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Maya Machhindra and Amar Jyoti: Reaffirmation of the Normative

Behind the apathy towards the women's reservation bill in 1996 and 2008, there is a deep-seated anxiety and apprehension about assigning more political power to women, making them more powerful in the public domain which is supposedly that of the male. This paper traces these anxieties and apprehensions historically and looks at how popular cinema masked, evaded, deflected or resolved the anxieties about the changing equations of gender and power.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1775Maya Machhindra and Amar Jyoti: Reaffirmation of the Normative Vaishali DiwakarI sincerely thank Sharmila Rege, Maithreyi Krishnaraj, Vidyut Bhagwat and Swati and Anagha for their comments and suggestions.Vaishali Diwakar ( teaches sociology at St. MiraCollege,Pune. Behind the apathy towards the women’s reservation bill in 1996 and 2008, there is a deep-seated anxiety and apprehension about assigning more political power to women, making them more powerful in the public domain which is supposedly that of the male. This paper traces these anxieties and apprehensions historically and looks at how popular cinema masked, evaded, deflected or resolved the anxieties about the changing equations of gender and power.1 IntroductionThe long awaited 33% women’s reservation bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on 6 May 2008. This bill was enthusias-tically welcomed by women politicians across political parties.1 But there was seemingly a huge apathy amongst the malemembers of the Parliament that was reported explicitly by some dailies. One feels that behind this apathy there is a deep-seated anxiety and apprehension about assigning more political power to women, making them more powerful in the public domain, which is supposedly the male domain.2 The same anxieties were expressed in 1996 when the United Front govern-ment introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill that sought to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. This reservation bill and the subsequent debate on “quota within quota” provoked a flurry of debate amongst feminist scholars, activists, politicians and the masses. The major argument supporting these apprehensions about the bill is that once a woman acquires power, she would not remain the same “docile wife”. She may question the structures of the family, which exclude her from resources and authority through marriage and inheritance practices. On the contrary, the argument supporting the bill emphasises the essential qualities of women. It is said that their “mothering” and “nurtur-ing” qualities will undoubtedly give a different face to politics (Niranjana 2002). However, the issues involved in the debate over the reser-vation for women are more nuanced and go well beyond just pro and against. The question of reservation for women has always brought a “difference” to the centre; a difference between man and woman or among women, with the latter being more significant. Clearly, one accepts that there is no one collective overarching position on women’s reservation policy. Women often define themselves through difference and conflict. However, the strate-gic deflection of one difference by another which is at play as far as the women’s bill is concerned, often overshadows the core anxieties/apprehensions. Therefore, one needs to consciously move beyond these deflections and focus on the anxieties about women coming out in public. In the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, when Indian women started articulating their political rights, women leaders, mainly drawn from the urban elite class unconditionally believed in the goodwill of male nationalists and thus imagined political power on the terms of rationalist male nationalists. The challenge to this conception of power mainly came from the women in the Ambedkarite movement, who constituted the very notion of power in different ways and
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly76challenged the traditional notions of gender and power.3 How-ever, the way gender and power was configured by liberal women dominated the popular imagination in the 1930s, and this paper reviews this position to re-examine how cinema of the 1930s constitutes and is constituted by the popular social imagination. Statistics reveal that since independence, women’s representa-tion in actual decision-making has been as low as 4% to 7%. This figure is proof of women being politically powerless and the rea-son for this is to be found in the unequal distribution of power in our society (Thakur 1996). Semantini Niranjana argues that the space available to women within the Indian political system is hardly significant, despite the fact that several political rights have been enshrined in the Constitution. According to her, one needs to explore the possible barriers to women’s political partic-ipation. She feels that entrenched ideologies that assume that politics is the world of men and that women’s role should be con-fined to the domestic domain serve to back up myths about women in politics (Niranjana 2002). Thus, the reason for the low participation of women in the political sphere can be found in the complexities of the public/private divide (Yuval Davis and Web-ner 2005; Roy 2005; Lister 1997; Mahajan and Reifeld 2003; Voet 1998). As Gurpreet Mahajan puts it, the public and the private ex-ist as complementary entities. They constitute different modes of enhancing democratic citizenship and embody attributes that are essential to the existence of a democratic polity. She further ar-gues that the popular beliefs created by the liberals that private and public are two different spheres rule the popular imagina-tion (Mahajan and Reifield 2003). One needs to understand that the possible barriers to women’s political participation can be seen in the construction of public and private as distinct spheres and how these constructions of private and public are drawn dif-ferently over time and space and differently drawn for women and men of different castes and communities.Cinema is much accepted as the most recognised form of popular culture. It is a valid historical archive for the writing of political, social and cultural history and, particularly, to examine how popular imagination gets constructed to address common anxieties and social tensions, and ultimately to resolve them by presenting mythical solutions to restore an utopian world. A non-linear discursive social history may be mapped through repeti-tive themes, narratives, conflicts, resolutions and evasions that at different moments reveal gradual social reconfigurations or a sharp break with what went on before. Therefore, one strongly agrees with Virdi that rather than read popular screen charac-terisation of women as mythology’s timeless cultural resources, searching history for continuities and shifts in the idealised rep-resentation of women offers better clues to the way cinema struc-tures our present culture and law. Kumkum Sangari emphati-cally advocates that we must identify the cultural processes that enable the symbolic empowerment and mythification of women (Chawdhry 2001; Virdi 2003). The popular cinema thus helps to explore the following questions, viz, how was “citizenship” and “power” imagined? Which women can rightfully claim power? What are the changing notions of power? How power was imag-ined differently for different women? How changing equations of power gave rise to anxieties, conflicts and how these conflicts and anxieties were resolved or evaded?The period of the 1920s and 1930s was marked by heightened nationalist activities. This period also for the first time witnessed the articulation of the demand for the