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A Rereading of Debates on ‘Caste and Gender’

Navigating a Field of Opposition

This paper attempts to think through an impasse in the field of feminist scholarship and activism in India, one that has been perceived and analysed by many feminist scholars in the last few years. This seeming impasse pertains to the "caste and gender" relationship, which has produced a field of opposition on questions related to sexual labour and sexualised representation. The focus of the study is on the figure of the bar dancer and the devadasi, and the continuing debates on their practice or the systems they are located in, to argue that this false field of opposition is created by a growing separation between legal and social reform and the consequent erasure of social histories of caste in moments that are overdetermined by the law. This paper, therefore, advocates a return to thinking through questions of consent, agency and freedom through the realm of social practice and history.

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