkand humiliating [Massie1839. took up the women's question as a problem already constituted for it: namely." as Bentinck. This was one aspect of the nationalist project of rationalizing and reformingthe traditional culture of their people. It was colonialist discourse that. The options ranged from proselytization by Christianmissionaries to legislative and administrativeaction by the colonial state to a gradual spread of enlightened Western knowledge. the colonized people had to learn those superior techniques of organizing material life and incorporate them within their own cultures. We need not go into the historical details of how the political strategies of this civilizing mission came to be determined. within the discourse thus constituted. as Indian nationalists in the late 19th century argued. 1987) has recently shown in her study of the abolition of satiTdha [widow burning]. To overcome this domination. this resolution was built around a separation of the domain of culture into two spheres-the material and the spiritual. Of course. not only was it undesirable to imitate the West in anything other than the material aspects of life. insteadof of and solitudeanddegradation. In fact.in the momentof despair. Briefly.she should embracethe burningpile and its scorchingflames. What was necessary was to cultivate the material techniques of modern Western civilization while retaining and strengthening the distinctive spiritual essence of the national culture. the practical implication of the criticism of Indian tradition was necessarily a project of "civilizing" the Indian people: the entire edifice of colonialist discourse was fundamentally constituted around this project. We will now see how Indian nationalism. Science. defined the tradition that was to be criticized and reformed. by assuming the hegemony of Brahmanical religious texts. for then the very distinction between the West and the Eastwould vanish-the self-identity of national culture would itself be threatened. was itself produced by colonialist discourse.
that is our true self. which influences us. For our present purposes it is necessary only to point out that nationalism was not simply about a political strugglefor power: it related the question of the political independence of the nation to virtually every aspect of the material and spiritual life of the people. It followed that as long as India took care to retain the spiritual distinctiveness of its culture. the home and the world. The material domain. lies outside us-a mere external. where the battle would be waged for national independence. master of its own fate. The world is the external. as we have noted before. the world was a distressing constraint. In every case. as nationalists were soon to argue. its spiritual essence. Thusfarwe have not obtained anything that is differentfrom the typical conception of gender roles in any traditional patriarchy. we are tempted to label this. as indeed the liberal historiographyof India has done. No encroachments by the colonizer must be allowed in that inner sanctum. But. by virtue of its superior material culture. a place where the norms of the colonizer had perforce to be accepted. preserve and strengthen the inner core of the national culture. where practical considerations reign supreme. the home represents one's inner spiritual self. spiritualculture. to which the terms world and home corresponded. The world is a treacherous terrain of the pursuit of material interests. But in the entire phase of the national struggle. Applying the inner/outerdistinction to the matterof concrete day-to-day living separates the social space into ghar and bahir. the domain of the material. To understand the self-identity of nationalist ideology in concrete terms. This required that the subjugated learn from the West the modern sciences and arts of the material world.an ideological justification for the selective appropriationof Western modernity it continues to hold sway to this day." a mere defense of traditional norms (for example. the crucial need was to protect. forced upon it by the fact of its material weakness. And so one gets an identification of social roles by gender to correspond with the separation of the social space into ghar and bahir. there was a problem of selecting what to take from the West and what to reject. introduced an entirely new substance to these terms and effected their transformation. but ideologically far more powerful. And in every case. had acquired. The discourse of nationalism shows that the material/spiritualdistinction was condensed into an analogous. For a colonized people. Murshid 1983). it could make all the compromises and adjustments necessary to adapt itself to the requirementsof a modern material world without losing its true identity. conditions us. But this would be a mistake. had subjugated them. In the 624 american ethnologist . It was also the place. The home in its essence must remain unaffected by the profane activities of the material world-and woman is its representation. identity of the Eastwhich lay in its distinctive. it had failed to colonize the inner. and to which we are forced to adjust. argued nationalist writers. This was the key that nationalism supplied for resolving the ticklish problems posed by issues of social reform in the 19th century. it is that which is genuinely essential. The world was where the European power had challenged the non-European peoples and. The colonial situation. one's true identity. a very special significance in the nationalist mind. and the ideological response of nationalism to the critique of Indian tradition. as "conservatism. and superior. That is where the Eastwas undominated. If we now find continuities in these social attitudes in the phase of social reform in the 19th century. the questions were asked: is it desirable? is it necessary? The answers to these questions were the material of the debates about social reform in the 19th century. we must look closely at how these questions were answered. essential. which lies within. It is the spiritual. Itwas a place of oppression and daily humiliation. It is also typically the domain of the male. The material/spiritualdichotomy. the nationalists asserted. But ultimately it is unimportant. The specific ways in which this ideological framework shaped the course of nationalist politics constitute the principal subject matter of modern Indian historiography. dichotomy: that between the outer and the inner. Then their strengths would be matched and ultimatelythe colonizer overthrown. sovereign.