political rights for women in India. The early 20th century was significant as far as the con-struction of Indian womanhood is concerned. The nationalist project created a model of Indian womanhood that was based on a mixture of brahmanical patriarchy and the British Victorian ideology. The nationalist ideology conceptualised woman as a symbolic signifier and bearer of the nation. Nations are frequently referred to through the iconography of the familial and domestic sphere. Woman’s question was resolved from the public discourse in the early 20th century by pushing it into the realm of “private” and by relegating the issue to being a “social” issue and not a “po-litical” one. One comes across several instances in history, where anxieties and apprehensions are vigorously expressed when dif-ferent sections demand their share in the political power based on their caste and gender identities. This paper seeks to capture one such moment of dissonance in history and looks at how the popular cinema masked, evaded, deflected or resolved the anxieties about changing equation of gender and power. This paper examines how V Shantaram’s cin-ema in the 1930s deploys certain discursive strategies that subor-dinate women and yet uses them for constructing national iden-tity. The early 20th century Indian woman at once stood for both the unified, utopian nation and as well as for the particular reli-gion, caste and community as and when required – thus making woman an unstable signifier.As Virdi claims, ultimately this impinged on the legal reform discourse which sacrificed women’s rights as equal subjects (Virdi 2003). There was a constant fear that women’s issues might divide the nationalist movement whose one-point agenda was to get freedom from British rule. Thus the demand for wom-en’s political rights generated a set of anxieties, apprehensions, especially amongst the liberal rationalist leaders, legislative of-ficials and common masses, and initiated responses from women activists of varying ideological and political orientations. The public-private divide often translates into different binaries. In this context, these binaries can be seen as “India” vs “west”, “ba-zaar women” vs “upper caste women” and “political” issues vs “social” issues. The anxieties expressed by different groups are mainly about these binaries. An urgent need was felt to priori-tise “national” interest. This resulted in pushing back other iden-tities. Using women to represent the nation helped to blur these differences. To see how the cinema of V Shantaram was critical in the construction of popular social imagination in this period facilitates a better understanding of the nuanced complexities of the period. This paper re-reads two of V Shantaram’s hugely popular films, namely, Maya Machhindra (1932) andAmar Jyoti (1936), both produced by Prabhat Film Company to explore the above-mentioned questions and re-examine the anxieties and apprehensions expressed in those times and the continuities they share with contemporary period. We will take a brief look at V Shantaram’s cinema and its history in order to get a better understanding of the cinema of the Prabhat Film Company, by
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1777locating both films in the larger context of the cinema of the 1930s in general. 1.1 The Cinema of the 1930s The Prabhat Film Company, while keeping its strong linkages with the regional ethos, did gain national acclaim. It used to pro-duce films in both Hindi and Marathi to attract audiences beyond regional boundaries. It established itself as one of the prominent film companies that shaped the consciousness of men and women in Maharashtra as well as at a national level. It largely engaged with the themes of the social reform movement of the period and employed techniques that were far ahead of the times. The films of Prabhat effectively commented on social practices like prosti-tution (Manoos 1939), unequal marriages and age at marriage (Kunku 1937), women and power (Maya Machhindra 1932 and Amar Jyoti 1936), religious orthodoxy (Dharmatma, Amrut Man-than 1934), etc. In popular imagination, Shantaram came to stand for “reformist”, “progressive”, “modernist” ideology. In many of his interviews, he explicitly expressed the fact that he has used cinema as a medium to propagate ideas of his times. His cinema came to be identified with reform and the women’s ques-tion in India. Some other films and film companies also com-mented on social evils in the same period.The issues that prevailed during the social reform movement and the debates that occurred then appeared repeatedly in the cinema of 1930s, but there was near silence as far as the issues of women’s political rights, their participation in the public sphere was concerned, especially those issues that challenge the very structure of Indian society. One comes across a few attempts to comment upon these issues. Deshdasi 1935 (women in Gandhian movement);Deshdeepak, 1935 (women in power as against the patriotic idealism);Fashionable India 1936 (women as a part of modern civilisation) were few exceptions during 1930s (Rajad-hyaksha and Willeman 1993). Similarly, the whole series of “Fear-less Nadia” films (Bombaywali 1941;Hunterwali 1935;Miss Fron-tier Mail 1936;Hurricane Hansa 1937;Punjab Mail 1939) were very popular during this period. However, one wonders whether Nadia’s “foreigner” status allowed her to display power in a more explicit manner, thus posing the assertive western woman against the passive eastern woman. In this scenario, we should read carefully, the explicit com-ment offered on these issues by Shantaram’s films. In his autobio-graphical accounts, V Shantaram mentions that Amar Jyoti is the first film about women’s liberation. Both the films,Maya Mach-hindra (1932) andAmar Jyoti (1936) become significant in explor-ing the changing notions of gender and power and to re-examine how the claims of upper class, upper caste male to adult citizen-ship were naturalised in the popular imagination. Both these films deal with what happens when women are given power. Maya Machhindra belongs to the genre of mythological films, whereas Amar Jyoti to the costume drama. One could argue that choosing these genres enabled one to handle power issues on tra-ditional terms because mythology naturalises Indian tradition. The strong semblance to tradition, the storyline of “Nath tradi-tion” and the format of costume drama is engraved in the public mind as legitimate and a genuine history. In the first section, we take a brief review of the anxieties expressed, especially by the nationalist leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC), and by legislative officials, about women coming out in public. In the second section, we list out the re-sponses by women of various organisations. In the last section, we see how, through Amar Jyoti andMaya Machhindra, these apprehensions and anxieties were resolved, displaced, masked or deflected. 