It is always a daunting task to review very lengthy books, and Ramachandra Guha’s latest offering, Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World, 1914-1948 (2018) is humongous by any standards. The book spans more than a thousand pages, and covers practically every month of Gandhi’s life in India after his return from South Africa in 1915 to his tragic assassination in 1948.
Nyla Ali Khan’s Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir seeks to restore the centrality of Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmiri identity politics. At a time when this politics has been sufficiently radicalized and gone much beyond his ideology and political values, the book seeks to portray him as the statesman who was much ahead of his time and had the ability to take bold decisions which were not particularly popular but were required as per the situation of the time.
Pramila Venkateswaran is ‘one of our finest diaspora poets’, declares Keki Daruwala. This collection enhances that point. The poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island from 2013 to 2015, Venkateswaran has already six collections of poems to her credit. The Singer of Alleppey creates a viewpoint on feminism for the readers. It avoids all pitfalls of direct winging and rhetoric in the true discipline of art.
Sadia Abbas’s debut novel, The Empty Room, is a diligently crafted piece of work that details the intricacies of the life of a married woman in Pakistan. The character-driven story unfolds in Karachi between the years 1969 and 1979, a period of immense political tension in the country, and in the author’s own words, ‘one of the most turbulent times that the country witnessed.’ Four regimes came into power during this tumultuous time and the country was steeped in civil war.
Even before its release, a leaked manuscript of Reham Khan’s book attracted legal notices in June from four persons featured in her narrative, and threats to sue her for defamation from Jemima Goldsmith, Imran Khan’s first wife. The book cover has the words ‘Reham Khan’ printed in large letters below a photograph of a striking woman, lightly made-up, her brown hair half-covered with a dupatta.
It was in 1990 when Cynthia Enloe coined the one-word phrase ‘womenandchildren’ to bring forth how women always figured in war narratives as those needing protection, portrayed merely as victims. That women were equal participants in the society, equally navigating through the complex terrains of war and conflict, was something that male-centric discourses conveniently ignored. In case of the Kashmir conflict as well, the portrayal of women has largely been confined to that of victims.
In recent years, there is growing emphasis in feminist writing on looking at the relation between patriarchal control and women’s relationship with space. How women experience and negotiate physical spaces in everyday life has been shown to have a critical link with gender relations. Public spaces in India, specifically after incidents like the ‘Delhi Gang Rape’ of 2012, have been seen as inevitable sites of violence against women…
It is a universally acknowledged fact that there is a discernible overt or covert ‘difference’ between the writing of men and that of women. Initially, after women became literate and thereafter educated, they began writing about their own lives as lived histories, recording the micro-politics of daily living in their memoirs, diaries and letters. That women would opt for life-writing or autobiographies as the preferred literary genre to any other was inevitable according to Virginia Woolf, as women’s lives were ones of confinement within the domestic.
Here is a book that uses dance, very specifically the dance of the courtesan as presented by Hindi cinema to theorize and discuss a range of very important issues in contemporary India. It is an outstanding example of interdisciplinary scholarship. The book cuts across cinema studies, dance in Hindi films, Urdu and Hindi literature, gender and sexuality studies, politics, history and sociology to name just a few of the disciplinary locations that this book could easily occupy.
This is a stylish book, taking a leaf from the world it explores, the world of high fashion. The writer carried out research during 2003-07, specifically interviews with thirty models, fieldwork at the annual Lakme Fashion Week(s), and tracking the growth of the Indian glamour industry. She wrote her PhD, but for the book eschews sociological jargon in favour of a lucid, quasi-light tone.
Female sexual desire and pleasure have been uncomfortable territories for writers, artists, activists and scholars. Instead, the tendency has been to focus on violence when it comes to sexuality, in urgent response to high levels of sexual violence against women in India. Although this frame of violence has been central to the women’s movement in India and has driven significant social change, it has overwhelmed any conversation on pleasurable sexuality.
Raj Rao’s book is a collection of essays that straddle the personal and the political as they narrate the evolving LGBT movement in India. The book is rewarding once the reader acknowledges its genre-bending ambitions. The introduction by Thomas Waugh, who claims intimate acquaintance with the author for a ‘quarter of a century’, sets the mood for the rest of the text. Waugh establishes Raj Rao as a pioneering novelist, theoretician and activist.
At a time when interest around gender identity has accelerated due to the passage of the problematic ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’ in the Lok Sabha, the present collection of essays comes as a timely intervention. The book under review brings together twenty-one essays that attempt to bring together illustrations and biographical accounts of androgynous practices and female impersonation from several parts of India.
The book is an outcome of a national conference on Women-led Water Management organized by the SM Sehgal Foundation along with UNICEF India in 2012. Inequalities based on gender are present everywhere and at every level and in all aspects of social life. Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is a human right that is key to improving gender equality.
A few months ago, in an unannounced visit to a government community health centre in rural Tamil Nadu, I found four doctors, several nurses and technicians, and a functional pharmacy attending to more than fifty patients, a majority of whom were women. As someone who works primarily in rural Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, I usually encounter closed government health centres, absent doctors, uncooperative staff, or struggling patients.
In October 2018, a couple of weeks after #MeToo Movement hit Indian social media and made its way into mainstream print and broadcast media, a young journalist called this reviewer to ask, ‘How did things come to such a pass in Indian media, where sexual harassment charges against senior editors were an open secret, and where silence meant complicity? Was the Indian media always so compromised?’
Of all the visuals contained in Mary Beard’s monograph Women & Power: A Manifesto, it is Medusa’s disembodied head that remains in the mind long after you have finished reading. The figure from Greek mythology frequently represented as grotesque and monstrous is the figure of a woman subjected to hatred by male gods, and stripped of her power in unimaginably violent ways.
In this remarkable book, Debasree De breaks the stereotypes that the Adivasi women have gender equality and are largely free from Brahmanical patriarchy in their society. This study has explicitly brought out how the Adivasi women are being subjected to a double burden inside and outside their society. That the Adivasi women are bold and actively participate in agricultural and other means of livelihood, however, does not save them from patriarchal domination.
Animating the past and reflecting on its political resonance in the present has been a central preoccupation of feminist scholarship in South Asia. Kavita Panjabi’s Unclaimed Harvest makes a significant contribution to this corpus of work. This book is a nuanced and thought-provoking account of the Tebhaga Movement that was launched in undivided Bengal in 1946 by landless peasants and entered a phase of armed struggle from 1948-1951 after Partition.
The scholarship on postcolonial feminism is a growing field of knowledge production and South Asian feminist works have emerged as an important part of this scholarship in the last couple of decades. The rich and diverse social and cultural anthropological studies have contributed to this field by successfully interrogating and often re-defining the relationship amongst feminist politics, ethnographic writing and the ethicality of representation.