ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Exploring Gender, Hindutva and Seva

This article shows how the women's wing of the Dnyana Prabodhini, which began as an educational initiative in Pune in the 1960s, uses the concept of seva (service) to provide space for women to engage critically with socially relevant issues and consolidate their identity, as distinct from both the new "consumer" woman or the housewife and the "modern" woman. The ideal woman it envisages is seva-oriented, and differs from the feminists who extol individualism. Her modernity lies in her physical discipline, mental training, her awareness of social issues, her rootedness in family without getting trapped by the purely domestic for collective cultural regeneration of the Hindu Rashtra. Globalisation is not condemned but seen as an opportunity to achieve this ideal.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1765Exploring Gender, Hindutva and SevaSwati DyahadroyThis article shows how the women’s wing of the Dnyana Prabodhini, which began as an educational initiative in Pune in the 1960s, uses the concept of seva (service) to provide space for women to engage critically with socially relevant issues and consolidate their identity, as distinct from both the new “consumer” woman or the housewife and the ”modern” woman. The ideal woman it envisages is seva-oriented, and differs from the feminists who extol individualism. Her modernity lies in her physical discipline, mental training, her awareness of social issues, her rootedness in family without getting trapped by the purely domestic for collective cultural regeneration of the Hindu Rashtra. Globalisation is not condemned but seen as an opportunity to achieve this ideal.I am grateful to Vidyut Bhagwat and Sharmila Rege (my PhD supervisors) for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of the paper. This paper draws from my doctoral work and I would like to thank my examiners Uma Chakravarti, Maitrayee Choudhary and Kalpana Kannabiran for their comments. I am also grateful to Maithreyi Krishnaraj for her comments and to Sujata Patel for sharing her forthcoming work on seva which has helped me to consolidate my argument on seva. Swati Dyahadroy ( is with the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune.My introduction to women’s studies and critical thinking in sociology enabled me to see why and how I got in-volved in the Dnyana Prabodhini (DP) case study. In order to gain an analytical and critical understanding of notions such as “Hindu nation” and the nationalism associated with it, I was pushed to critically engage withDP’s underlying philo-sophy and to understand why women participate in right wing organisations. Why is the concept of building a Hindu nation appealing? What makes the social processes launched byDP distinctfrom those of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)? In the first section of this paper, I will briefly review the emer-gence of the DP and argue that unlike national organisations like the Shiv Sena, the RSS or the Patit Pawan Sanghatana, it does not have an overtly Hindutva face nor does it have a militant identity. However, a review of the various activities carried out by the DP definitely suggests that its aim is not just to provide education but, as argued by Sujata Patel (in her forthcoming book), it is a political project to create a community that poses a challenge to the state as well as to those groups seeking to develop alternate anti-caste, and secular identities. It also challenges movements that claim access to citizenship through non-electoral means (Fernandes 2006). In the second section, I review a wing of this organisation, that works for women of different age groups and examine how the concept of seva (service) has been used to mobi-lise women in order to consolidate their ideology of stree shakti (female power). In the last section, I attempt to understand the idea of social service and the ideal of motherhood used by the DP to counter the challenges emerging from the public identity for women generated by jobs, education and a new self-image for women (Sarkar 2001). This paper draws upon available feminist research on the participation of women in right wing organisa-tions. There are three kinds of representations of women in such organisations. One form of representation is of women who are simply alienated from their own interests and whose actions are seen as coherent with the interests of their male counterparts. Another represents them as joining right wing groups primarily out of a desire for community with other women and not because of any ideological or principled commitment to the organisation. Yet another represents them as motivated by choice, conviction and opportunism (Bacchetta 2004). This article tries to underline how the women’s wing of the DP employs the con-cept of seva to provide space for women to engage critically with themselves, make their “shakti” socially relevant and consolidate theiridentity, as distinct from both the new “consumer” woman or the grihalakshmi (the upholder of the welfare and prosperity
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly66of the home) and the “modern” woman (read modern Marathi woman) who is conscientious about her duties towards society and her family.Appa Pendse: From RSS to Dnyana Prabodhini Dnyana Prabodhini (a new experiment in education) was founded in 1962 by Appa Pendse (1962-86), who got his political training and initiation in theRSS. Vinayak Pendse popularly known as Appa Pendse was born to an upper caste Hindu Chitpavan family in Pune. His RSS background and efforts to serve the nation by creating a generation of leaders is significant in understanding the formation of theDP. The articles in theDP’s mouthpiece about Appa Pendse and his own writings underline the influence of Swami Shradhnanda, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo on his work. He was attracted to Vivekananda’s idea of giving importance to spiritual Hindutva rather than to the “political” Hindutva. Thus, it is apparent that for Pendse, the early influences of Vivekananda, Veer Savarkar and his own participation in the RSS helped to consolidate the idea of Hindutva and a Hindu nation. Pendse got his first initiation of Hindutva in the period when Lokmanya Tilak had emerged as a national leader. Trained first inBalchar Sena (a form of drill, established by Lala Lajpat Rai) and later in theRSS, Pendse wanted to develop an organisation where Hindutva would be more homogeneous, dynamic and disciplined and could be employed towards creating a generation of leaders who would serve the Hindu nation. Establishment of the Temple of Learning From its inception, the school, established by Pendse in 1962 underlined its difference from other educational institutes. Even its architecture was meant to make a statement – Hindu temple spires punctuate the facade, constant reminders to its faculty that it is not merely an “institute” but a temple of learning. The school was one of the first in Pune city to be affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The intelligence quotient (IQ) testing created a popular image of a “scientifically oriented” school with stated aims and ideology and as a school for gifted children as compared to other schools where admissions were based on either first-come-first-serve basis or through political/social influence or donations. The distinctive markers of the school were its insistence on “pure Marathi” (instead of “Hello”, namaskar; in place of elevator, udwahak; and for building, vastu) and on Indian dress (churidar, kurta and the Gandhi topi). It was committed to creating future leaders who would work towards building a Hindu nation. It introduced compulsory training in traditional physical activities (thrice a week) and extra-curricular activities that were related to civic life of the city like helping during Ganesh utsavs (festivities), playingbarchya(a traditional folk form)during the immersion procession, selling fire crackers, participating in relief work at the time of natural disasters, organi-sing camps for students during the summer and winter vacations and organising study tours to rural areas or to the north-east region of the country. Its geographical location in Pune and within Pune, in Sadashiv Peth, which has a large concentration of “upper caste” Hindus, especially Chitpavan brahmins, is significant. By the 1930s, Pune had become an important centre for RSS activities, for the Hindu Mahasabha and for other radical Hindu nationalist organisations. The Sangh parivar in Pune had almost come to constitute an alternate civil society – with separate schools, its own banks, dominance in a large number of colleges, associations of youths, students, women, children, a number of social organisations working in the slums, its own informal networks, with frequent marriages betweenRSS affiliates and its informal communication networks (Hansen 1999). However, as argued by Hansen (ibid), the entireRSS subculture in Pune was threatened by the fear of exclusion and lack of recognition by those in power.Rich Anglo-Indian establishments and the intellectual elites, in and around the many national institutions in the city, also posed a challenge. Brahmin middle class families, with aspira-tions of upward mobility in cities like Pune, were in search of different options to recover their past glory and dominant posi-tion. They were now threatened by the upsurge of the “lower caste” groups, the reservation policy, land reforms and the domi-nance of the Congress Party after independence. Their new aspi-rations were not in tune with those of the dogmatic and orthodox Hindutva of theRSS and yet they were doubtful about educational institutes set up by the Anglo-Indians or the state-run educational institutes. By putting forth a combination of scientism (selection based onIQ testing) and religiosity (interpretation of different Hindu religious rituals to underline its relevance in the contem-porary world) to build leaders for the Hindu nation, DP offered a better option.It was started with the explicit aim of all-round development of physical, mental and spiritual qualities of students in general and of the gifted in particular. It stated its aims and objectives as:Dnyana Prabodhini is not a common level educational institution im-parting education based on textbooks…Development of the virtuous behaviour, truth in action, studiousness, industriousness, nationalis-tic character, nationalistic spirit, pride in golden Indian cultural past, pride in tradition, spontaneity, self motivation etc are the main tasks of Dnyana Prabodhini(DP, volume 1, 1972).It believes that through education alone, one can create leaders who will accept the role of being selfless servants of the Hindu nation: Prabodhini will try to imbibe modesty coupled with self-confidence and not snobbishness, dedicated to the cause and not self-centered-ness. The ability to do organised work in small and large groups is highlighted against individualism. Last but not the least, the awaken-ing of the spiritual nature of the pupils is seen as one of the greatest responsibilities of this institution (DP, volume 1, 1972).With this ideological base and stated aims, DP’s first activity – Prabodhshala – a course based on the above-mentioned principles was started in 1962 for boys selected on the basis of IQ testing. After seven years of experimentation, in 1969, a full-time school for selected “intellectually-gifted” male students was started. In 1972 Prabodhshala started a special course for selected girls and the demand for a full-time school for girls was fulfilled in 1975. However from the beginning, DP was not a co-educational school and even today any kind of joint activities for boys and girls are consciously avoided.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1767By the mid-1980s, the school came to occupy a very important place on the educational map of Pune city. It is clear that there was a concurrence between the aspirations of the new middle class to seek scientific leadership in building a Hindu nation and the aims of the school. As the vision document sates: Jnana Prabodhini, a non-political organisation, aims at an all-round development of physical, mental, spiritual qualities of students in gen-eral and intellectuals in particular. This development should lead to leadership development, motivation building, attitude formation, un-derstanding problems of India and preparing for solving some of these problems as the students grow up(DP, volumeII, 1980).From almost the beginning, apart from the school, different activities like research, development work in rural areas and manufacturing formed the core ofDP and went towards consoli-dating its ideology of serving the nation to build a Hindu nation. It interacts closely with the Sangh parivar as well as with several eminent socialist and feminist leaders in the city, while retaining its distinct identity.The work and ideas of its women’s wing tells us how women’s empowerment is viewed.Tacking Stree Shakti to Liberal FeminismThe women’s wing has three components – Prachiti – the youth wing, the Jijamata Dal for mothers and Samadini for middle aged women. It also publishes a monthly magazine, Samatol. The youth wing has three kinds of programmes – one aimed at school and college students through dals (this is an activity parallel to theshakha), where a group of students meet every evening for physical training