2 Anxieties about Women Coming Out in Public2.1 Background The genesis of the struggle for political rights goes back to 1917. Women activists of different ideological orientations came to-gether to demand the right to vote. An all-India delegation of prominent women was formed to meet the Montague Chelms-ford Committee, which was to visit India in order to introduce more Indians in the governing process. Members of the women’s delegation presented an address, documenting the awakening of Indian women to their civic responsibilities. All of them wanted women to have the status of “people” in a self-governing nation within the empire (Forbes 1996). With this delegation, Indian women began to articulate their struggle, to secure for them-selves political and civil rights. Prior to this, women did take part in the public sphere. In the late 19th century, the movement for education for women produced “a new woman”, whose interests went beyond the do-main of the household. Formal education gave them an opportu-nity to communicate with other women outside their families. However, as Maitrayee Chaudhuri comments, they never broke their ties with the traditional roles of women and ideologically remained committed to the extension of these roles (Chaudhuri 1993). Chaudhuri’s comment remains true even for women’s participation in theINC sessions and the Gandhian movement for freedom. From the very onset of the 19th century, the women’s question had figured prominently in British criticism of the “native” civili-sation. The theme of Indian women’s subordination and the mis-erable status formed an essential element in the colonial attempt at cultural domination. The British used the woman’s question as a means to establish their superiority and liberality, to legitimise their raj. Given the gravity of the British charge on the condition of women, the INC was obliged to involve women in their ses-sions. However, in the last two decades, many studies have shown how women’s participation in the INC, especially in the initial years, remained limited and at a symbolic level (Forbes 1982, 1996; Mahan 1999; Minnault 1982). It has been said that the real significant breakthrough came with the rise of the Gandhian movement for freedom. However, studies claim that Gandhi played an important role in the domestication of the public sphere. He tried to use women’s tradi-tional qualities to extend their traditional roles into the public sphere. He strongly believed that their participation in politics should not come in conflict with their family responsibilities. According to him, women must seek the permission of their guardians to participate in political activities. In fact, it was
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly78argued that the domestication of the public sphere made it safe and desirable for women to participate in politics. Thus women’s participation in the INC activities and the Gan-dhian struggle for freedom have been taken as evidence of women having won their political rights. In the same period, three national level organisations were established, viz, Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917, National Conference of Women in India (NCWI) in 1925 and the All Indian Women’s Conference (AIWC) in 1927 to fight for women’s righs. The WIA andNCWI es-tablished themselves as elite organisations. However, from a po-litical perspective, development of these organisations was an evidence of the launching of an intense “votes for women” cam-paign. Activists in these organisations gradually realised the fact that, while fighting against the social institutions that con-strained them, they would also have to tackle the cause of the evils, which lay not only in customs, but also in political subjuga-tion and economic exploitation of the subcontinent (Mahan 1999). As a result, many members of the women’s organisations came to be actively involved with the Congress campaign as well as with the women’s organisations to fight for female franchise. In her analysis of the presidential speeches of AIWC, Jana Everett points to the fact that in the period 1932-40, all speeches empha-sised equal rights. Prior to this, the emphasis was more on wom-en’s education (Everett 1979). This shift from “education” to “rights” is quite revealing. One obvious reason for the shift is that many women activists of wom-en’s organisations had also joined the wider political movement and thus were naturally made politically aware of their rights as women. Second, women’s organisations, which in a way became the vanguard of the battle for ballot, especially WIA, had activists who were part of British/Irish suffragist movement, viz, Annie Besant and Margaret Cousins. These women became a bridge be-tween British suffragists and the Indian women activists and shared information about women’s battle to gain franchise in dif-ferent parts of the western countries. At a third level, during this period, a series of questions were put to male nationalists. Those who said women would be given their rights in due course were reminded of their own arguments that rights are not “given” but had to be fought for. Fourth, in the conception of the modern nation, the rights-bearing individuals assume significance. Therefore, it became an important agenda to claim political rights for women. Thus, by the late 1920s, two quite different ra-tionales for women’s rights were being expressed – one, that women’s rights should be recognised because of women’s socially useful role as mothers, and the second, that women having the same need, desires and capacities as men, were entitled to the same rights. The latter emphasises that the demand for equality between the sexes was itself based on the principle of sameness rather than complementarity. It is also interesting to see how the male nationalists received these demands. Before analysing this, we must briefly see an ironic contrast that seems noteworthy throughout the period of the battle for female franchise. The British were continuously talking about their “civilising mission” and insisting that they were preparing Indians for self-governance. They had an interest in both: maintaining women’s subordination and in liberalising them. They used the former to show Britain’s superiority and to justify their rule and the latter to show how Indians were not fit for self-rule (Mahan 1999). For the liberal rationalist nationalist leaders, thus, the status of woman became symbolic of India’s preparedness for self-rule. In this view then, if Indian men were to claim political rights for themselves, it behoved on them to grant greater rights to their women. It was argued that various rights and legal reforms would grant women greater dignity and status within the family and would permit them to perform their traditional roles better, and in turn, would benefit the nation. Further, it was stressed that with these rights, the domestic sphere would be enlightened, men would find a greater com-panion at home and children would be healthier and better prepared (Forbes 1996). The nationalist project conceptualised women as symbolic sig-nifiers and bearers of the nation. Nations are frequently referred through the iconography of familial and domestic sphere. This symbolic signification viewed the glorification of women only through their reproductive powers. Thus a specific identity of Indian woman was created. According to Thaper-Bjorkert, this construction is important in understanding the complexity of women’s engagement with nationalist movement, how women have been represented in national histories on the one hand, and on the other, how women have actually negotiated and chal-lenged their roles and contributions to nationalism (Thaper-Bjorkert 2006). To sum up, one can see that all those liberal nationalists who supported women’s political and legal rights necessarily per-ceived these as an extension of their domestic, wifely and moth-erly duties. They were apprehensive about giving women their rights on the principle of sameness or equality of sexes. The rights that would disturb the “peaceful”, “spiritual” domestic domain were not accepted wholeheartedly. Such demands received various kinds of reservations from different sets of people. In the following section, we will take a review of these anxieties. 2.2 AnxietiesExpressedabout Women’s Political Rights The major arguments to oppose the demand for female franchise in the 1920s and 1930s can be put in three broad categories: (1) to retain the traditional role for women; (2) fear about likely promiscuous mixing-up with “bazaar” women; and (3) that this would make the national agenda take a back seat. In 1917, under the leadership of Sarojini Naidu, a long time Congress worker, an all-India delegation demanded female franchise on the same terms as men. After the Montague Chelmsford Committee, the Southborough Franchise Commit-tee toured India in 1918 and concluded that granting the fran-chise to Indian women would be premature. Most British offi-cials were sceptical of granting the right to vote to Indian women. They believed that the majority of Indian women were uneducated and living in seclusion. At home, the situation was not very different. Cornelia Sorab-jee, who studied law at Oxford, comments on the uneducated state of Indian women and claims that only a few progressive women were educated and they could not represent all women. It would be dangerous to extend the vote to all women. According
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1779to her, until all women were educated, political reform could not be of any real and lasting value. Another set of apprehensions heavily leaned on the women’s traditional role. Her place in the domestic sphere was valorised. The opponents of this campaign mainly discussed women’s inferiority and incompetency in the public affairs. Some of them argued that, if women participated in public life through franchise, they would neglect their husbands and children. These arguments went to such an extent that people claimed that political activity rendered women incapable of breast-feeding, which is viewed as the highest divine duty of any woman. It was also argued that with this right, the traditional gender roles would break down and then there would be a situation of role re-versal. Forbes mentions that the opponents felt that voting might play havoc with women’s natural roles as wives and mothers, roles which were supposed to be sanctioned by tradition and re-vered and respected throughout time (Forbes 1996). Some of them also exaggerated the fact by saying that “every woman would compulsorily keep voting all the time and meals would not be cooked” (Roy 2002). When majority of women were asking for the right to vote, as a first step towards equality of sexes, the difference between the sexes was used to show women’s unsuitability for political activi-ties. It was said that, her milder qualities, graces and aptitude were meant to make her a useful wife and loving mother, further the constitution of her body and inherent periodical disabilities made her essentially unfit for outdoor work. These discussions not only highlighted the differences between men and women, but also brought out the differences between women. Kumudini Basu, who supported enfranchisement of educated women, ex-pressed the concerns of her peers by saying that the act of voting might force respectable women to mix with undesirable women and thus she advised the revival of cantonment laws and the use of separate polling booths for prostitutes (Forbes 2002). In the course of the franchise debate, the monolith of Indian woman was fragmented for convenience on the basis of literacy level, class, caste, religion and respectability. These divisions among women surfaced in the discussion of reserved seats. In particular, the Communal Award, with its provision for communally divided electorates for women, drove a wedge through the public face of unity, which the women’s organisations had displayed. Further, the tensions between the upper caste women activists and the dalit women activists came to the forefront when in one of the conferences ofAIWC dalit women were served food separately. However, Anupama Roy points out that the emergence of a cate-gory of women associated with the reservation of seats was shortly overshadowed by nationalist patriotism (Roy 2002). Many arguments were put forward to oppose female franchise on the grounds that the nationalist struggle had to be given primacy. Bhikaji Cama, when she met Hirabai and Mithan Tata, two leading activists, stated that they should first work for India’s freedom and independence. She believed that when India would become independent, women would get not only the voting, but all other rights. In the same vein, Gandhi advised women that the timing for the campaign was wrong. He said that he would not support the votes for women campaign. He believed that this campaign would waste their energies which they could better employ to fight against the common foe (Forbes 1996). In differ-ent contexts, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mridula Sarabhai agreed that the women’s rights movement was less important than the nationalist struggle. They too believed that once India got free-dom, women’s problems would automatically get resolved (Forbes 1996; Basu 1996). Nehru believed that, more than political inde-pendence, women should get economic independence. He ac-knowledged the contribution of women in the household but he wanted women to participate in the economic activities of the modern nation as well as being good mothers and wives. How-ever, his vision of modern nation did not constitute gender as a form of social organisation (Thaper-Bjorkert 2006). What these opinions of nationalists reflect is that talking about only women’s issues was a selfish act which stood in contrast to the true character of women (docile, sacrificial, selfless), and was therefore condemnable. These apprehensions heavily support the popular assumptions which dominated the public imaginations as far as the relation between women and power was concerned. There was a strong opposition to assigning women power because then it would stand as completely opposite to their traditional role. There was a constant fear that there would be mixing of “morality” and “im-morality” which underlined the subsequent assumption that if a woman stepped out of her “home”, she was no longer safe, she would be contaminated. This further led to one more common assumption that home was the purest site on which the imagin-ing of the “nation” could be shaped. The parallels were drawn between the home and the nation to underline the role of the woman – not as a “home breaker” but as a “homemaker”. Thus, in principle, theINC, representative of the national interest, had accepted the equality of sexes as a part of the Karachi Resolution in 1931. However, the INC proved to be an unreliable ally as far as women’s equal rights were concerned. Women activists of liberal orientation responded to the fears expressed by men, especially that politics will make women less feminine and manlier. In the next section, we will briefly review these responses. 2.3 Responses by Liberal Women Activists Referring to the male objection that politics would make women less feminine and would make them abandon their role as mothers and wives, Sarojini Naidu convincingly argued that extending the franchise to women was rationally, scientifically and politi-cally sound, compatible with tradition and consistent with hu-man rights. She further assured the menfolk, “we ask for the vote not that we might interfere with you in your official functions, your civic duties, your public place and power, but rather that we might lay the foundation of national character in the souls of the children that we hold upon our laps and instil into them the ideals of national life” (Forbes 1996: 94). In the same tune, Begum Shah Nawaz felt that women could deal with the vote and the affairs of the nation because of the administrative skills they had learnt at home. Woman was a born administrator and the virtual ruler of the home. Thus, women’s special and predominant role in the family was used to support
