BEYOND TURK AND HINDU: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence. India Research Press, New Delhi, 2002.
LEGEND has it that when Satya Pir, the popular medieval hermit of Bengal wandered into a brahmin village dressed half as a Vaishanava brahmin and half as a Muslim fakir, sat in meditation for a while and then proceeded to denounce the brahmins, King Kasikanta himself summoned the Pir to do something extraordinary to prove that he was indeed the saint he claimed to be. Immediately, Satya Pir transformed himself into a white fly, winged his way to the women’s quarters and transformed the queens into whorish lascivious figures who danced so frenziedly in public that King Kasikanta could only look on in mute horror as his chief queen performed a strip tease in front of his gathered subjects. Satya Pir thus emerges not only as a figure who blurs the religious categories of Hindu and Muslim, but also as a liberator of female sexuality!
No wonder that the cult of Satya Pir in Bengal has endured five centuries, a half-Hindu, half-Muslim saint concerned not with ideology or theology but the world of private morality as also pragmatic everyday notions of survival, social taboos and human relationships. His acceptability lies not in doctrine but in the fact that he can make peoples’ lives better, teach the powerful a lesson and punish those who don’t respect ‘crazy fakirs’. His physical appearance reflects the dual character of his disciples: ‘the Prophet’s patched scarf cinched at the neck… the sacred thread drapes his shoulder.’
The cult of Satya Pir, the Muslim poets of Tamil Nadu, the tazkiras of poets, texts from the Vijayanagara kingdom, accounts of Muslim tourists to Hindu temples and Maratha treatises on government forms part of the rich, consistently exploratory and meticulously researched material in the book Beyond Turk and Hindu, a collection of scholarly papers edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence. The presence of Sanjay Subrahmanyam is missed, as it is his work disproving the certainties of the pre-British period that comes closest to the tenor of this volume.
The title of the book comes from the Qadiri poet Bulhe Shah’s poem. ‘Bulha ki janan main kaun?’ the poet asks. (Bulha, who knows who I am?). To which he provides his own answer: ‘Neither Arab am I nor man of Lahore, nor Indian from the town of Nagaur, Neither Hindu am I nor Turk of Peshawar.’
Beyond Turk and Hindu delves into literary, architectural, biographical and administrative material of the five centuries before colonial rule to try and illuminate, indeed rescue, aspects of the subcontinental identity that later came to be cast in stone by British colonial census takers, identities that were irrevocably cast as ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’. A transactional, local, patchily integrated world of ‘Islamicate’ and ‘Indic’ emerges which, while no ‘secular’ idyll, yet was an inter-linked space of memory, artifact and written text. This world created identities that embraced local tensions, identities in which ‘the categories Hindu and Muslim were largely subsumed in more particularist structures of devotion.’
The authors write: ‘As colonial rule itself was tied to science and capitalism, this introduced in the South Asian parlance the language of enumeration, of ethnic groups as territorially mapped entities and of religions as fixed communities, susceptible to counting under the census.’ The language of ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’, the legacy of British census takers, has ironically become the fodder of present day cultural nativists. Yet Islamicate India was not characterized by fixed religions. Rather, the attention to religion took myriad and multiple forms. On the one hand a generation of ‘spiritual athletes’ grew from the syncretic interactions of Hindu and Muslim mysticism, as between Hindu Vedanta and Islamic Wahdat-ul-Wujud. On the other, deeper patters of contradictory identities were worked out within the parameters of daily local concerns.
In an examination of Cirappuranam, the 17th century Tamil Muslim text composed by the poet Umaru Pulavar, Vasudha Narayanan points out that in one of the opening verses the commentator speaks of the four Vedas and the Prophet. The four Vedas in this context are the Taurat (Torah) given to Musa (Moses), the Capur (Zabur) given to Tavoot (David), the Injil (Gospel) given to Isa (Jesus), and the Purukan (Furqan or the Qur’an) given to Muhammad. In this verse, Narayanan explains, the framing vocabulary is shaped by Hindu tradition but the exegesis is clearly Islamic.