like playing outdoor games, playingbarchi, karate and other activities; there are personality development lectures for non-DP girls and third, the samvedana group for college-going girls. Different programmes for this group aim at building different income-generating skills. There is also a training programme for its volunteers. Such ac-tivities are also conducted in different localities for non-DP girls, and for different sections of society residing in different parts of the city. Girls and boys trained in these dals display athletic feats annually on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. The skills, like beating of drums, learnt in these dals are also exhibited on important public occasions in the city, like the Ganesh immersion procession or the palkhi (religious procession) of the warkari (a bhakti-sect in Hinduism) tradition, predomi-nantly a male activity. The collected narratives of the participants of these dals echoed their feeling of empowerment at being out in public on occasions that are otherwise considered unsafe. They could exhibit skills otherwise prohibited for women. While par-ticipating in these public rallies, the point that is stressed is that coming out on the streets is not vulgar. A martial art like mal-khmb (indigenous pole gymnastics), lathi dance, etc (Bacchetta 2004), exhibit power in a more disciplined form through physical performances. Officials of the DP claim that women have to ac-quire these skills to discover new ways of disciplining their body and earning a sense of empowerment without challenging the received notions of patriarchy. There are obvious similarities and discontinuities with the Rashtra Sevika Samiti’s (women’s wing of the RSS) idea of learning martial skills to combat the enemy – the Muslim invader (Sarkar 2001). Through the daily sessions in the dals and participation in pub-lic events,DP exhibits para-militarised Hindu nationalist, femi-nine separatist space through the female body. This assertion in one way counters the patriarchal idea about women’s bodies, and “physical participation” in public. Women, thus, enter the public claiming the hitherto male domains by performing feats considered masculine in nature like beating the drums, doing the lezim(local dance form simi-lar to the drill) but encircled by male colleagues from the DP. Here the patriarchal divide between public and private is nego-tiated by claiming the public space as Hindu nationalist spaces (Bacchetta2004) in the presence of those who may not be their realkinbutwho would protect them in case of an emergency. Claiming the public space helps women to build self-confidence and a sense of empowerment by engaging themselves in setting “standards” for public behaviour without challenging the role of men as “protectors”. Such a model is attractive because it endorses and elaborates but does not challenge the assump-tionsaboutworthybehaviour and the concept of noble woman-hood (Jeffery 2001). It distinguishes them from the “traditional women” who enter the public sphere “chaperoned” by kinsmen and from “women of the lower classes” who enter the public arena unchaperoned. Another important activity undertaken by this wing is the run-ning ofvyaktimatva vikasan tasika (personality development classes) started in the late 1980s. The thrust here is on intellec-tual training of the non-DP school girls through story-telling ses-sions, reading of biographies and autobiographies of great women, conducting group discussions on various contemporary issues and also playing outdoor games conducted byDP volun-teers. This again has two aims: to reach out to non-DP students and to provide a space for its participants to offer their seva to the DP and be part of the larger mission of building a Hindu nation. This activity has been planned to expand the network of theDP and provide knowledge to those who are not their students, espe-cially those who belong to the lower castes.To reach out to the college-going girls there is the Samvedana (sharing of pain) group which meets on Sunday evenings and discusses contemporary issues. The writings of Sane Gurujee, SriAurobindo and Sister Nivedita along with others on women’s issues are also read and discussed. Camps are organised by Samvedana members for girl students of the DP as well as others during the summer and winter vacations. The participants of this group say that an integrated sense of self is derived from the participation in cerebral and physical activities conducted here. In order to build a dialogue between the family and the or-ganisation, the youth-wing for girls expressed the need to involve the mothers of theDP students. Thus Jijamata Dal, the group for mothers emerged in the 1980s. It is named after the mother of Shivaji, and symbolises the important role that a mother plays in creating leaders and nation builders. This was developed mainly to build and expand its network/parivar beyond a limited age group. This group meets once a week for discussions, chanting and learning different shlokas and Sanskrit verses (recitation of
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68some of them by women is banned by the scripture) and reading of religious and other texts. Women in the Jijamata Dal feel that after coming to the Prabodhini they have not only discovered hidden talents within themselves but have also got an opportu-nity to serve society. This gives them a sense of fulfilment. These mothers have gone on to become initiators of major projects at DP. One of them was involved in the publication of the magazine Chhatra Prabodhanbrought out for students. After the 1980s, the participation of women in production units and research wings has increased.In 2000, a platform named Samvadini was established for women in their mid-40s and early 50s (not necessarily mothers of DP students) who were graduates but had decided consciously to be housewives. These women felt a need to hold dialogues with other women and along with development of one’s own personality, engage in socially useful activity. Samvadini conducts two kinds of activities: the first, aims at intellectual development through reading, discussing different texts and meeting people involved in varied activities. Second, it is trained in activities which are seen as serving society through the DP. Among these, the “Sex Education and Gender Training Workshop” conducted for young adults and publication of the Samatolare significant.The aim of the workshop is to educate adolescents about sexual development and provide them information about the required care and health issues. Before starting these workshops the vol-unteers are trained by doctors and experts in Pune city, active in the field of health. The workshops cover themes like