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Whatever Happened to Women's Studies

More and more women's studies centres and courses in gender studies are being introduced in India but the academic relevance, recognition and role for women's/gender issues within the broader space for social sciences are still very marginalised. One major challenge is posed by the dominant patriarchal thinking within academic institutions and their administrative wings, which interfere or control the functioning of these centres while being mostly unaware of the thoughts and developments within the discipline.

The historical journey of women’s literacy and women’s education in India has gone through many phases—from the danger of the possibility of “good girls from good families” writing love letters, of making women literate or educating them “just enough” to be “good wives or mothers,” to the journey to streams like home science or the never-ending promotion of vocational trainings for women. All these phases were steps which women and feminists in India have climbed in order to reach where we are today with women’s/gender studies.

However, “what do you do/teach there?” is not just a common question asked by the ignorant, but even by many who are members of academic institutions. One is not or should not be surprised with the question at all, though sometimes the question comes not just from mere ignorance but more from a politically motivated intentional ignorance. This is not just the case of women’s studies centres but of other relatively new disciplines like Dalit studies (which is a part of the programme for the study of social exclusion and inclusive policies) too—though many in this case are clearer about what is being taught. As an integral part of society, what happens in society and its power structures will certainly reflect in academic institutions too. Interestingly, just as a reflection of this, disciplines like women’s studies/gender studies/sexuality studies or Dalit studies in most of the academic institutions are also marginalised in a similar way within its internal structures. This is reflected in the resources provided to them or the positions or power shared by them within academic institutions which are comparable.

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