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly80women’s voting rights. In the same vein, Kumudini Bose accepted women’s place in the home. She guaranteed that by getting fran-chise, the woman would not be ousted from her home. On the other hand, through her vote, she would influence and control the legislation that was affecting her home. Bose further claimed that politics was not something that could be kept in one com-partment. It affected both the sexes and thus men and women should work together. Women activists assured men that they never wanted to wrench the power belonging to men; instead they continuously focused on the complementarity of the two sexes. It was argued that it is only through such complementarity in the public life that one can achieve completeness of national life (Roy 2005). However, as Anupama Roy points out, a persistent dilemma for the women activists all through the franchise cam-paign was how to gain admission into the public sphere without generating the disruptive identities of “manly” women or “street” women and without being targeted as the instruments of social disorder (Roy 2002). One thinks that this dilemma was resolved by accepting that women’s place is in the home and that gender roles were complementary. Further, this dilemma was untangled by equating the home with the nation, by re-inscribing the home as the site where the nation was being built and consolidated. However, liberal voices were not uniform. Some of the women activists were more radical in their views. For them, female fran-chise was not a question of their traditional roles but it was a fundamental right to have equal opportunities. Sarladevi Chaud-hurani invoked the principle of equality of all human beings. She stressed that in an age of human rights, justice, freedom and self-determination, women had as much right as men to chart their own destinies. She also commented on the division of labour and intellect and said, “The world has outgrown certain ideas, par-ticularly the fanciful divisions of intellect and emotions as the respective spheres of men and women”. She used the language of comradeship where both men and women work together as citi-zens. V Kamalabai Ammal reminded that women were as much the children of India as men were. Mrinalini Sen, a Bengali suf-fragette, wrote, “Although women are subject to all the laws and rules exercised by the British government, they could not vote”. Few women activists linked the right to vote to the advancement of the nation. Jaiji Janhangir Petit, chair of the Bombay Women’s Committee for Women’s Suffrage, said, “Women ask no favour but claim rights and justice. If the vote is denied, it will mean a serious check to women’s advancement in India” (Roy 2002). Referring to the objection that feminist demands would sabo-tage national interests, women activists recurrently confirmed that it was not a war between the two sexes. In the 1930s, both Sarojini Naidu and Begum Shah Nawaz declared that they were not feminists and there was no such thing as a feminist move-ment in India. Rameshwari Nehru emphasised that the franchise movement in India was a fight against orthodoxy, ignorance and reaction and not against the other sex and was different from the west. To sum up, the liberal voice of the women activists was not uniform. Most of the responses to male fears, accepted the wom-an’s position in the domestic sphere and enfranchisement as the extension of their traditional roles as mothers and wives. They heavily concurred with the prevailing assumptions about wom-en’s place in the “public” sphere. However, one cannot deny credit to the women activists for opening for discussion the issue of political rights. They challenged the male domination over public sphere. Though they encapsulated women in their traditional role, they definitely made space for women in the public sphere. In the following section, we will see how these fears and ap-prehensions were resolved, deflected or displaced inAmar Jyoti and Maya Machhindra, produced by Prabhat Film Company and directed by V Shantaram. 3 Amar Jyoti andMaya MacchindraIn this section, an attempt has been made to do a syntagmatic and paradigmatic reading of both the films. This will enable us to see how the issues involved in the debate over granting political rights to women in particular, and debate over gender and power in general, constituted the cinema of the 1930s.3.1 Amar Jyoti (1936) The Plot: The filmAmar Jyoti was produced in 1936 by Prabhat Film Studio and directed by V Shantaram. He declares this film to be the first film about the liberation of women.Amar Jyoti is a story of a pirate leader – Saudamini. She is a cruel leader of her posse who rules the waves and is feared by all those who sail the seas. Her personal vendetta against the queen of Swarnadeep is due to the fact that she is estranged from her son due to the queen’s order. Saudamini’s friend and fellow pirate Shekhar con-tinuously tries to woo her away from her violent, “masculine” ways and urges her to heed her “natural” destiny as a woman and a “mother”. Saudamini even manages to influence Nandini, the princess of Swarnadeep and grooms her as a successor. Sau-damini wages a long, often successful battle against Swarnadeep in her unnaturally cruel style, while completely suppressing her emotional, feminine side. Her “true” nature though comes rush-ing back to the fore when she realises that Sudhir, her long lost son despises the pirate Saudamini. In the end a repentant Sau-damini accepts in front of Shekhar that inner peace comes only from accepting what is “natural” to a woman. Reaffirming the Patriarchal Order: The narrative of the film revolves around Saudamini, and her vendetta against the queen of Swarnadeep. Saudamini wants to take revenge on the “estab-lished” system and for her the queen represents that system. She feels that, though a woman, the queen is an agency of the patriar-chal oppressive system. The queen has power at her disposal but she continues to support the oppression of the weak. At a per-sonal level, Saudamini seeks revenge on the queen since the latter had denied her custody of her son 12 years ago. She holds the queen responsible for her separation from her son. One day, Sau-damini captures the royal ship and in revengeful anger, destroys it. As a pirate, as a woman of self-worth, Saudamini believes that femininity makes a woman dependent on men, and therefore, she deliberately suppresses all her “womanly” feelings. Her attire also symbolises masculine traits in her. However, as the plot progresses and Saudamini accepts that abolishing feminine
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1781qualities as something unnatural, she is shown wearing a femi-nine attire. She earlier displayed all the so-called masculine traits. She wanted that women should not pamper their bodies and should not cry; instead, women should be physically and mentally strong. Saudamini moves across the ship with acrobatic swiftness, symbolic of her physical fitness. Her cruelty towards captured slaves symbolises her mental strength. In contrast to what was considered “natural” qualities of women in the 1930s, Saudamini displays distinctly “unnatural” behaviour. Sau-damini’s behaviour is used as a tool to deflect the real issues by caricaturing women in power. The film sets in competition the misguided “masculine”, “liberated” woman against the “tradi-tional”, “feminine” woman. By doing this the film reaffirms the anxieties of men and overplays the femininity by the upper caste women. As Geraldine Forbes argues, a new feminine political role was fashioned in the course of the nationalist movement. While a small group of women was able to aspire to public and leadership role on equal terms with men, a large majority was restricted to feminine modes of participation (Sen 2002).Saudamini burns the royal ship and convinces herself that thisis what she always wanted. She tells Shekhar, her fellow pirate and