introduction to the human anatomy, sexual abuse, heterosexual friendships, concept of beauty, bodily and experiential characteristics, media, and choosing a life partner. A detailed training manual for train-ers has been prepared and workshops are conducted at different schools and at other places on demand. By exposing questions of sexuality in public the mothers generate awareness among ado-lescents and see this as their service to society. The interviews conducted with these women and their writ-ings express the empowerment they feel at speaking from the public platform and engaging in socially useful activities. The en-ergies of the new Hindu “upper caste”, educated middle class woman, who is susceptible to the seductive calls of the advertis-ing culture, are thus effectively channelised by the women’s wing of the DP. The Jijamata Dal member is asked to extend her family by engaging in building a “healthy” modern youth; recasting the efficient consumer housewife into a modern efficient housewife who is also a trainer and counsellor of sexuality among the youth. This woman then is imagined as a non-political alternative to the “grihalaxmi” (Srivatsan 2006) propagated by the middle class women’s magazines. By claiming her citizenry rights, she looks beyond her home to offer seva to channelise the enthusiasm and energy of the young in desirable ways and thus make efficient use of her own time, energy and capacity. The women’s wing of the DP came into public focus in the city on women’s issues on three occasions – during the Manjushree Sarda case (1982) involving a dowry-related murder; the Roop Kanwar incident (1987) relating to the practice of sati, and later the Ashwini Ugar case (1992), a controversial dowry murder. Inresponding to all these cases, clearly subjects of feminist engagement, the women’s wing of the DP marked its difference from other feminist groups in the city. The intervention it made in the case of Manjushree Sarda case marked the beginning of its entry into women’s issues but was not very significant. At that time a delegation from DP wrote a letter to advocate Baba Bhide, the lawyer of the accused family and a good friend of Appa Pendse requesting him not to accept the case. After getting a negative response from him,DP initiated a campaign against the murder. In 1987, in the Roop Kanwar sati case, the DP’s youth wing for girls set up an action committee to condemn the practice of sati. A group of girl students along with some senior women teachersvisited Rajasthan (where Roop Kanwar died on her husband’sfuneral pyre) and met state officials, pro-sati agitators, the relatives of the dead woman and the villagers. They felt that instead of a critique of sati or a mere agitation against it, there must be a sustained campaign against the practice of sati and an overall social transformation in the status of women. In the early 1990s, during the Ashwini Ugar dowry murder case,DP’s youth wing met the local community, and family mem-bers of the accused and the victim. Based on these investigations they took a stand in favour of Ugar’s in-laws as against the other women’s organisations in the city. Through study tours, field-work, lectures by different feminists and investigations of vari-ous cases,DP attempted to study and take constructive action on women’s questions in the city. It distanced itself both from the agitating emotionally reactionary feminists and maintained its difference from the middle class mahila mandals. This marked the beginning of the consolidation of their position on stree shakti and active interventions on women’s issues. Ideological Roots of Stree ShaktiSince 1975, there has been a sustained participation of women and active engagement with women of different age groups in and byDP. However it was only in 1995, that the women inDP started meeting to consolidate their position on stree shakti. In the initial phase members of different social groups “working for women” were invited; the range included local Rashtra Sevika Samiti members and leaders of feminist organisations in Pune city. Since 1997, Samavadini has been publishing a quarterly calledSamatol which means “balance”, to counter the public im-age of feminists as biased and rabid. In 1999 Anagha Lavlekar one of the ideologues wrote the official position paper on stree shakti which was published in three parts inSamatol. This con-ception of stree shakti refers repeatedly to Aurobindo and Sister Nivedita’s (Mataji) philosophyand draws its roots from the con-cept of Shiv and Shakti elaborated by Sister Nivedita and in some liberal feminist writings like those of Betty Friedan. Mataji while accepting the role of women and their contribution in changing the situation expresses deep concern about posing men as an enemy or blindly following them. Instead she urged for the mutual cooperation and spiritual enlightenment of each individual be it a man or a woman (Samatol, October 1999).While relating Mataji’s ideas about Shiva and Shakti with the contemporary situation and developing it further Lavlekar (2000), addresses the difficulties faced by women working out-side the home and underlines the need for women-friendly jobs.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1769She makes a case for jobs in voluntary organisations for women, which will be more flexible and family-oriented. In the last part of the article, titled “Beyond Sex Difference”, Lavlekar underlines the view that women need to think beyond themselves, that women must be conscious of what is happening around them and work out the manner of their contribution towards redressal of problems. A woman, who is approaching the 21st century must have pride in her femininity, build a solid basefor the family and develop social consciousness (Samatol, January 2000). The initial exploration by the Stree Shakti Prabodhan group into the concept of stree shakti focused on the roots of women’s subordination. Differential socialisation of men and women was underlined as the root of women’s subordination.Those pursuing the women’s question could analytically separate the biological existence from their social existence. It is not nature but society that pushes women into a subordinate position (Samatol, March 1997).Thus, the problem could not be labelled only as “women’s prob-lem” as the solution required restructuring of the whole society.Because of the inequality based on tradition, one part of society has remained undeveloped and weak. Restructuring of society is the only solution (Samatol, June 2000).The needs of women have been classified as practical and stra-tegic gender needs. Both these are essential but for the awaken-ing of stree shakti, fulfilment of strategic needs is a necessary pre-condition. These strategic needs include(1) not falling prey to exploitation and atrocities(2)having economic independence as also freedom to invest and take decisions(3) having the right over reproduction along with men and the state(4) women coming together for solidarity, action and strength (5) increasing women’s participation in politics (6) women should have the capacity to improve the living standards and future of their children(Samatol, June 2000).Finally, a stree shakti perspective emphasises the need to have a broader social view to understand contemporary women’s issues and the challenges and problems faced by women. The feminist movement must shift its focus.