Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Woman Question in the Subcontinent

In contemporary Indian and Pakistani societies, the question of the role of the woman in the nationalist scenario remains a vexed one. Ann McClintock observes about the role of the woman in the developing world, “Excluded from direct action as national citizens, women are subsumed symbolically into the national body politic as its boundary and metaphoric limit.”

For instance, the ruling political party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a women’s wing that claims that the image of woman as powerful mother underlines economic independence for women and reinforces her strength and courage of conviction to sacrifice for the family. The BJP vociferously campaigns for women in parliament and the judiciary. The women members of this political party argue that they could never identify the modern Indian women with the liberated woman of the Western world. On the contrary, they campaign for reverting to a mythic past where women were purportedly equals in society. In doing so, the women’s wing of the BJP makes an ardent attempt to reconstruct history in order to inspire the kind of politics that present-day nationalism requires. The argument that is made is that such quotas will not benefit the backward castes, so only women belonging to those groups should avail themselves of this quota. These subdivisions caused by categorizing women along caste and religious lines perpetuate divisive politics.

In effect, the native woman is constructed as a trough within which male aspirations are nurtured, and the most barbaric acts are justified as means to restore the lost dignity of women. The story of the partition of India into India and Pakistan is replete with instances of father slaughtering their daughters in order to prevent them from being violated; women resorting to mass suicide to preserve the “honor” of the community; and women who were “dishonored” being ruthlessly shunned by their families.

Reinforcing this logic in Hindu nationalist rhetoric, the equation of the sanctity of the native female to the motherland has in recent days become more forceful. Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the communal riots that spasmodically grip India? If a woman’s body belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of that body purportedly signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole community.

Such irrational acts do occur and bear testimony to the intersecting notions of family, nation, and community. The horrific stories of women that are in most instances attributed to folklore underscore the complicity of official and nationalist historiography in perpetuating these notions. I might add that the feminization of the “homeland” as the “motherland” for which nationalist are willing to lay down their lives serves, in effect, to preserve native women in pristine retardation.

The postcolonial scholar Partha Chatterjee makes an interesting observation regarding this construct: the role of woman as goddess or mother binds her to a form of subordination that is the exercise of dominance without hegemony. In the present sociopolitical set up, the image of the Indian woman, the image of the Indian woman as the impregnable barrier against the perversion of Indian values is an ideal which incarcerates her. The iconization of woman as goddess-mother circumscribes her movement within society.

Despite the encouragement of women’s education in post-Partition India and Pakistan, the womanly virtues of devotion, submission, chastity, and patience are still viewed as the social forms that tradition inculcated in women. Nationalist discourse creates a framework that confers upon women the pre-lapsarian mythological status of a selfless, asexual, benevolent, and maternal entity. Because the edifice of national culture was propped up by the ideals of purity, selfless love, and sacrifice, the decapacitation of women was the result.

Nationalist discourse creates the dichotomy of the inner/ outer in order to make the sanctity of the inviolable inner domain look traditional. Nationalist writers assert that as long as the inner or spiritual distinctiveness of the culture is retained, a postcolonial nation can make the required adjustments to cope with a modern material world without losing its essential identity. The result, however, is not the orderly process of modernization but rather the continued immiseration of women.

More articles by:

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail