Engaging With the Law

The experience of the women’s movement throughout the world has led to an increasingly critical engagement with legal discourse. In many systems the substance, structure and culture of the law are actively discriminatory to women denying them equal rights. Even in areas where there is de jure equality, the de facto position of women is far from equal because of the way all the actors involved interpret laws. In India there continues to be an engagement with the law, the recent example being on violence against women. The constant recourse with law where the state is reminded of its obligations towards women’s rights also means the increase of state control. Often there is a tension between wanting state intervention since the state itself is the perpetuator of much violence.

Distilled Wisdom

“The Constitution, it may be mistakenly believed, represents a break with India’s colonial past. What is perhaps true is that it could have been a point of departure from colonial priorities and practice. But the pragmatism that characterized executive decision-making and functioning, and the continuity that dogged the legal and judicial system, turned the Constitution on its head, entrenching distortions that stayed with the system through what should have been an era of change. It should have been plain, we may think, that rights of the people and wrongs of the government ought to be consonant with the expectations that the freedom struggle fostered in us; but when it is the letter of the law interpreted through the lens of precedent set by colonial courts which determines the course that is set for us, there is evidence that the relevant past of the freedom struggle has been wilfully relegated to a zone that is ruled by amnesia. And with that historical background absent from the understanding and interpretation of the Constitution, it is no surprise that “the institutions under the Constitution were looked upon as a continuation of the colonial system of administration”(p. 22).

In A Familiar Frame of Reference

An easily accessible history of Indian Christianity was much needed, and Fernando and Gispert-Sauch’s work supplies this deficiency. The work describes concisely, but with care and scholarly acumen, the long history of the religion in India: from the legends of the first arrival of the message of Jesus Christ in India with St Thomas in the first century AD to recent debates about the place of Christianity in the modern Indian state. As a work of study and reference, Christianity in India is likely to become a standard authority. The relatively small space given to the Reformed churches may disappoint some, but then most accounts of Christianity written from the perspective of faith show a clear subject-position, and this work is no exception.

Discursive Discourse

There are many streams of discussions that are going on within political sociology. Development, democracy and participatory governance is one such stream. The nation-state, civil society and social movements is another stream. The ongoing discourse within the realm of political sociology about nation, civil society and social movements highlight the place and role of the nation, civil society and state in the lives of citizens of a nation and the members of a society. In a special way these deliberations are highlighting the relationship that exists between common persons and the state. They also point out to the emerging interface between the common people and civil society and social movements.

Redirecting Societal Norms

The entire collection of essays in this volume is a modest reverberation of the debates that one has been trying to tackle over the last four decades in the field of Lesbian and Gay studies, yet, the most striking part of these twenty-six essays, collected in this handbook, is their contemporaneity. The ideas and debates tackled through these essays are indicative of ever new grounds that are being approached by Lesbian and Gay studies as a distinctive field of study in the social sciences today. Whether it be the idea of exploring a “queer cyber space” (pp. 115-145) or talk about the “cultural visibility” of a minority homosexual population vis-à-vis their political freedom as “sexual citizens” of a nation state (p p. 183-199, 231-253, 427-443) or thwart basic stated assumptions of defining one’s identity and status through the norms of heteronormativity (pp.73-83, 253-271). The underlying thematic of almost all these essays, I would say, undertakes a social approach to sexuality, where basic assumptions of what constitutes the social have been challenged and new paradigms have been suggested.

Defining Sexuality

I would like to pose a simple question—what does it mean to study sexuality—before discussing Srivasatava’s edited volume on ‘sexualities’, ‘masculinities’ and culture in South Asia. Is the category of sexuality the same within the theoretical apparatuses of anthropology, history or literature? Does it include only sexual ideologies, practices, patterns and norms, or does it necessarily extend to gender relations, constructions of masculinity and femininity? And by extension, can sexuality be understood without reference to the traditional anthropological categories of family, kinship and marriage, and now, within the wider terrain of commodity and popular culture? These questions may seem naïve, but given the ubiquity of the concept of sexuality (like gender) in social sciences and cultural studies discourse today, it is beginning to look like other such categories (such as ‘development’ or ‘capitalism’) that everyone believes they understand, but which are deployed in so many contexts and ways that they have become virtually meaningless.

A Year in the Life of Mohini

Shree Ghatage (born 1957) moved to Canada in the nineteen-eighties; her first book, Awake When All the World is Asleep (1997) is a collection of short stories. Brahma’s Dream (first published in Canada in 2004) is an unusual coming-of-age story, because the heroine grows up in the shadow of a life-threatening disease. The novel raises philosophical questions about man’s fate, but at the same time gives a realistic picture of members of a Chitpavan Brahmin family living in Shivaji Park in suburban Bombay in the nineteen-forties.

Muted Voices from the Past

In a sultry evening in Delhi, here I am, reread-ing Mulk Raj Anand—from time to time kicking in the air to ward off aedes aegypti. For most of us Indians, the history of reading is in two parts. If you are not educated in a public school, you have to wait until you have learnt enough English to begin reading books in English, while you read—or you are read to—in your mother tongue at a very early age. This was the case in point for me. At a time when there were very few public schools, children of my generation from rural India spoke, read and dreamt in our mother tongues. That is why Mulk Raj Anand could enter my history of reading only belatedly – when I had picked up enough knowledge of the language he wrote in.

A Rich Harvest

For a reader uninitiated in the tradition of the short story in the Punjabi language Slice of Life offers a rich harvest of examples of writings from within this tradition. The stories selected, translated into English by Rana Nayar, are arranged in chronological order and range across the entire span of the twentieth century.

In his Introduction to this volume, Nayar provides a historical perspective on this range of stories, tracing not only the evolution of the short story tradition in modern Punjab but also its antecedents within the storytelling tradition in India as a whole.

Many Hues of Realism

It appears that the editors of this anthology of English translation—Bh. Krsihnamurti, a linguistics man and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, and C. Vijayashree, Professor of English at Osmania University—did not have much of a choice. They have translated a Telugu anthology put together by Vakati Panduranga Rao and Vedagiri Rambabu after a three-day workshop in 1997. This was published in 2001. Krishnamurti and Vijayashree have presented thirty of the original sixty published in the Telugu collection. It is to be taken that the English editors agreed with the choice made by the Telugu editors. Of course, the final rap and commendation for the anthology in this English version squarely belong to Krishna-murti and Vijayashree.

New Thresholds

One of the main missions of Vaidehi, among the most compelling Kannada women writers of our times is the retrieval of the woman’s voice from the past. That suppressed past which gains a voice in the present, even while it continues to exist in more nuanced textures.

Alegalalli Antaranga is a compilation of Vaidehi’s short stories written over the last three decades. In the 80-odd short stories, spread into six collections, Vaidehi steers clear of jingoistic announcements of feminist positions, but presents the perspective of a woman as it affected her, from the politics of everyday life. Therefore, the stories mostly capture the woman’s real world, her real experiences, and the various aspects of self-fashioning, without taking overt, ideological stances.