Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Identities and Histories Women’s Writing and Politics in Bengal

Identities and Histories
Women’s Writing and Politics in Bengal
Sarmistha Dutta Gupta
demy octavo hb 294 pp ISBN 978-81-906760-2-1 Rs 700/- Published Aug 2010

In this book, Dutta Gupta explores the interface between women’s writings and cultural politics, focusing on what Bengali middle-class women wrote in the leading literary and political journals of the 1920s to the mid 1960s: Probasi, Saogat, Jayashree, Mandira, Gharey-Bairey and in a daily newspaper of the Communist Party of India, Swadhinata. Middle-class Bengali women had emerged as political actors in the 1920s, as followers of Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose and the revolutionary terrorist movement, which encompassed groups like Jugantar and later as Communists. The author interrogates the fashioning of different kinds of selfhood and the creation of different gender identities that also interrelated with other categories like class and religion.

Exposing hitherto neglected aspects of cultural politics in Bengal through meticulous research of largely uncharted material, the book reveals the complexities of these Bengali women’s concerns beyond reform, revival and colonization, the diversity of their struggles against the empire, their disparate roles in the new nation-state and their fluctuating positions regarding the women’s movement.

Sarmistha Dutta Gupta is an independent researcher and one of the founder-members of the activist-publishing group, Ebong Alap; she has co-edited with Swati Ganguly, The Stream Within: Short Stories by Contemporary Bengali Women (Stree, 1999).

'This engaging book demonstrates that women’s writings in early twentieth century Bengal may hold out immense possibilities for creating robust new theories with which to understand women’s identities, their politics and their histories.
… the book explores the choices women made as they lived through a turbulent period of India’s history. This historical tension between political work and social work, between ideology and experience, gives the book its primary focus. The particular strength of the book lies in how the author lays out the creative achievements of women writers alongside processes of their marginalisation. This provides a fuller picture of the history of Indian women’s writing, offering fresh insights about the struggles women writers inevitable faced. The ‘Afterword’ is both overwhelmingly moving in its choice of content and exceptionally critical in the perspective it presents, showing how the personal and the political continually intersect in the experiences of the writers.'

Book Reviews:  South Asia Research Vol 31(3), Nov 2011
Indira Chowdhury, Centre for Public History, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore

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