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A Search for Feminist Roots

Indigenous Roots of Feminism: Culture, Subjectivity and Agency by Jasbir Jain (New Delhi: Sage), 2011; pp xiv + 341, Rs 695.

Feminism and feminist movements in India (and the global south) have had to constan­tly respond to allegations of being “westernised”, “middle-class”, even “root­less”. A stubborn obstacle to a wider acceptance of feminist ideas in India has been precisely this belief that the concerns of feminism, indeed feminists themselves, are extraneous to the social realities of the region. An oft-repeated justification for rejecting feminism – voiced in the academy, activist spaces, and by the general public, if in varying degrees of vehemence – is its supposedly inalienable western orientation. It is often contended that such a procli­vity makes feminist pro­jects in India a facile copy of feminism in the west, and feminists not “true” representatives of the “Indian woman”. Critical reactions to such forms of resistance to feminism have been wide-­ranging. Feminists in India have argued, for instance, that while much of feminist thought may indeed be of western origin, in the four decades of the contemporary women’s movement and women’s studies, questions of gender have been rethought and re-conceptualised to address their implications in the specific context of the Indian subcontinent. The multiple strands of feminism in India, therefore, have their own peculiar histories. It has also been pointed out that while the charge of foreignness is routinely levelled at feminism, no such concern is raised while discussing the relevance of Marxism or modern science – which has also been routed through western thinkers – to Indian society.

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