… Feminist movement must set aside its focus from existence of an individual woman and fix it on the family, society and workspaces (Samatol, June 2000). The ideology of stree shakti as developed through Samatolis a strange and contradictory combination of the theories of social origins of women’s subordination with the “inner self-development” as outlined by Mataji, Betty Freidan’s neoliberal position of going beyond gender and the internationalNGO categorisation of stra-tegic and practical gender needs. With a view towards consolidating their position on stree shakti, Samatol invited comments from men on the theme of “Equality based on Complementarity”. Some responses under-lined how women were equal to men, in fact better than men, and how conscious efforts should be made to give equal opportu-nities to men and women. One respondent highlights the reasons for women’s subordination There are three reasons underlining women’s problems. One is re-sponsibility given to them by nature, second is men’s perspective about women and third is women’s perspective about women themselves (Samatol, November 2001-02).One of the responses argues that the theme “complementary equality” may be dangerous as it may be used against the princi-ple of equality. There is no problem in accepting man-woman complementarity. Butitwill not reduce the necessity of struggle for equality(Samatol, November 2001-02).An article in this special issue entitled “The other side of the coin” reflected men’s perception of how women hold the strings. Though the man might get primacy in public life, that in the majority of homes even today matriarchal system persists is an open truth (Samatol, November 2001-02).While commenting on working women, one response argues Many of the working women feel that they too should ‘enjoy’ like men … they form a group and at least once a month meet at one another’s homes to just ‘let go’ in the absence of men … In fact women officers find a ‘woman boss’ more dominating’(Samatol, November 2001-02).The editors, on the plea that they were objective, preferred not to react to these opinions. In the next section, a detailed analysis of the issues of Samatol has been done in order to detail and discern how the concept of seva is built into the ideology of stree shakti and in practices that mobilise women and bring them in to the public without disman-tling assumptions about worthy behaviour and noble womanhood.Samatol: Seva for Micro and Macro LeadershipAccording to Anagha Lavlekar, the aim of the publication is “To reach out to people who may not be directly associated with Pra-bodhini”. She says, “we want to tap the class of people who want to think and want to engage themselves beyond entertainment. Through the magazine we want to underline women’s participation in national development, their agential role as women and also their leadership at micro and macro levels”(Personal interview with Lavlekar).Samatol marks the DP women’s difference from the other feminist groups promoting women’s liberation; they are different from the “run of the mill” women – the imagined readers of women’s magazines that promote either housekeeping or focus on the physical aspects. The issues raised by feminist groups like equal responsibilities in parenting, division of labour at home, divorce, and sexuality have received considerable attention in the magazine. In 2001 it adopted the logo of “Ying Yang”, explain-ing its symbolic value on the cover page Womanandmanarethe two parts of the all pervading almighty. Femininity and masculinity have a mutually linked basis and are supportive of one another. The symbol aims at awakening stree shakti (Samatol, July 2001).The magazine aims at keeping a balance between the critical, intellectual, informational and literary content. The short stories have been the major medium through which complexities of relationships in the lives of women have been addressed. A part of the magazine is also dedicated to success stories, book reviews and information or reports of conferences (both at regional, national and international level), study circles or other activities undertaken by other groups and sections of the DP and an introduction to different organisations and NGOs.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly70Special issues have been published on several occasions includ-ing 8 March, International Women’s Day. Special issues have addressed, among others, themes on mental health and women, transformation, rural women, and rites and rituals for women in the new millennium.There is an explicit mention of how the activities of stree shakti cannot be limited to urban middle class sections. They want to reach out to rural women as well as lower, middle class, poor women and girls in urban areas. Almost all the issues of Samatol include writings of rural women or articles on themes of “their concern”. Three issues are seen as being of central concern to rural women: education, economic independence and the need to gain knowledge about organisations involved in collective efforts at bringing about change. Both the articles and short stories by or on rural and working class women highlight their everyday struggles.Changuna my child, study well and grow up to be an important person. When I was your age I too wanted to go to school, like the Patil’s daughters. But my father died when I was young and my maternal uncle and aunt brought me up. This itself was a big obligation, so no education ... But Changuna – I want you to promise me that you will study. I will do just about anything to make education possible for you(Samatol, October 2003)Several experiential accounts of small savings groups or healthcare groups initiated byDP as part of its rural development project, underline how they have helped the empowerment of individual women and transformed their lives. For instance, a woman working in a DP rural health project writes, I learnt in these three-four years and I am happy to see that women who were earlier imprisoned at home are now coming out(Samatol, October 2003).The reports on workshops and camps organised