Is 'Intersectionality' a Useful Analytical Framework for Feminists in India?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of E​PW.

Kimberle Crenshaw theorised “intersectionality” as a concept in a 1989 article titled "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics." She sought to capture the simultaneous and compounded form of oppression that African American women experience; a form she argued was not investigated by traditional anti-subordination frameworks. Since then, in the Indian context, the concept of intersectionality has been utilised by feminist, anti-caste, disability rights and queer rights scholars, activists, and organisations.  

 

In her 2015 article, Nivedita Menon offers four major critiques of intersectionality, arguing against its use, particularly in the Indian context. She writes that the use of intersectionality as a concept by development agencies such as the United Nations has increased its popularity and has depoliticised the concept, serving as a reminder of the global North’s hegemony in setting theoretical paradigms. Additionally, she argues that owing to India’s anti-imperial struggles, leaders and practitioners are constantly “engaging with multiple identities.” She supports this argument by presenting a range of political positions on debates related to the women’s movement. Meena Gopal replies to Menon, suggesting that she has not accurately represented the movement and has made key slippages in presenting a range of opinions. Mary E John responds to Menon as well, saying that intersectionality’s history requires more thorough recognition and that Menon’s examples do not demonstrate intersectionality’s redundancy in India.

 

Jennifer C Nash replies to all three scholars by saying that intersectionality should be explored as one among many anti-subordination frameworks developed by feminists of colour. 

 

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Intersections of Gender and Caste, Rege et al, 2013
  2. Conceptualising Brahminical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State, Uma Chakravarti, 1993
  3. Understanding Lohia’s Political Sociology: Intersectionality of Caste, Class, Gender and Language, Anand Kumar, 2010
  4. Feminist Trajectories in Time and Space: Perspectives from India, Mary E John, 2014

​Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Feminism and Intersectionality."

Curated by Abhishek Shah [abhishekshah@epw.in]

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