friend, that this act gives her real happiness. Shekhar argues that such acts of revenge never give fulfilment. That ful-filment is fleeting and momentary. Such a sense of power is short-lived. Referring to her denial of all womanly feelings, he says, “maybe you are physically strong, but what about the woman inside you?Though you have buried her very deep, one day the woman in you will indeed surface – since that is the natural selfof a woman.” In response to Shekhar’s advice, Saudamini says, “I did not choose this cruel profession by choice. At one time I too had aspired to achieve the higher goal of an ideal mother and woman”. Throughout the film, Shekhar is shown to be the voice of “rea-son”, constantly posing a friendly challenge to her ideas and in-stilling doubt in her otherwise confident demeanour. His success in these attempts and the disturbance he creates in Saudamini’s mind indicate the moral righteousness of his character. One would argue that Shekhar represents the male anxieties and fears about the changing notions of gender and power. As Sau-damini is shown to have aspired to be an “ideal” mother and woman, her current profession becomes diametrically opposed to the ideal. The 20th century public discourse pits ideal woman as mother against the selfish, self-indulgent woman. Indian womanhood is defined in terms of the ideal mother (recall the anxieties expressed by the legislative officials about women abandoning breastfeeding, cooking, and care of children once political rights are granted). There is no room shown for a middle ground for Saudamini – a struggle without destroying emotions, without gruesome cruelty. The site of contestation is displaced from the issue of the political struggle and the “unnaturalness” of her behaviour is used to discard the struggle as invalid. The power relationship between Shekhar and Saudamini, where Shekhar succeeds in convincing Saudamini and helps her when she is captured, can be looked upon as the male patronising voice. In her other adventures, Saudamini captures Durjay, the queen’s loyal servant and mutilates and imprisons him. He condemns her self-dignified image of herself and says, “You can-not do anything as a woman. It is only with the help of these loyal men you can do piracy.” He further describes a woman as “one who is physically weak, who does not have the guts to fight, who has been condemned by nature. Therefore, it is her destiny to be controlled by men.” Throughout the film, images of large waves crashing on a rocky sea face, breaking up and retreating, is used at specific moments. These indexical images are used when Shekhar tries to convince Saudamini of the futility of revenge and when Durjay angrily opposes her. These images come to symbolise the futility of Saudamini’s ideas and her struggle against patriarchy. Nandini, the princess who was hiding in a box when Saudamini destroyed the royal ship, reaches Saudamini’s hideout with the loot. She meets Sudhir, Saudamini’s long lost son, in the jungle near the hideout. Durjay, who has helped Nandini in evading the pirates and is in love with Nandini, gets angry when he finds this out. When Saudamini finds Nandini, she successfully convinces her of the “cause” and recruits her. She convinces Nandini that religion, politics and law, all support women’s slavery. She says that, therefore, she wages the struggle to free women from this bondage and fight for man-woman equality. She assures Nandini that freedom from slavery is a noble cause. An enamoured Nandini says, “I am ready to sacrifice everything for sisterhood” and vows to abolish all soft feelings and femininity. She rejects Sudhir’s love for her when she joins Saudamini. Durjay and Sudhir, both hurt by these “liberated” women, join hands to fight against Saudamini. Sudhir rescues Durjay and cap-tures Saudamini. Durjay blackmails Saudamini – “I know where your son is and he will be ashamed to call you his mother. There is still time so try to become ‘normal’ ”. Saudamini pleads with him not to reveal her identity to Sudhir. Woman’s deification of mother occupies a powerful position in the imagery of the nation in the early 20th century. The mother icon is used to personify the nation. The anxiety of being disowned as a mother of the nation, in case of a rebellion, forces the protagonist to accept the normative. The assertion of normative, tradition was the form in which nationalists resisted reform. Sen states that the dominant ideology that was being shaped in this process relocate the woman: from an index of social malady, she became the embodi-ment of the moral order (Virdi 2003; Sen 2002).After Saudamini’s capture, Nandini takes over as the next leader of the pirate ship. Nandini captures Sudhir and with great trepidation, but to follow Saudamini’s example, orders the pirates to mutilate Sudhir. But Saudamini is rescued by Shekhar and ar-rives just in time and orders that Sudhir should not to be hurt and should be released. Saudamini tells Sudhir that she is releasing him since she and his mother were close friends. She hides her identity by saying that Sudhir’s memories of his mother are very pure and chaste and she does not want to hurt him. Saudamini does not consider herself “pure” and “chaste”, and finds herself unfit to be looked upon as a “mother”. The glorification of moth-erhood and depiction of political struggle as incompatible with motherhood bring out the concerns of the early 20th century men with changing configurations of women and power.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly82Saudamini, after releasing Sudhir, hands over the mantle of the struggle to Nandini. She cries in repentance and confesses that it was her mistake to abolish femininity. The backdrop of the waves crashing on immovable rocks again brings alive the futil-ity of the struggle. In a sad, defeated voice Saudamini reflects that the waves are receding, unsuccessful in changing the rocks. Shekhar, the patronising voice of the liberal nationalists, con-soles her by saying that there has been some change and the struggle continues in the form of the new leader, Nandini. The name Suadamini symbolises “lightning”. However in the end, a jyot, a flame, comes out of her body as if the lightning has been transformed into a jyot that represents selflessness. Lightning is commonly perceived as shattering, almost destructive and malevolent, while in contrast the jyot is pure, benign, much milder, positive and auspicious. Images of a lamp lighting another one indicate a continuation of the struggle. One would argue that through this scene at the end of the film, there is an effort to establish the futility of the women’s struggle for power and at the same time provide a reconciliatory note that some change is indeed happening. The force of the women activists is shown to be spent and arguably indicates their return to tradi-tional roles. The image of a serene lamp lighting another sym-bolises the continuation of the struggle, but arguably the strug-gle continues with much lesser force. The leadership of the pirate ship is automatically transferred to Nandini, who happened to be the princess, thus reaffirms the natural claim of the upper caste, upper class women to power. As Virdi argues the class and gender conflicts are rolled together as the struggle for women’s rights itself becomes the fanciful pursuit of the leisured rich (Virdi 2003).3.2 Maya Machhindra (1932) The Plot: The story of the film is located in the “Nath” tradition. Challenged by the prostitute, Machhindranath, the powerful guru of the Nath tradition goes to Kamrup state – an all women’s state. The story has a backdrop of the guru explaining the ways of “maya” to his chief disciple, Gorakhnath. Machhindranath is determined to teach a lesson to the queen, Kilottala, who is