in rural areas for women also highlight how these training camps helped women to become financially independent and less reliant on their family. The beneficiaries do not limit themselves to personal earnings but become trainers themselves, which gives them a sense of empowerment.My name is Rohini Howale. I have completed a six-month stitching course of Jnana Prabodhini. After the completion of the course I have purchased a sewing machine… Then four of us invested one thousand rupees and taking some help from Prabodhini we have started a small business under the guidance of Harshatai … For the first time I am imparting training to others. This gives me a sense of being smart and confident and this will surely help me in my future life(Samatol, January 2003).A thematic content analysis of the issues of Samatol displays the continuities and discontinuities in its concept of socialservice reiterated across different genres of the essay, story and letters to the editor/counsellor, without challenging the underlying basic social structures. Family and conjugality remain a central theme of discussion in all the activities targeted at women. The utter loneliness of the life of a woman who has to gain support from her husband and the questions this raises about a woman’s position is a repeated concern in the stories published inSamatoland group discussions. The alienation of the newly married young woman who loses her position in the natal home and gains no role in the decision-making in the new home is a repeated theme in the narrativesandarticles written by women. Traditional notions about “barren” women and widows are critiqued subtly through the short stories. The loneliness of housewives is often a key theme in the stories. Everything is fine in my house. Still there is a constant sense of loneli-ness and loss…(Samatol, June 1999).The solution suggested for such women is to go out and find meaning through engagement in social activities and develop-ment of an identity of their own. One of the stories is of Vatsal Aaicha Salla (Advice of Loving Mother). Please never mention that you could do something very well to your husband; if you do it you will be enslaved forever. You look after your household and keep all your family members happy but never stop the cerebral activity (Diwali special issue, Samatol, 1999).There are articles about the need to change traditions that are obscurantist and by engaging with them to make them more relevant.I haven’t done anything great … Sujata (mother of her daughter-in-law) lost her husband last year in an accident. Is this her fault? Why she should be discriminated? I have begun from my family to correct what is wrong in the society(Samatol, January 2000). It is important to note that the family is marked out as a com-plex and dynamic sphere of relations especially for women. Several stories discuss how traditional stereotypes of women persist despite changes in women’s public and economic roles. The loneliness of the middle-aged women despite their location in a “happy family” finds mention. However, one is constantly reminded that to preserve this glorious institution, i e, the family, women must go out in public to make their private lives more meaningful. Parenting, another significant area for women, occupies important space in the articles, stories inSamatolin particular. The tensions and pressures of parenting especially the problems faced by single parents have been underlined. Interestingly, there is a lot of focus on equal sharing of parenting responsibilities: Both parents the mother and the father have an important role to play in the socialisation of the child. Even though the time given by each parent varies, it is important that children realise that parents think alike especially on the issue of discipline. This makes the chil-dren feel secure and gives them a definite direction (Samatol, August 1998).For a complete ideal family and to give your child goodsamskars, it is advisable to look out for the appropriate partner than being a single parent. If this is not possible then it is society’s and individual’s re-sponsibility to allow and help them to live without any stigma and prejudice(Samatol, August 1998).Thus, there is a complex weave of assertion and reconciliation of existing structures. Divorce which is traditionally tabooed is referred often in the column entitled “What will be your answer”, a section in which women send in their problems seeking advice/opinion. Some of the stories deal with not only legal divorce but separation. However, while underlining this it is apparent that Divorce, conflicts are only the last resort; that is, these do not provide the ultimate resolution(Samatol, March 1998).The Indian family is discussed in relation to women claiming their rights, freedom and the views of younger generation on
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1771conjugal relations. However, there is an insistence on the legiti-macy and importance of the institution of the family. We have conducted a survey among young generation to know what their opinion is about the institution of the family. The Survey reveals that while the positive points of our traditional joint family are known in practice it is impossible to live in it. However nobody has any doubts about the relevance of the institution of the family(Diwali special issue,Samatol, 2004). There is also a discussion on division of labour as a cause of conflict and the need for greater cooperation among the family members. The main focus is on the “upper caste” middle class woman; working class women are represented as ever struggling victims who become the sole earners with no man around to sup-port them. Alcoholism, wife battering, bigamy and poverty be-come the working class woman’s problems. Several storiesof working class women highlight their struggle as mothers as well as their capacity to negotiate for the sake of their children. There are a few references to women of the minority community, especially Muslim women, addressing the theme of education and divorce.The solution for urban middle class women is engagement in social responsibility; for the rural women it is economic empowerment. Predictably there is no mention of the gap between the social worlds of working class and middle class women. Instead the groups of working class women become “the field of social responsibility” where women from the uppermiddle caste/class women can offer their services for “their” upliftment. Rites and rituals for women in the new millennium are concep-tualised in the context of globalisation. Rituals must enshrine “seva” to be socially relevant and more meaningful and modern because globalisation is not limited to the economic sphere alone but