The nationalist paradigm had still not emerged in clear outline.[thewomen] only readbooks. From Iswarchandra Gupta (1812-59) and the kabiyal of the early 19th century to the celebrated pioneers of modern Bengali theater-Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73). skits and jingles. of needlework (considered a useless and expensive pastime). we get the ideological framework within which nationalism answered the women's question.world. It was. although they clothed the body far better than the single length of sari for Bengali women. the petticoat and shoes (all.Thewomen do not and learnEnglish nevertheless to becomebibis. Let us take as an example one of the most clearly formulated tracts on the subject: Bhudev Mukhopadhyay's Paribarik prabandha [Essays on the Family] published in 1882.Whatis the result? house and The furniture untidy. drawing from various sources. Jyotirindranath Tagore (1849-1925). oral and visual communication-from the ponderous essays of 19th-century moralists.. It would be a grave error to see in this. constantly plaguedby illness-they die early. This new approach attempted to define the social and moral principles for locating the position of women in the "modern" world of the nation. One can hardly miss in all this a criticism-reproach mixed with envy-of the wealth and luxury of the new social elite emerging around the institutions of colonial administration and trade. curiously.the healthof every memberof the familyis ruined. To ridicule the idea of a Bengali woman trying to imitate the ways of a memsaheb (and it was very much an idea. of riding in open carriages. Quite the contrary: the nationalist paradigm in fact supplied an ideological principle of selection. a criticism of manners. considered vulgar. Bhudev (1827-94) states the problem in his characteristic matter-of-factstyle: Becauseof our hankering the externalglitterand ostentation the English for of way of life . as liberals are apt to in their despair at the many marksof social conservatism in nationalist practice. this appears as a period of great social turmoil and ideological confusion among the literati-the period from Rammohun (1772-1833) to Vidyasagar (1820-91). And then a new discourse. Once we match this new meaning of the home/world dichotomy with the identification of social roles by gender..Inhouseholds but whichmanagean incomeof a hundred try is rupees. of the reading of novels. of course. an upheavalis underway withinour homes. everything done by servantsand maids. to the paintings of the patua..The men learnEnglish become sahibs. imitation of and adaptation to Western norms was a necessity: at home. sweep or makethe bed . irrespective of wealth and social status. This literatureof parody and satire in the firsthalf of the 19th century clearly contained much that was prompted by a straightforwarddefense of tradition and outright rejection of the new. they were tantamount to annihilation of one's very identity. Amritalal Bose (1853-1929)everyone picked up the theme. the attempt was ratherto make modernity consistent with the nationalist project. a total rejection of the West.. of the use of Western cosmetics and jewelry. Social parody was the most popular and effective medium of this ideological propagation.the women no longercook. sew carpetsand play cards.childrenare get bornweakand rickety.the meals poor. untilthe middle of the 19th century). What made the ridicule stronger was the constant suggestion that the Westernized woman was fond of useless luxury and cared little for the well-being of the home. colonialized women: the contest in India 625 . Dinabandhu Mitra (1830-73). of new items of clothing such as the blouse. Upendranath Das (1848-95). difference as a principle of selection It is striking how much of the literatureon women in the 19th century concerns the threatened Westernization of Bengali women. This theme was taken up in virtually every form of written. In hindsight. to novels. farces. It was not a dismissal of modernity. for it is hard to find historical evidence that even in the most Westernized families of Calcutta in the mid-19th century there were actually any women who even remotely resembled these gross caricatures) was a sure recipe calculated to evoke raucous laughter and moral condemnation in both male and female audiences. began to form in the second half of the century-the discourse of nationalism.
