Women’s Studies (WS) in India emerged in the wake of the women’s movement of the 1970s and shared its transformative goals. The Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) was formed in 1982 reflecting the institutionalizing of the movement. The challenging objective for WS was to establish the young discipline as a separate transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary area and to integrate a critical gender perspective into other disciplines. Both within and outside academia, WS has also striven to maintain a dynamic synergy with women’s lived experience drawing upon the analyses and insights of feminist activism and practice. Feminist publishing too has played a key role in documenting actions and foregrounding research and writing on key themes including gender politics, culture and knowledge-creation.
With WS departments, centres and units being started in universities and colleges across the country, students and scholars have felt the acute lack of easily accessible reading material, specific to the Indian and South Asian context. Some institutions and commercial publishers have responded to this by bringing out Readers and Handbooks in Gender/ WS.1 A few pioneering WS departments have also developed curricula and teaching-learning resources in different languages and for different levels of students. But there have been a few comprehensive publication projects. One such is that of the School of Women’s Studies (SWS), Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Women Contesting Culture: Changing Frames of Gender Politics in India is the second of a series of four Readers2 being published for SWS by the independent feminist publisher Stree, Kolkata. Samita Sen, Director of SWS and Series Editor, says the ‘enormous expansion in teaching’ WS in Bachelors’ and Masters’ courses, and even as a subject in the National Eligibility Test, ‘demanded a response from us’.
As everyone engaged in the field knows, the finest scholarship has come out of the convergence of the women’s movement and women’s/gender studies research. As the editors of Women Contesting Culture Kavita Panjabi and Paromita Chakravarti remark, this is a matter of pride and celebration. The Reader reflects this celebration, even as it replays the fraught cultural politics of gender, marked by contestations, resistance and transformations over the last 25 years. In their comprehensive Introduction, the editors touch upon decades of debate, pointing out that culture is ‘indispensable for women’s studies and gender analysis because it opens up ways of understanding how power and challenges to power functions in society.’ ...
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