affects the social area too. There seem to be only two extreme paths – giving up traditions or maintaining them in toto. The third way can be a critical assessment of our traditions, shedding of the outdated practice and following re-formed practice after having understood the essential meaning under-lining the traditions. This can be a way of combating the cultural inva-sion(Samatol, October 2001).The effort is to provide social orientation to the rites and ritu-als; thus reforming tradition through insistence on celebrating these rituals collectively and interpreting them for new times. This, as Roberston (1992 cited in Patel (forthcoming)) argues, provides the physical and psychological space to build the community which is in search of identity in the changing socio-political situation. The reformulation of the traditional “Friday Parable” which is based on the idea of Soubhagya has been reinterpreted thus:On Friday evening call your maid Parubai and serve her a meal with sweetmeats and gift her with a domestic gadget, household articles or even one and quarter kilogram of sugar and rice … Following Sunday with two or three other like-minded women visit Parubai’s bastialongwith her. Meet the other women in the basti …(Samatol, November2001).Religious vows are given contemporary relevance like the narrative of a “modern” woman who took a vow to improve her English for the four holy months in the Hindu calendar (Samatol, November 2001). Generally during these four months women vow to give up eating onions, garlic and certain other food items along with periodic ritual pujas. Several rites that are exclusive to married women like Gauripuja, Vatsavitri puja are opened for all – for instance, the story relating to the month of Shravan (a ritually important month according to the Hindu calendar).These poojas in the modern day symbolise the worship of women’s power. This notion of women’s power should be the basis of reinterpre-tation … These rituals are a way of knowing one’s “inner power” and to work towards its expression(Samatol, November 2001).Mother-in-law advises her daughter-in-law to perform the traditional vrata in a different form ... invite women from the neighbourhood and explain to them the importance of solar energy, invite domestic labourer and give her good food and donate some good things to her (Samatol, July 2001).The same volume contains an article which states why vratas are designed as a part of “our tradition” and how we could make them more contemporary.In the project to understand the importance of rituals ... we under-stood that performance of different rituals and celebrations enable us to develop faith, commitment, persistence, empathy towards nature, society and compassion for animals. There must be some change in them according to the changing time(Samatol, July 2001).There was also an insistence on looking at traditions to trace the roots of stree shakti in order to address how these traditions though old are important and one could draw some inspiration from them.What is written in the Vedas is not the last word. But we must give it thought and respect which helps us to develop our material and spiritual ability. In this light, description of stree shaktiin saptashati is enlightening(Diwali special issue,Samatol 1999).They gain a modern face by reinventing and modernising tra-ditional obscurantist rituals (Patel forthcoming), as part of the Hindutva project of seva, of reviving Hindu society and religion as homogenised and rigid, reviving the belief in the significance of the Vedas and other Hindu brahmanical texts while not ready to initiate dialogue and debate with other visions, projects and ideologies, for instance, in the present case the critique of braha-manical rituals put forth by the non-brahmin movements such as the Warkari sampraday. The whole project of the women’s wing of the DP is a political project which employs social service for women to modernise traditions, to bring them into the public sphere, making their lives socially relevant through work for less privileged women. Hence all these activities namely the dals, discussion groups, and the lectures in different schools and publication of a maga-zine, are planned towards building a strong base of stree shakti both in terms of its ideology, network and practice by employing the notion of seva propagated by Swami Vivekananda. The new Hindu woman comes to be imagined by as one who becomes a citizen of the Hindu nation through a com-bination of upasana (spiritual development) cerebral and physical activity but most of all through orienting herself to society as against the feminist activist fighting for individual freedom. Performing familial and social duties is the new
Annual Survey of Industries 1973-74 to 2003-04 (Vol. II) A Data Base on the Industrial Sector in India Second Edition
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1773within the domestic for collective cultural regeneration of the Hindu Rashtra. Conclusions Seva or social service, derived from a western notion, was envi-sioned by Pendse the founder of the DP by negotiating it with the Hindu living traditions such as seva, dana (charity), karmayoga (duty), sanyasa (renunciation) and brahmacharya (celibacy) (Watt 2005) in building the ideology and everyday practices of the organisation. Seva as one of the seven founding principles of the DP and draws mainly from Swami Vivekananda’s idea of organised seva, a service to humanity (Beckerlegge 2003). This paper has sought to delineate the possibilities opened up by this model of seva for the localised politics of Hindutva in post-colonial India. More specifically, it has sought to underline ways in which the model of seva came to be reinvented byDP in 1962 in Pune city. Beginning with the long term and immediate factors that led to its emergence, the paper underlines how the ethic of seva initiated by Vivekananda has been reinvented to build its network and ideology. DP draws upon this notion of seva to revitalise a middle class upper caste Hindu community dedicated to the upliftment of the poor and oppressed to build a Hindu nation. In the late 20th century, this section of society at once alienated by the political assertion of the lower castes and reas-sertion through electoral politics and bureaucracy has staged a “revolt of elites” (Corbridge and Harris 2000; Fernandes 2006) and through practices of seva extended support to Hindu nation-alism and economic liberalisation. DP, it may be noted, does not critique the policy of liberalisation. Instead it asks members to look at it as one way to expand activities and get hold of the opportunities opened up for a larger cause. Seva is a gendered concept, that negotiates caste and class dif-ferences by uniting the served and the servers and in the case of theDP-women, without complicating the identities of served and the server. It does not deny the privileges of consumerist individ-ualism to its women but points to the limitations of “efficient con-suming domesticity” by offering them a space for seva to alter the present and to become a part of the larger project of building a Hindu nation. The conceptualisation of stree shakti combines a difference from feminist practices on issues of motherhood, sexuality and rights simultaneously with a critique of traditional ritualsand practices, and refocusing them for “uplift of the less privileged”. ReferencesBacchetta, Paola (1993): “All Our Goddesses Are Armed: Religion, Resistance and Revenge in the Life of a Militant Hindu Nationalist Woman” in Bhasin et al (ed.), Against All Odds: Essays on Women, Religion and Development in India and Pakistan (Delhi: Kali for Women).