Bhudev then invests this ideological form with its specifically nationalist content: at conversetogether all times.Butcan the loss causedby of be in coarsenessand degeneration the femalecharacter compensated the acquisition a certain by in in 1969. The new norm for organizing family life and determining the rightconduct for women in the conditions of the modern world could now be deduced with ease. Consequently.Thishas not happenedin Europe. it does not exist in animal nature. Adjustments would have to be made in the external world of material activity.the educationof women. spiritual or god-like qualities wholly opposed to forms of behavior which prevail in animal nature. In this aspect.[Grhakaryer vyavastha Mukhopadhyay. they were breaking down because of the inexorable force of circumstance.Ido notthinkthe customsof sucha societyare of with women. human beings seek to cultivate in themselves.the characters freefromall defect.devoid of spiritual qualities in For andrelatively prominent animaltraits. together.. he talks of the naturaland social principles which provide the basis for the feminine virtues. thisreason. supposewe will neverhearof thistraining in again. or decorum in manner and conduct. which would be more appropriateto the external conditions of the modern world and yet not a mere imitation of the West. To the extent that the family was itself entangled in wider social relations. But could this wave of imitation be allowed to enter their homes? Would that not destroy their inner identity? Yet it was clear that a mere restatement of the old norms of family life would not suffice.are movements beingconductedtoday. thus removedthe animalqualitiesfromthose mostanimalpursuits life. it. 480]. 447]. But the sense of crisis that he expresses was very much a reality. is a specifically human trait. women express in their appearance and behavior the spiritual qualities that are characteristic of civilized and refined human society. the organization and ways of life at home would also have to be changed. could not be insulated from the influence of changes in the outside world. women cultivate and cherish these god-like qualities far more than men. of the traveltogether. pp. What were the principles by which these new norms could be constructed? Bhudev supplies the characteristic nationalist answer.within the human species. New norms were needed. which in turn corresponds to masculine/ feminine virtues. A quite unprecedented external condition had been thrust upon the Bengali: they were being forced to adjust to those conditions. It is human aversion to the purely animal traitsthat gives rise to virtues such as modesty.the wife is a goddess.Inthe European system. too.she is a partner in Mukhopadhyay andcompanion['LajjasTlata' 1969. a genre much favored by serious Bengali writers of Bhudev's time. p.Butwe rarely of thosegreatartsin whichwomenwereonce trained-a training hear stantly which if it hadstill been in vogue would have enabledus to tide overthis crisiscausedby injudicious I imitation. p. 445-448). degreeof tenderness the male?['Lajjasilata' Mukhopadhyay The point is then hammered home: whichresideswithineven the the codes discovered innerspirituality Thosewho laiddownourreligious and which humansmustperform. manners women are likelyto be somewhatcoarse. Further.eat anddrink Ina societywheremenandwomenmeettogether. But the crucial requirement was to retain the inner spirituality of indigenous social life. conis Manyreform talked about. Protected to a certain extent from the purely material pursuits of securing a livelihood in the external world. 1969. 446]. and men would bear the brunt of this task. The home was the principal site for ex- 626 american ethnologist .Letme concede the point. it as clericalism. in particular. The problem is put here in the empirical terms of a positive sociology. The material/spiritualdichotomy corresponds to that between animal/god-like qualities.Somearguethatbecauseof such close association menacquire tenderandspiritual certain qualities. and in their civilization. actions. for which a certain degree of imitation of alien ways was unavoidable. In an essay entitled "Modesty" (Lajjasilata in Mukhopadhyay 1969. Modesty.. he says. Bhudev is voicing the feelings of large sections of the newly emergent middle class of Bengal when he says that the very institutions of home and family were threatened under the peculiar conditions of colonial rule. Religionthere is completelydivorcedfrom [material] of all do theycondemn Europeans notfeel inclinedto regulate aspectsof theirlifeby the norms religion. p. Inthe Aryasystem.. The relevant dichotomies and analogies are all here.
