DR RATAN BHATTACHARJEE

The challenge to grand theories related to Feminism has generated a rich understanding of the heterogeneity of human experiences thus inviting the discussion of new perspectives and conceptual frameworks.  Simmering  Silences and Beneath: An Anthology of Gender Issues in India edited by three academicians  Dr. Zeenat  Khan, Pallavi  Kapila and Urvi Sharma aims to provide a solid foundation for countering the conventional interpretive approaches that often reinforce gender hierarchies and inequalities to pave way for new conceptual approaches and frameworks that will decide the future of Gender Studies.

In the very first chapter ‘Gender Roles and Gendered Identities we get deep musings on the gendered layers of identity in contemporary India.  Discussion on the internationalized hierarchy was a long-felt need as it guides the gender roles in India and this is found in the mapping of socio-cultural and ideological formations. There are in total thirteen chapters in the book and each one is contributed by eminent academicians who specialized in gender studies. Some chapters deal with very thinking such as on the impact of HIV or AIDs on the transgender community as Dr. Jagdish Mehta, did it in the second chapter while Dr. Kauser Tasneem made a scholarly analysis of the intersectionality of caste and gender victims, violence and the matrix of power. 

The term ‘intersectionality was coined in 1989 by Professor  Kimberlie  Crenshaw in relation to the Black Women for describing the overlapping of race, class and gender in creating a compounding experience of oppression. It is an intelligent application of Dr. Tasneem to the discrimination faced by Dalit women.  Social dialogue is important for improving the system structure and experiences that define the multiple axes of power within Indian society.  This is the subject of one chapter in the book.  The concept of ‘Womanism’ in Alice Walker’s concept of Western middle-class feminism is contrasted with Indian feminism which is not a   monolithic category. This chapter written by Dr. Sunaina Jain brings into the discussion Dalit feminists like Meena Kandasamy and Pradnya Daya Pawar as well as celebrity actress  cum poet  Kalki Koechlin and Laxmi Agarwal who was herself an acid attack victim- turned social activist. Pallabi Maji and Dr. Arindam Modak analyze different perspectives of the commodification of the female body in the Bollywood item songs.

It is a well-known fact that Bollywood representations of women are dictated by patriarchal values and in this chapter, the gender bias is traced back. Prof Pallavi Kapila analyzed the concept of sex as differentiated and opposed from the social construct of gender in society. The papers presented by the research scholars deal with troubled identity, negative  Oedipus  Complex   and the quest towards masculinity in Arvind Adiga’s  The White Tiger, pedestalizing female sacrifice and silence in the Indian context or corroboration of gender during the partition of Bengal and similar unconventional topics. But what is most important about this book is the belief that academic discourse must be complemented by our actions.

After reading this book it becomes clear to a great extent that gender identity is not like a birthmark but constant growth and self-formation that takes place in a particular socio-cultural matrix. The limitation of the West–centric narrative raises the challenge to advocate social dialogue to address the problem of gender inequality in a country like India. Another dimension is added by the exploration of the struggles of the ordinary people who are stuck in the perpetual circle of poverty and this is no less linked to the discussion of gender equality. Similarly the trauma of partition which induced sexual violence and is restricted by silence suits the patriarchal society’s definition of a good woman.

Research scholars like Parvathi Chandrasekharan Nair, Debasmita  Mahajan, Rutuja Pradhan or Sayantani Sengupta  or Paulami Sengupta did a brilliant contribution to the discourse.  Prof Urvi Sharma emerges in this book not only as one of the editors but also as an organizer who chases the scholars for papers and took the big initiative to make the study of Gender more profound and diverse. Her Paper ‘Coming out and Leaving the Closet Behind’ itself reveals her vision for making academic frameworks and the future of gender studies. She has rightly concluded that “Today, gender  has materialized  as a designation that is almost meaningless – especially  over  last twenty  years as the study of  gender has become  more prominent  in college classrooms  and the basis of much  research, writing, art teaching  and activism across the world.”

We may agree with her that in Indian academia, the goal of Gender Studies is not one of gender blindness, the goal instead is to deinstitutionalize gender, a long and arduous process that first requires us to see through the seductive descriptions of men and women offered by domesticity. This is a big dream and a grand vision that the edited book brilliantly explores in diverse ways.

The hard binding, the cover and the printing all are commendable and the price of the book is reasonable for the institutions to collect where gender studies is included in the syllabus. The book is a good one but still we regard it as a single step in the long journey of gender studies in India.  A single step for three editors is however a big leap for the academic world.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharee is a poet and columnist. He may be reached at profratanbhatacharjee@gmail.com

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