shown as a man hater and believes that women are capable of handling power without the patronising presence of men. Mach-hindranath with his yogic powers impresses Kilottala to such an extent that she is ready to give away her power and the ideology and principles dear to her all through her life. Finally, Machhin-dranath is reminded of his spiritual duties by his most favourite disciple, Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath urges him to leave this “maya” (used as synonymous to women throughout the film) and resume his spiritual duty by abandoning the worldly pleasures. Kilottala catches the attention of the audiences by exhibiting her power which she acquires not by defeating somebody, but by surrender-ing herself to the patriarchal normative order and being a pativrata. Machhindranath convinces her of the importance of his spiritual responsibilities and assures her that he will be always there to help her and protect her. Under his patronage, Kilottala continues to rule for the years ahead but with a lot of humility and modesty.Restoring the ‘Normative’: A prostitute challenges Machhin-dranath’s yogic strength and says, “if you are so powerful, try to tame the women in the Kamrup state. Even if you return with your limbs intact, I will recognise your greatness.” Machhindranath ac-cepts the challenge saying, “for the ‘emancipation’ of women in the Kamrup state, I shall put to stake all my penance”. He sets out to-wards Kamrup along with his disciple Shankhanad. Here emancipa-tion of women is not necessarily the freedom from the subordina-tion but rather emancipation and liberation from the sin of going against the normative order. Myths associated with demonic strisva-bhav as maternal heritage and stridharma to tame this as paternal heritage assume importance in this context. According to Uma Chakravarty, stridharma was necessary to tame women’s sexuality and transport women from the realm of a wild untamed nature to that of an orderly world of culture (Chakravarty 2003). Thus Mach-hindranath represents this orderly world and considers this as his moral duty to bring women of Kamrup to the prescribed path. There was a constant fear that if women acquire power, their demonic strisvabhav would come to surface and the public world which sym-bolises the “rational” cannot be dealt with the demonic strisvabhav.Kamrup is an all-woman state ruled by Kilottala. Kilottala is depicted as a fiercely independent and an autonomous woman through her attire and the way she controls her “queendom” against all men. She poses a challenge to the traditional feminine stereotype even as she operates from her court with the lion faced throne and a cheetah as her pet. She displays a completely anti-feminine character and believes that the war for power is a war between sexes. During the 1930s, the campaign for vote by the women activists did not take an anti-men position and never per-ceived the struggle as a war between the sexes. This exaggera-tion enables the deflection of women’s demand for power. For Kilottala, power to rule is all-important. In fact, the cap-tured king Vishalaksha derides Kilottala for enticing men with her beauty and deceit and killing them without any consideration for justice. She is interested in conquering kingdoms with any means and making men her slaves. This portrayal of extreme cruelty and complete disregard for justice when a woman is in power can be looked upon as an extrapolation of fact into fiction with an aim of subverting the discourse on gender and power. Kilottala’s perception of the man-woman relationship is driven solely by the contest between them as to who is the slave and who is the master. The depiction of the complete lack of justice when women rule and Kilottala’s extreme lust for power, attempts to problematise power in the hands of women. Thus Machhindranath reaches Kamrup and with his yogic powers brings change in the minds of the queen Kilottala and her fellow beings. Kilottala completely enamoured by the powers of Machhindranath, surrenders herself and her throne. As a proof of the change in her, she is ready to even offer her life. Machhin-dranath agrees to stay on in Kamrup with the aim of “coaching” her. Machhindranath marries Kilottala and stays for nine years at Kamrup and a son Mauni is born. Marriage here is used as a strat-egy to effectively “coach” upper caste women and establish male hegemony in the private domain. As Sen says,the key to male monopoly and control was the marriage system. The interests of the colonial state and male nationalist sentiment clearly
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1783converged in the desire for a more draconian marriage regime. The promotion of marriage as the upper castes and middle classes under-stood it and the placing of the husband and father as the undisputed head of the family were important colonial and nationalist enter-prises” (Sen 2002).It has been said that women by nature are lustful and wicked, and therefore, must be regulated by stridharma. Stridharma has been defined in terms of the pativrata dharma. On being challenged by the prostitute, Machhindranath embarks on the mission to bring the errant behaviour of the women of Kamrup under control, even if he has to put to test all his powers. Gorakhnath, in search of his guru, reaches Kamrup. Disgusted with the way his guru is affected by maya, he kills Mauni. Machhindranath, with all his yogic powers is unable to revive his son, which Gorakhnath is able to do when ordered by his guru. Using a spell, Gorakhnath makes Machhindranath forget his nine year long stay at Kamrup so that he can easily leave with Gorakhnath. Kilottala, who finds herself completely lost without Machhindranath, challenges Gorakhnath with her powers of being a pativrata. Her powers revive Machhindranath from the spell cast on him by Gorakhnath. The powers of pativrata, the power by being within the prescribed norms is shown to exceed the powers of a ruler. In fact, giving up power, apparently gives her more power. Power is directly associated with purity and chastity, which in turn, is ensured by the conformity to the normative order. Thus conformity apparently is more power giving than “unnatural” aspiration to claim the direct power of the throne. As Uma Chakravarty claims, “the success of any system may be seen in the subtle working of its ideology and in that sense the pativrata concept can be regarded as a masterstroke of a genius of the Hindu normative order as expressed in its cultural values for women. It was one of the most successful ideologies con-structed by any patriarchal system, one in which women them-selves controlled their own sexuality and believed that they gained power and respect through the codes they adopted” (emphasis mine). She further argues that the stridharma or the pativrata dharma is an ideological mechanism for controlling the biologi-cal aspect of women which is supposed to be wild or untamed nature. Through the stridharma, the biological woman can be tamed and converted into woman as a social entity. The ultimate social control is achieved when the subordinated women not only accept their condition, but actually regard it as a mark of distinc-tion (Chakravarty 2003). In case of Kilottala the ultimate conver-sion from untamed nature to the cultured social entity assures the establishment of the patriarchal, hierarchical system.The tussle between Kilottala and Gorakhnath over Macchin-dranath – the iconic representation of the power in public domain – carries a deep symbolism with the contest between the women activists (Kilottala) and nationalist’s “natural” claim to power (Gorakhnath). Further, Machhindranath choosing to go with Gorakhnath resolves the ongoing debate on women’s political rights in favour of the power in public