feminine) virtues. they must not lose their essentially spiritual (that is. In fact. The concrete problems arose out of the rapidly changing situation-both external and internal-in which the new middle-class family found itself. The new patriarchywas also sharply distinguished from the immediate social and cultural condition in which the majorityof the people lived. Attainment by her own efforts of a superior national culture was the markof woman's newly acquired freedom. vulgar. but its form had to be consistent with the system of dichotomies that shaped and contained the nationalist project. the utilitarian logic of bureaucratic and industrial practices. need not be takenas the wordof God or suggested thatall that is printedin the nameof scripture the inspired word [Gandhi1970. from the middle of the 19th century right up to the present day.feminine/masculine dichotomies in various matters concerning the everyday life of the "modern" woman-her dress.. thatarerepugnant the moralsense. worked out immediately. and women must take the main responsibility for protecting and nurturingthis quality.. colonialized women: the contest in India 627 . sexually promiscuous. washing women. who was coarse. in other words. subjected to brutal physical oppression by males. The content of the resolution was neither predetermined nor unchanging. her role in organizing life at home.. p. manners.pressing the spiritual quality of the national culture. The new woman defined in this way was subjected to a new patriarchy. I havealready that to .. loud. in the modern world of the nation. and it was through these contrasts that the new woman of nationalist ideology was accorded a status of cultural superiorityto the Westernized women of the wealthy parvenu families spawned by the colonial connection as well as the common women of the lower classes. the legal idea of equality in a liberal democratic state. nationalism adopted several elements from tradition as marksof its native cultural identity. it was explicitly distinguished from the patriarchy of indigenous tradition. but this was now a "classicized" tradition-reformed. quarrelsome. Even Gandhi said of the patriarchalrules laid down by the scriptures: it is sadto thinkthatthe Smritis containtextswhichcan commandno respect frommenwho cherishthe of of her liberty womanas theirown and who regard as the mother the race. a geneology of the resolution This was the central principle by which nationalism resolved the women's question in terms of its own historical project. 85]. education. No matterwhat the changes in the external conditions of life for women. as a simple criterion for judging the desirability of reform. There would have to be a marked difference in the degree and manner of Westernization of women. modernized folk forms.. Alongside the parody of the Westernized woman. of course. the same tradition that had been put on the dock by colonial interrogators. In fact. this other construct is repeatedly emphasized in the literature of the 19th century through a host of lower-class female characters who make their appearance in the social milieu of the new middle class-maidservants. reconstructed. This was the central ideological strength of the nationalist resolution of the women's question. peddlers. spiritual/material. become essentially Westernized. the specific solutions were drawn from a variety of sources-a reconstructed "classical" tradition. there have been many controversies about the precise application of the home/world. Thequestionarisesas to whatto do withthe Smritis containtexts. food. prostitutes. The details were not. the social order connecting the home and the world in which nationalists placed the new woman was contrasted not only with that of modern Western society. It was precisely this degenerate condition of women which nationalism claimed it would reform. fortified against charges of barbarism and irrationality. as distinct from men. her role outside the home. procuresses. they must not. devoid of superior moral sense. that the essential distinction between the social roles of men and women in terms of material and spiritual virtues must at all times be maintained.Sure enough. for the "new" woman was quite the reverse of the "common"woman... It followed. barbers.
periodicals and creative works. which supposedly prohibited women from being introduced to bookish learning. the achievement was marked by claims of cultural superiority in several different aspects: superiorityover the Western woman for whom. p. Take the case of female education. It was a goal that they set for themselves in their personal lives and as the objects of their will.000 students (Murshid 1983. Indeed. but to administer it in the English language was difficult in practical terms. ChandramukhiBose (1860-1944) and KadambiniGanguli (1861-1923) were celebrated as examples of what Bengali women could achieve in formal learning: they took their B. 137-139). The real threat was seen to lie in the fact that the early schools." Recent historians of a liberal persuasion 628 american ethnologist . and threatening because it might devalue and displace that central site where the social position of women was located.We can follow the form of this resolution in several specific aspects in which the life and condition of middle-class women have changed over the last 100 years or so. and superiority over women of the lower classes who were culturally incapable of appreciating the virtues of freedom. when it was demonstrated that it was possible for a woman to acquire the cultural refinements afforded by modern education without jeopardizing her place at home. The threat was removed when in the 1850s Indiansthemselves began to open schools for girls. The development of an educative literatureand teaching materials in the Bengali language undoubtedly made possible the quite general acceptance of formal education among middleclass women. From 95 girls' schools with an attendance of 2500 in 1863. that contentious subject that engaged so much of the attention of social reformersin the 19th century. The problem was resolved through the efforts of the intelligentsia who made it a fundamental task of the national project to create a modern language and literaturesuitable for a widening readership that would include newly educated women. Through text books. irrelevant because the central place of the educated woman was still at home. before most Britishuniversities agreed to accept women on their examination rolls. Kadambini then went on to medical college and became the first professionally schooled woman doctor. education meant only the acquisition of material skills to compete with men in