UGC National Seminar on “Gendering Indian Narratives”
by Department of English,
(March 22 & 23, 2010)
Women have been subjected to oppression for centuries in the patriarchal society. Aristotle distinguishes women on account of "a certain lack of qualities." St Thomas Aquinas calls woman an “imperfect man”. Philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas, Rousseau, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Sartre have also considered women morally inferior. Feminism emerged as an organised movement for women's rights and interests, and the political, economic and social equality of sexes in the male-dominated society. Feminist criticism is concerned with “woman as the producer of textual meanings with the history, themes, genres and structures of literature by women.” It is an attempt to revalue the literature of the past from a gender perspective. Feminist criticism is regarded as deconstructive in spirit and method in as much as it aims at a revisionist reading of literary history and typology. Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) has provided the theoretical foundation for feminist criticism by pointing out the basic asymmetry between the terms 'masculine' and 'feminine'. Man as viewed as ‘One’, while woman, the ‘Other’. One is not born a woman, but rather becomes a woman.
Feminism has assumed various forms. Political Feminism can be seen in the works of Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, Mary Ellmann, Shulamith Firestone and Michele Barrett. It finds the “sexual politics” in "acting out the roles in the unequal relation of domination and subordination." Millett traces “politics” in the mechanisms that establish the male hegemony and female subjugation and insist on raising women's political awareness of this injustice. Gynocriticism can be seen in the works of Elaine Showalter, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Ellmann. It concerns itself with developing a specifically female framework for dealing with works written by women, in all aspects of their production, motivation, analysis, and interpretation, and in all literary forms, including journals and letters. French feminist criticism can be seen in the works of Jacques Lacan, Juliet Mitchell, Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous. The common radical claim of French theorists has been that all western languages are utterly and irredeemably male-engendered, male-constituted, and male-dominated. Discourse, Lacan proposes, is “phallogocentric”; that is, centred and organized throughout by implicit recourse to the phallus(used in a symbolic rather than a literal sense) both as its supposed “logos”, or ground, and as its prime signifier and power-source. The basic problem of the French theorists is to establish the very possibility of a woman’s language that will not go into the groove of the phallogocentric language and become subservient to it. Thus the question of gender has become more prominent in theoretical debates. In spite of their aversion for male theories, the Feminists have not been able to be completely independent of them. Feminists want to wrest their share of discursive power from men. The Feminist criticism, however, exudes confidence in the words of Showalter that it is "not visiting. It is here to stay, and we must make it a permanent home". It is, however, felt by critics like Raman Selden that Gender criticism "will never be able to resort to a universally accepted body of theory." It is hoped that the enterprise of Feminist criticism should not be confined to women alone, but it should be shared by men as well.
Susie Tharu & K. Lalitha’s Women Writing in India in 2 volumes broke a new ground by exploring women’s writing in 13 languages covering a period from 600 BC to the early 20th c. These writings from Therigatha (songs of Buddist Nuns, 6th c) to the most recent work illuminate the lives of women over two and a half millenia of Indian History and extend our understanding of gender issues. Representation of women in ancient and medieval classics like The Ramayana, The Mahabharatha, Abhignana Sakuntalam, Silappadikaram, Swapna Vasavadutta, Mrichakatikam, Kadambari etc need to be reexamined from a fresh perspective.
Gender issues have attracted greater attention in the recenst Indian literature/fiction written in English and regional languages. They acquired greater focus in the hands of recent fiction writers. Though many of these writers have refused to be branded as feminists, one can discern feminist postures implicitly, if not explicitly, in their writings. Issues of gender involving male and female roles, and their interconnection with narrative and space have come to the fore. Gender is invariably linked to class, culture, caste and identity. While defining the role of man/woman vis-a-vis family and society at personal, social, political and economical levels, the writers are not impervious to western, European feminist theories. Man-Woman relationship is revalued from a gender perspective to expose the ideological implications. Gender is viewed as a cultural construct, while sex is biological. Mention may be made of writers like R K Narayan, Raja Rao, Anand, Malgonkar, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, David Davidar, Jai Nimbkar, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Prawer Jabhwala, Nayantara Sahgal, Bharati Mukherjee, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Uma Vasudev, Githa Hariharan, Shobha De, Arundhati Roy, Manju Kapoor, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Gita Mehta, Dina Mehta, Meera Syal and Kiran Desai.
Indian women in the past were denied opportunities available in the society. The traditional values, and early marriage system in Hindus and purdah system in Muslims confined them within the limits of the home. She has no identity other than her family. Thanks to the reform movements by social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, women were educated. The educated women became conscious of the injustice inflicted upon them by the patriarchy and started protesting against it. When the Freedom Struggle started men and women came together to fight against the British Raj, and gradually the issue of gender discrimination began dissolving. Post-Independence
The recent Indian women novelists have reflected variously on the gender issues through their powerful portrayal of man-woman relationships in their writing. To mention a few novels– Kamala Markandaya’s Two Virgins (1973) Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting (1999), Nayantara Sahgal’s The Day in Shadow (1971), Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence (1988), The Binding Vine (1993), A Matter of Time (1996), Moving On (2004), Shobha De’s Socialite Evenings (1989), Uncertain Liaisons (1993), Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night (1992), When Dreams Travel (1999), Jai Nimbkar’s Temporary Answers (1974), A Joint Venture (1988), Bharathi Mukherjee’s Jasmine (1989), Desirable Daughters (2003), Uma Vasudev’s The Song of Anasuya (1978), Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli (1977), Namita Gokhale’s Paro: Dreams of Passions (1984), Anjana Appachana’s Listening Now (1998), Indu K. Mallah’s Shadows in Dream-Time (1990), Manju Kapoor’s Difficult Daughters (1998), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Sister of My Heart (1999), The Vine of Desire (2002), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers (1999). Women in these novels “question, analyse and try to open out the gender roles, male power and relationships that are important to all men and women” (Gupta 35).
The male discourse focuses on gender issues from a masculine perspective. Mention may be made of novels like Narayan’s The Dark Room, Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope, Anand’s The Old Woman and The Cow, Malgonkar’s The Princes, Jai Nimbkar’s Final Solutions and Joint Venture, David Davidar’s House of Blue Mangoes, Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey, Vikram Seth’s The Suitable Boy etc There is a need to examine whether women are portrayed in their sexually defined stereotypical roles as mothers, good submissive wives or bad dominating wives, seductresses, betrayers etc. or reflect women’s real experiences and real worlds.
The present seminar seeks to re-value the Indian narratives from the gender perspective. It addresses itself to the following issues:
1. Woman in Indian culture and society
2. Women’s portrayal in the ancient and medieval Indian Narratives
3. Gender theories: East & West
4. Issues of Gender vis-a-vis Caste, Class, Culture and Identity.
5. Feminism as a social movement and its influence on literature
6. Gender theories vis-a-vis Indian literatures in English
7. Ideological base of Male discourse
8. Strategies of protest by women against male domination.
9. Feminist discourse and its influence on women’s emancipation
10. Gendered Language
11. Any other topic that has a bearing on the theme of the Seminar.
The Seminar, it is hoped, would contribute to the understanding of seminal issues related to the issues of gender and its re-presentation in Indian narratives in English and regional languages.
For Details, contact:
Prof G Damodar
Director of the Seminar
Head, Department of English