– (1994): “Communal Property/Sexual Property: On Representations of Muslim Women in Hindu Nationalist Discourse” in Z Hasan (ed.),Forging Identities: Gender, Communities and the State (Delhi: Kali for Women). – (2004): “Hindu Nationalist Women Ideologues: The Sangha, the Samiti and Their Different Concepts of the Hindu Nation” in P Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues(New Delhi: Women Unlimited). Basu, Amrita (1995): “Feminism Inverted: The Gen-dered Imagery and Real Women of Hindu Nation-alism in Bombay” in T Sarkar and U Butalia (ed.), Women and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays (Delhi: Kali for Women). – (2000): “Engendering Communal Violence: Men as Victims, Women as Agents” in J Leslie and M McGee (ed.),Invented Identities: The Interplay ofGender, Religion and Politics in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press). – (2001): “Resisting the Sacred and the Secular” in P Jeffery and A Basu (ed.),Resisting the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Activism and Po-liticised Religion in South Asia (Delhi: Kali for Women). – (2001): “Hindu Women’s Activism in India and the Questions It Raises” in P Jeffery and A Basu (ed.), Resisting the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Ac-tivism and Politicised Religion in South Asia (Del-hi: Kali for Women).Beckerlegge, Gwilym (2003): “Saffron and Seva: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Appropriation of Swami Vivekananda” in A Copley (ed.),Hinduism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender and Sampradaya (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). – (2004): “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ‘Tradition of Selfless Service’” in J Zavos, A Wyatt and V Hewitt (ed.),The Politics of Cultural Patel, Sujata (1996): “On the Discourse of Communal-ism” in T V Sathyamurthy (ed.),Religion, Caste, Gender and Culture in Contemporary India (Vol 3) (Delhi: Oxford University Press). – (forthcoming): “Can FBOs Ensure Service Deliv-ery in the Indian Context? A Comparitive Study of Religion, Seva and Sanghatan in India”.Sarkar, Sumit (1997): Writing Social History (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). – (1999): “Hindutva and the Question of Secular-ism” in K N Panikkar (ed.),The Concerned Indians Guide to Communalism (Delhi: Viking).Sarkar, Tanika (1995): “Heroic Women, Mother God-desses: Family and Organisation in Hindutva Politics” in T Sarkar and U Butalia (ed.),Women and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays (Delhi: Kali for Women).– (1996): “Educating the Children of the Hindu Rashtra: Notes on RSS Schools” in P Bidwai, H Mukhia and A Vanaik (ed.),Religion, Religiosity and Communalism (Delhi: Manohar).–(2001): “Women, Community and Nation: A Historical Trajectory for Hindu Identity Politics” in P Jeffrey et al (ed.),Resisting the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Activism and Politicised Religion in South Asia (New Delhi: Kali for Women). Sarkar, Tanika and Butalia Urvashi, ed. (1995): Wom-en and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays (Delhi: Kali for Women).Srivatsan, R (2006): “Concept of ‘Seva’ and the ‘Sevak’ in the Freedom Movement”,Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XXXXI, No 5, pp 427-38.Warrier, Maya (2003): “The Seva Ethic and the Spirit of Institution Building in the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission” in A Copley, Hindu-ism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, and Sampraday (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). Watt, Cary (2005): Serving the Nation (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). Zavos, John (2000):The Emergence of Hindu Natio-alism in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).Mobilisation in India (New Delhi: Oxford Univer-sity Press). Bhagwat, Vidyut (2006):Vadhatya Mulatatvavadala Shaha: Susamvadi Lokshahichya Deshene(Mar-athi) (Pune: Pratima Prakashan).Bhishikar, Suvarnalata (1988):Ek Utkat Adamya Chaitanya(Marathi) (Pune: Jnana DP).Chakravarti, Uma (1998):Rewriting History: Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai (New Delhi: Kali for Women). Copley, Antony (2003): “Introduction” in A Copley (ed.), Hinduism in Public and Private-Reform Hindutva, Gender and Sampraday (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).Corbridge, S and J Harris (2000):Reinventing India: Liberalisation, Hindu Nationalism and Popular De-mocracy (Cambridge: Polity Press).Fernandes, Leela (2006): “India’s New Middle Class” (Delhi: Oxford University Press).Hansen, Thomas Blom (1999):The Saffron Wave (Del-hi: Oxford University Press). – (2004): “Politics as Permanent Performance: The Production of Political Authority in the Locality” in J Zavos, A Wyatt and V Hewitt (ed.),The Politics of Cultural Mobilisation in India (New Delhi: Ox-ford University Press).Jaffrelot, Christophe (1996):The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics 1925 to 1990s – Strategies of Identity – Building, Implementation and Mobilisation (With Special Reference to Central India) (Delhi: Viking). – (2005): The Sangh Parivar: A Reader (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).Jeffery, Patricia (2001): “Agency, Activism and Agen-das” in P Jeffery and A Basu (ed.),Resisting the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Activism and Po-liticised Religion in South Asia (Delhi: Kali for Women).Jeffery, Patricia and Amrita Basu, ed. (2001): Resist-ing the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Activism and Politicised Religion in South Asia (Delhi: Kali for Women).Kannabiran, Kalpana (2008): “Making the Forked Tongue Speak…: An Ethnography of the Self”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XLIII, No 16, pp 63-70.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top