the outside world and hence a loss of feminine (spiritual)virtues. The long debates of the 19th century on a proper "feminine curriculum" now seem to us somewhat quaint. in fact. Much of the content of the modern school education was seen as importantfor the "new" woman. This explains to a large extent the remarkable degree of enthusiasm among middle-class women themselves to acquire and use for themselves the benefits of formal learning. Formaleducation became not only acceptable. but this argument hardly gained much support. pp. thus opening up a domain where woman was an autonomous subject. but it is not difficult to identify the real point of concern. the figures went up to 2238 schools in 1890 with a total of more than 80.A.' Some of the early opposition to the opening of schools for women was backed by an appeal to tradition. it was believed. the nationalist construct of the new woman derived its ideological strength by making the goal of cultural refinement through education a personal challenge for every woman. a requirementfor the new bhadramahila [respectable woman]. superiority over the preceding generation of women in their own homes who had been denied the opportunity of freedom by an oppressive and degenerate social tradition. without becoming a memsaheb. and arrangements for teaching women at home. were organized by Christian missionaries. Inthe area of higher education. to achieve it was to achieve freedom. but. It is this particularnationalist construction of reform as a project of both emancipation and self-emancipation of women (and hence a project in which both men and women must participate) that also explains why the early generation of educated women themselves so keenly propagated the nationalist idea of the "new woman. that is. an importantforce which shaped the new literatureof Bengal was the urge to make it accessible to women who could read only one language-their mother tongue.2 Indeed. there was thus the fear of both proselytization and the exposure of women to harmful Western influences (Laird1972. degrees from the University of Calcutta in 1883. The spread of formal education among middle-class women in Bengal in the second half of the 19th century was remarkable. 43).
The dress of the bhadramahila. and in terms of their origins each had its specific history. but culturally nonetheless determinate. they must maintain the cohesiveness of family life and solidarity with the kin to which men could not now devote much attention. The ideological point of view from which such protestations of "femininity" (and hence the acceptance of a new patriarchalorder) were made inevitable was given precisely by the nationalist resolution of the problem. Educationthen was meant to inculcate in women the virtues-the typically bourgeois virtues characteristicof the new social forms of "disciplining"-of orderliness. justifying the importance of the so-called "feminine virtues. that is to say. subordination. and a personal sense of responsibility. real thengive no place inyourheart memsaheb-like to behaviour. with the memsaheb. devotion. bound them to a new. and by associating the task of female emancipation with the historical goal of sovereign nationhood. the spiritualityof her character had also to be stressed in contrast with the innumerable surrenders that men were having to make to the pressures of the material world. how unhappy place the worldwould be [citedin Borthwick 1984. they could go to schools. kindness. she would also need to have some idea of the world outside the home into which she could even venture as long as it did not threaten her femininity. watch public entertainment programs. for instance. whateverknowledge is she mayacquire. 601. with women of earlier generations and with women of the lower classes. p.. domain set by the differences between socially approved male and female conduct.Andsee how if God hadnot us a appointed to this place in the home. expressed this well when she advised other women: Ifyou haveacquired knowledge. now invested with a characteristically nationalist content. Each of these capitulations now had to be compensated by an assertion of spiritual purityon the part of women. her religiosity. patience and the labors of love. Once the essential femininity of women was fixed in terms of certain culturally visible spiritual qualities.in this as in other aspects of her life. They must not eat. drink or smoke in the same way as men. Others spoke of the need for an educated woman to develop such womanly virtues as chastity. self-sacrifice. pp.she cannotclaimany reputation unlessshe is proficient housework[Citedin Murin shid 1983. food habits. The new patriarchyadvocated by nationalism conferred upon women the honor of a new social responsibility. 105]. religious observances and social relations. writing in 1870. Here too.housework the mostimportant. But the spiritual signs of her feminity were now clearly marked-in her dress. for instance. her eating habits. travel in public conveyances. social emancipation and cultural refinement-differences. thrift. The specific markers were obtained from diverse sources. submission.See how an educatedwomancan do housework thoughtfully andsystematically a way unknown an ignorant. and yet entirely legitimate. wrote in 1875: Of all the subjectsthatwomen mightlearn. the practical skills of literacy. colonialized women: the contest in India 629 . 245-256). The need to adjust to the new conditions outside the home had forced upon men a whole series of changes in their dress. which made possible the displacement of the boundaries of the home from the physical confines earlier defined by the rules of purdah to a more flexible. went through a whole phase of experimentation before what was known as the brahmika sari (a form of wearing the sari in combination with blouse. Further.. and in time even take up employment outside the home. p. It is this lattercriterion. That is not becomingin a Bengalihousewife. accounting and hygiene and the ability to run the household according to the new physical and economic conditions set by the outside world.have often been somewhat embarrassed by the profuse evidence of women writers of the 19th century. petticoat and shoes made fashionable in Brahmo households) became accepted as standardfor middle-class women (see Borthwick 1984. they must continue the observance of religious ritualswhich men were finding difficult to carry out. in to uneducated woman. her social demeanor." Radharanilahiri. the necessary differences were signified in terms of national identity. including those at the forefront of the reform movements in middle-class homes.cleanliness. and Kundamala Debi. For this.