domain as exclusively belonging to men. At the end of the film, when Gorakhnath says he spent years bringing the guru to the “right” path, the fellow disciples say that it was all maya and actually the guru was always in the caves. Seemingly, women’s aspiration to power is maya and before and after the illusion, the truth stands – that power in public domain “naturally” remains with men.4 Gorakhnath enters Kamrup during “Vasantotsav” celebrations and finds Machhindranath so indulged in the worldly pleasures that he is disgusted with it. He finds Machhindranath at the nadir of his distraction from his spiritual goal – due to Kilottala, and vehemently derides his guru. The problematisation of the women’s demand to power and deflecting it as a distraction is thus achieved. When Machhindranath finally decides to go backwith Gorakhnath, he assures his patronage to Kilottala. After her “enlightenment”, Kilottala now understands that her power lies not in ruling as a “man” would rule, but ruling within the confines of stridharma. Thus the transformation from the “matriarchal demonic heritage” to the “patriarchal normative heritage” is complete.After Machhindranath leaves, Suryaketu, king of a neighbour-ing kingdom invades and captures Mauni and Kilottala. When Suryaketu threatens to kill Mauni if Kilottala refuses to marry him, Mauni pleads with Kilottala to protect her “dharma”, disre-garding his own life. Machhindranath sends Gorakhnath to the rescue, establishing his continued control and domination. Kilottala forgives Suryaketu and he readily accepts Mauni as his brother. Kilottala continues to rule Kamrup under the patron-age of Machhindranath. Kilottala’s choice to “forgive” Suryaketu, a trait of a pativrata, is depicted as successful in resolving ongo-ing conflicts. The emphasis on pativrata dharma clearly resolves the fears and anxieties about women possessing power. Her con-tinuity to rule the state assures the legitimacy of women’s politi-cal rights but the denial of independent rule confirms the fact that women’s political rights are more of an extension of their domestic duties.4 Conclusions In the 1920s and 1930s the debate over enfranchisement for women opened up various issues. Women’s position in national life, women’s nature and their unsuitability for public affairs came to the forefront. The arguments of women who belonged to the liberal tradition who waged the struggle for their political rights can be categorised broadly into two sets. One set of argu-ments emphasised the woman’s traditional role and thus per-ceived women’s rights as an extension of their traditional roles as mothers and wives. The other set of arguments emphasised the equality between man and woman and considered the “right to vote” as a first step towards equal legal rights. Both the films,Amar Jyoti andMaya Machhindra, released in the same period which corresponds with the “vote for women campaign”, resolved, displaced or deflected the arguments of the debate. In Amar Jyoti, Saudamini in the end regrets that she sup-pressed all her feminine feelings but never regrets her intention to fight against the system to establish man-woman equality. Her voice represents the voice of the women activists with the radical tone, who demanded the right to vote as a marker to establish equality between the sexes. InAmar Jyoti, the struggle of the activists is accepted as valid though in reality it was defeated by
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly84the nationalist struggle. However, through the transformation ofthe lightning into the jyot, the need to temper the struggle is expressed. The symbol of the retreating waves and rocks and Shekhar’s assurance that these waves will make a difference to the rocks, moves the debate on female franchise forward in a positive direction.Similarly, inMaya Machhindra, the issue of women’s right to power and their struggle has been resolved by encapsulating women in the traditional role of pativrata, by regulation of striswabhav by stridharma. It reinstates the notion that though the woman is in power, she needs to be regulated by men. The film is located in the “Nath” tradition which claims the legacy of Shaivism and popularly associated with the lower castes of northern Maharashtra. Moreover, in the Tibetan tradition, “Mat-syendranath” is identified with Lui-pa, who is generally taken to be the first of the Buddhist Siddhacharyas (Schomer and Mcleod 1987).5 Thus it is worth investigating whether the Nath tradition, owing its legacy to Shaivism and Buddhism had tremendous potential of reconfiguring the notions of gender and power, but finally reaffirms the brahmanical patriarchal notions of gender and power.BothMaya Machhindra andAmar Jyoti reinstate the fact that granting political rights was a necessary step towards building a modern nation as right bearing individuals form the essence of the modern nation. However, the patriarchal system ensures that these political rights serve only to extend the traditional role of women in the political sphere. In today’s context, if one reviews the 73rd and the subsequent amendments, the 33% reservation for women in Parliament and the reactions to these changes from different segments of the society, one realises that, though it is an achievement in itself, still the question of “who will make the chapattis?”6 remains at the centre of discussion. One also needs to understand that to some extent women are able to gain a sense of power with these amendments but the power is at a very low level of governance. At the higher level of governance, women are still invisible thus making the division between “public” and “private” even stronger. At various moments in history, the boundaries of the private and the public are drawn differently. As Gurpreet Mahajan (2003) claims, the sphere of the public and the private are continuously rearticulated in a manner that the two reinforce each other.Notes1 Photographs of Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Ka-rat who come from seemingly two opposite po-litical camps and greeting each other on the presentation of the bill flooded the television news and daily newspapers. The dailies also re-ported the apathy of the male members, the kind of chaos was there at the time of presenta-tion, the gross neglect of some political leaders, presentation of the bill after two-third members left the hall and tabling it in Rajya Sabha and not the Lok Sabha.2 Sanjay Raut, the spokesperson of the Shiv Sena commented, “Those demanding reservation should first take up issues like female foeticide and female literacy, if they want to bring real changes”, 14 May 2008.3 Women in the Ambedkarite movement estab-lished the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942 and were demanding participation in politics on equal terms. 4 The English title of the film is alsoIllusion.5 The Nath tradition traces its origin to Adinath, Lord Shiva himself and to Matsyendranath who is still worshipped in Nepal. 6 This phrase comes from the mimeograph pub-lished by Aalochana titled – “And Who Will Make the Chapatis? 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For the Attention of Subscribers and Subscription Agencies Outside IndiaIt has come to our notice that a large number of subscriptions to the EPW from outside the country together with the subscription payments sent to supposed subscription agents in India have not been forwarded to us.We wish to point out to subscribers and subscription agencies outside India that all foreign subscriptions, together with the appropriate remittances, must be forwarded to us and not to unauthorised third parties in India.We take no responsibility whatsoever in respect of subscriptions not registered with us. MANAGER

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