Another interesting strand in the Cirappuranam is what can be described as the Tamilisation of Medina. The women of Medina are described as wearing anklets like Tamil women, with pointed sharp breasts and long hair swirled with fragrant flowers filled with honey. The words are not only erotic but bear far more commonalities with Tamil literary romantic convention than with an accurate rendering of the features of Medina. The imagined Medina is more Tamil than purely Islamic. Texts like the Cirappuranam, Narayanan writes, ‘illustrate how the generic conventions of Tamil literary production have defined the framework for Muslim participation in the Tamil religious world.’
So while it might be difficult to prove a picture of rosy syncretism and several scholars like Susan Bayly have pointed out that it was the Hindus who accepted Muslim shrines into the Tamil sacred space rather than the other way around, yet there is an undeniable Tamil patriotism in the Muslim texts of Tamil Nadu. This is further evidenced by the fact that Tamil Muslims often do not find commonalities with Muslims either in Kerala or Hyderabad, nor do the traumas of the North Indian partition severely affect them. Instead, it is the geographical location and peculiar inheritance of the Tamil land that is the spur of cultural pride and a focus of emotion.
A similar patriotism of place is seen in the manner in which the soil of the subcontinent is ‘Islamicised’ by creating a new scared home away from the holy land of Mecca. Thus, Marcia K. Hermansen and Bruce B. Lawrence point to the ways in which Indian cities like Ajmer, Delhi and Lahore have become Muslim holy sites for the authors of the tazkiras. For Khwaja Khusrau: ‘Noble Delhi… is the Garden of Eden… May Allah protect it from calamities. If it but heard the tale of this garden, Mecca would make the pilgrimage to Hindustan.’ Again, Ajmer has been recast as Medina in a biography of Muin-al-Din Chishti. From a tazkira written by Hafiz Ali Khan in 1929, Rampur emerges as a repository of Muslim cultural memory. Once again, the Rampuri, cap, knife and particular style of knife fighting as well as activism in the freedom movement, are all deployed in the construction of Rampuri Islam which emerges as not only nationalist but also particular to Rampur with relatively little attention paid to the imagined international ‘brotherhood’.
Extrapolating to the post-independence context it would be possible to argue that the breakdown of these local communities, largely as a result of the pressures of electoral politics, emerges as the chief reason why the nationalism of locality (which often transcended monolithic religions) has given way to the nationalism of an imagined nation accompanied by a constructed factory-produced rather than organically grown ‘religion’.
The Vijayanagar empire has been interpreted by historians such as K.A. Nilakanta Sastri as one which successfully upheld the Hindu cause against Islam. Yet Phillip B. Wagoner points out that the Vijayanagara empire founded by the so-called ‘Hindu’ kings Harihara and Bukka continued to derive its inspiration in important ways from the Delhi Sultanate and elite members of the Vijayanagar court were deeply influenced by the courtly ways as well the architecture, titulature and military and administrative technology of the Delhi sultan. An examination of four Sanskrit texts dating to the 16th and early 17th century, leads Wagoner to conclude that the founding myth of the Vijayanagara state was to create an authority derived directly from the Delhi Sultanate. The popular legend that Harikara and Bukka were local Hindus, converted to Islam, who are then reconverted to the Hindu fold by the ascetic Vidyaranya and go on to establish the glorious Vijayanagara must be altered in the light of the evidence that not only did the Sultanate exercise great power in the imagination of South India but writers of such texts as the Prataparudra Caritramu and of the Koil Olugu sought to establish the Vijayanagara empire as a successor state of the Delhi Sultanate, precisely because the Sultanate was a royal metaphor of the time.
The Maratha empire has been described by 19th century writers as a thrilling ‘proto-nationalist’ movement against ‘foreign Muslims’. Yet Stewart Gordon, in his study of Maratha grants to Muslims, discovers that the list of those paid ‘monthly wages’ was dominated by Muslim recipients. Further, the Maratha government allotted money for Muharram, Ramadan, Qur’an recitation expenses, for Id and for the qazi’s fee. ‘Maratha rulers and later brahmin de facto rulers were patronizing Muslim holy festivals and festivals right along with Hindu saints and festivals,’ Gordon writes. Even Shivaji it may be recalled was once a Mughal mansabdar and Maratha rule generally was unable to dislodge Mughal generals and bureaucrats in the area.