religion. because in this construct there are no specific cultural signs that distinguish women from men in the material world. devotion. deviation from the norm also carries with it the possibility of a variety of ambiguous meaningssigns of illegitimacy become the sanction for behavior not permitted with those who are "normal"-and these are the sorts of meaning exploited to the full by. In fact. Whatever its sources in the classical religions of India or in medieval religious practices. Similarly. and so on." "traditional.""low-class" (or subtler variations on those distinctions)-all signifying a deviation from the acceptable norm. the spiritual qualities of self-sacrifice. adherence or otherwise to religious marksof feminine status. eating habits (drinking/ smoking). They can markout women by their dress. whereas middle-class employment has been an area of bitter competition between cultural groups distinguished by caste. Without denying the possibility that there are many complexities that lie behind this rather superficial observation. One approach to the study of this problem is suggested by our present framework: the fixing by nationalist ideology of masculine/feminine qualities in terms of the material/spiritual dichotomy does not make women who have entered professional occupations competitors to male job seekers. and so on. This spiritualitydid not. the image of woman as goddess or mother served to erase her sexuality in the world outside the home. and so on. it is undeniable that the specific ideological form in which we know the "Indian woman" construct in the modern literatureand arts of India today is wholly a product of the development of a dominant middle-class culture coeval with the era of nationalism. it is certainly paradoxical that. and classify them as "Westernized. for instance. gender has never been an issue of public contention." (Perhaps the most extreme object of contempt for the nationalist is the stereotype of the Anglo-lndian-Westernized and common at the same time. would invite the ascription of all that the "normal" woman (mother/sister/wife/daughter)is not-brazen. this patriarchycombined coercive authoritywith the subtle force of persuasion. Here is one more instance of the displacement in nationalist ideology of the construct of woman as a sex object in Western patriarchy:the nationalist male thinks of his own wife/sister/daughter as "normal" precisely because she is not a "sex object." while those who could be "sex objects" are not "normal. There are many important implications of this construct. which is precisely an indicator of the hegemonic status of the ideological construct. To take one example.An analogous set of distinctions would markout the "low-class" or "common" woman from the "normal. The fact that everyone assumed that women would naturally have the vote indicates a complete transposition of the terms in which the old patriarchyof tradition was constituted. the commercial media of film. the distinctions that often become significant are those that operate between women in the world outside the home. it facilitated it. the new constitution of independent Indiagave women the vote without any majordebate on the question and without there ever having been a movement for women's suffrage at any period of nationalist politics in India.) Not surprisingly." 630 american ethnologist . making it possible for her to go out into the world under conditions that would not threaten her femininity. advertising and fashion. on the contrary. the adulation of woman as goddess or as mother. behavior toward men. avaricious. A woman identified as "Westernized". language.As with all hegemonic forms of exercise of dominance. This was expressed most generally in the inverted ideological form of the relation of power between the sexes. religiosity." namely. It served to emphasize with all the force of mythological inspiration what had in any case become a dominant characteristic of femininity in the new construct of "woman" standing as a sign for "nation. consider an observation often made-the relative absence of gender discrimination in middle-class occupations in India. benevolence. sexually promiscuousand this not only from males but also from women who see themselves as conforming to the legitimate norm. for instance. in the entire period of nationalist and postcolonial politics in India. as we have seen. impede the chances of the woman moving out of the physical confines of the home. In fact. an area that has been at the center of demands for women's rights in the capitalist West. irreligious.
This is the real history of the women's question whose terrain our genealogical investigation into the nationalist idea of "woman" has identified but not ex- colonialized women: the contest in India 631 . equal pay. however. for unlike the women's movement in 19th. for such a method of reform seemed to deny the ability of the nation to act for itself even in a domain where it was sovereign.that it was the home that became the principal site of the struggle through which the hegemonic construct of the new nationalist patriarchyhad to be normalized. This has to do with the one aspect of the question that was directly political. of course.and 20th-century Europe. changed most rapidly precisely during the period of the nationalist movement-indeed. nationalists of the late 19th century were in general opposed to such proposals. It could not permit an encroachment by the colonial power in that domain. Unlike the early reformersfrom Rammohun to Vidyasagar. This determined the characteristically nationalist response to proposals for effecting social reform through the legislative enactments of the colonial state. and the matter. education of women-these were the most keenly debated questions until the middle of the century. issues of social reform and the question of women are no longer items of political debate. the women's question has once again become a political issue in the life of the nation-state. concerning relations with the state. paintings and such other cultural artifacts. Widow burning. located its own subjectivity in the spiritualdomain of culture. in a domain where the nation thought of itself as already free. We can now raise and answer another question that has troubled historians of social reform in India. family histories. and so on. These changes took place in the colonial period mostly outside the arena of political agitation. Rather. those issues were also quite centrally concerned with the position of women. songs. nor was it because it was overtaken by the more emotive issues concerning political power. child marriage. The simple historical fact is that the lives of middle-class women. not only were issues of social reformthe most emotive and controversial items in the newly emergent politics. Now. religious tracts. property rights. coming from that demographic section that effectively constituted the "nation" in late colonial India. We would be mistaken to look for evidence of such struggle in the public archives of political affairs. the battle for the new idea of womanhood in the era of nationalism was waged in the home. Nationalism. remarriageof widows. the reason lies in the refusal of nationalism to make the women's question an issue of political negotiation with the colonial state. equality of opportunity. theater. became one of defining an essential core of the culturaltraditionof the nation which could be defended against the criticism leveled by the new rationalistideology imported from the West. that it became legitimate to embody the ideas of reform in legislative enactments about marriage rules. outside the purview of the guidance and intervention of the colonial state. We can now see that this was not because the earlier liberalism was suddenly censored out of the political agenda by a backward-looking conservatism that sought to reject modernity. In the early 19th century. Another problem on which we can now obtain a clearer perspective is that of the seeming absence of any autonomous struggle by women themselves for equality and freedom. We already know from the evidence left behind in autobiographies. literature. suffrage. so rapidly that women from each generation in the last hundred years could say quite truthfullythat their lives were strikinglydifferent from those led by women of the preceding generation. consequently. In the specific case of reformingthe lives of women. where it considered itself superior to the West and hence undominated and sovereign. With the rise of nationalist politics in the last decades of the 19th century. It was after independence.elements of a critique of the resolution I conclude this essay by pointing out another significant feature of the way in which nationalism sought to resolve the women's question in accordance with its historical project. the nationalist position was firmly based on the premise that this was an area where the nation was acting on its own. as we have seen. as I have said before. when the nation had acquired political sovereignty. polygamy.
women here are not subjects with a will and a consciousness. equality and cultural refinement went hand in hand with a set of dichotomies that systematically excluded from the new life of the nation the vast masses of people whom the dominant elite would represent and lead. in setting up its new patriarchyas a hegemonic construct. but is irrelevantto the large mass of subordinate classes. the formation of a middle class lagged. nationalist discourse not only demarcated its cultural essence as distinct from that of the West. and so on. Nationalist reformsdo not. but also from the mass of the people. The inaugurationof the national state in India could not mean a universalization of the bourgeois notion of "man.plored. For sections of the middle class that felt themselves culturally excluded from the formation of the nation and which then organized themselves as politically distinct groups. not by the state. a sign. The continuance of a distinct cultural "problem" of the minorities is an index of the failure of the Indian nation to effectively include within its body the whole of the demographic mass that it claims to represent. a new colonial relation is brought into being. Ideas of freedom. The system of dichotomies of inner/outer. however." which in turn was defined by a system of exclusions.Oxford. admittedly a widening class and large enough in absolute numbers to be self-reproducing. We now have to ask very different questions to allow women in recent Indian history to speak for themselves. women do not speak here. for instance. and Guha. the relative exclusion from the new nation-state would act as a further means of displacement of the legitimate agency of reform. an objectified value. The location of the state in the nationalist resolution of the women's question in the colonial period has yet another implication. Acknowledgments. for reasons which we need not go into here. equality. Reformswhich touch upon the inner essence of the identity of the community can only be carried out by the community itself. to I criticisms suggestions. am also grateful DipeshChakrabarty. I to CruzandStanford. nonetheless remain trapped within its frameworkof false essentialisms. It is instructive to note here how little institutional change has been allowed in the civil life of Indian Muslims since independence and compare it with Muslim countries where nationalist cultural reform was a part of the successful formation of an independent nationstate. The failure becomes evident when we note that the formation of a hegemonic "national culture" was necessarily built upon the privileging of an "essential tradition. Exactlythe same sorts of ideological concerns typical of a nationalist response to issues of social reformin a colonial situation can be seen to operate among Muslims as well. reach political fruition in the case of Muslims in independent India. The nationalist discourse we have heard so far is a discourse about women. In the case of Muslims in Bengal. feminine/masculine. Calcutta. feminine/masculine are once again activated. notes Monat of I havediscussedthe argument this paperin meetings Berkeley. passim). The contrast is striking if one compares the position of middle-class Muslim women in West Bengal today with that of neighboring Bangladesh. because to the extent that the dominant cultural formation among them considers the community excluded from the state." Indeed. It is a discourse which assigns to women a place. Ithas generalized itself among the new middle class. the dichotomies of spiritual/material.Thisversionwas presented the Wenner- 632 american ethnologist . Both colonial rulers and their nationalist opponents conspired to displace in the colonial world the original structureof meanings associated with Western liberal notions of right. in the confrontation between colonialist and nationalist discourses. Our analysis of the nationalist construction of woman once again shows how.home/world. freedom. but who could never be culturally integrated with their leaders. while enabling the production of a nationalist discourse that is different from that of colonialism. with a difference in chronological time (see Murshid 1983. Pittsburgh.AsokSen and Susie Ranajit at for Tharu theircommentson an earlierversionof this paper. home/ world.amgrateful all thosewho havehelpedme withtheir Santa treal.
London: Thomas Ward. For an introductoryaccount in English. ed. submitted 8 March 1989 accepted 7 July 1989 colonialized women: the contest in India 633 . pp. New Delhi: Publications Division. Volume 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Meredith 1984 The Changing Role of Women in Bengal 1849-1905. Economic and Political Weekly: Review of Women's Studies (April). Partha 1986 Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World. Massie. N.PramathanathBisi.M. Princeton. Gandhi. 1986 Kadambiniand the Bhadralok:EarlyDebates over Women's Education in Bengal. Calcutta: Mitraand Ghosh. see Ghosh 1986. 1987 Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India. Some sections of this paper form partsof a longer essay to appear in a collection edited by Sudesh Vaid and KumkumSangari. 1839 Continental India. Volume 64. Karlekar 1986. Murshid. Malavika Karlekar. Lata 1986 The Production of an Official Discourse on Sati in EarlyNineteenth-century Bengal.Ghulam 1983 Reluctant Debutante: Response of Bengali Women to Modernization 1849-1905. Rajshahi: Rajshahi University Sahitya Samsad. Borthwick 1984.J. 2The large number of autobiographies of the early generation of educated middle-class women are infused with this spirit of achievement. Srabashi 1986 Birdsin a Cage: Changes in Bengali Social Lifeas Recorded in Autobiographies by Women. 19-62. Economic and Political Weekly: Review of Women's Studies (October).pp. K. Volume 7. Bhudev 1969 Bhudev-racanasambhar.Gren Foundation symposium in Mijas. Laird. 25-31. 1972 Missionaries and Education in Bengal 1793-1837.pp. 119-56. J. Economic and Political Weekly: Review of Women's Studies (April). pp. pp. Chatterjee. 88-96. Cultural Critique. M. Mukhopadhyay. pp.: Princeton University Press. Mani. 1970 Collected Works. London: Zed Books. 'See the surveys of these debates in Murshid 1983. Ghosh. Spain: my thanks to all the participantsand to the three anonymous readerswho read the paper for the American Ethnologist. 60-108. W. references Borthwick. 32-40. A.
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