In the private sphere, structures of patronage however did change. Ram Chandra Baba prospered in the Peshwa’s service in Malwa but used his wealth to build a temple in his native Goa. Yet the self-awareness of one’s religion did not preclude, in important ways, the emergence of identities that tended to revolve around the particular rather than the general. The sheer variety of administrative and governmental interactions either in Vijayanagara or in the Maratha kingdom cannot be harnessed to simply serve a single religious ideal.
Richard Eaton’s exhaustive list on temple desecrations bears out the already well-established conclusion that these buildings were seen as symbols of political rather than religious authority and desecration was an attack on a rival sovereign rather than on a rival religion. In another fascinating article, Carl W. Ernst analyses a text by a Muslim author Rafi ‘al-Din Shirazi. This text is an admiring description of the Ellora temples. Interestingly, through the text, Shirazi’s own religion is never in doubt. Nor is the delineation of the Hindu aesthetic. Yet within the framework of religious certainty, Shirazi produces what could be interpreted as a modern secular text.
Shirazi views Ellora not as a religious structure but as a political monument. He analyses Hindu kings not as ‘Hindu kings’ but as simply kings and religion is largely irrelevant to his delight at Ellora. The text shows that the modern discourse on monolithic religion is completely at odds with a world where religion subliminally suffused all spheres of life yet did not retard, by its presence, a universal aesthetic. Shirazi likens Ellora to Persepolis and his lament against the destruction of certain Hindu temples comes from the point of view of a believing Muslim, as an ‘offence’ against ‘beauty’ and ‘god’. Here the implications for politically correct ‘secularists’ are important. The denial of religious identity need not be the necessary precondition in the attaining of subcontinental secularism.
The argument may be advanced that however clear it is that Hindus and Muslim were not monolithic categories, it is also undoubtedly true that religious identities did operate along endogamous lines and it would be difficult to find wide-ranging instances of common social interaction such as in marriage or in popular participation in festivals. Occasionally the syncretism of the texts seems a little overdrawn, such as the use of Tamil poems from the 1980s, which were clearly written from current political compunctions. The bhakti movement was a reaction to the strengths of the orthodox both within Hinduism and Islam and jaziya and zakat were taxes levied on different religious groups.
Yet the reason why Beyond Turk and Hindu is an important and exciting book is that it, like the Sufi, strains at the boundaries of the mind. It strains at the inherited baggage of the British census takers by reaching towards processes of identity formation in the pre-modern period that were ambivalent, bidirectional, unstated, and hardly as ‘irreconcilable’ as normally thought to be.
The book seeks to prove that the ‘tradition’ of South Asia was not contained in religion but in the constant, if flawed, transaction of religions. A transaction which in itself has the depth and the numbers to become a single canon. The book effectively challenges the nativists of the Sangh by showing to what a large extent the emphasis on a single Hindu strand in this large canon is nothing but a faithful parroting of British historians who sought to legitimise their own Pax Britannica in India by harking to a barbaric Muslim ‘invasion’. Eaton shows how Hindu writers like Sita Ram Goel have relied on the highly selective translations of Persian texts by colonial British scholars like Henry Elliot and John Dowson to demonstrate the ‘villainy’ and ‘fanaticism’ of Muslim rulers. In the contemporary context, Beyond Turk and Hindu demonstrates that the only ‘foreigners’ in the subcontinent are the votaries of manufactured ‘bharatiyata’.
RIPPING THE FABRIC: The Decline of Mumbai and its Mills by Darryl D’Monte. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2002.
AS India’s commercial and financial centre, few today link Mumbai and its shifting fortunes with the rise and decline of the textile mills. Yet anyone who has grown up in and loves the city, and Darryl D’Monte is eminently qualified on both counts, cannot but be aware of the central role the mills played in the making of the city, in particular its industrial culture. More than in any other urban agglomeration in India, it was Mumbai’s mills which attracted migrant labour from the countryside and transformed what were ascription bound peasants into a modern workforce.
This was also the city where the trade union movement, primarily under the leadership of the communists, acquired an order of social significance, dramatically altering our conceptions of work, leisure, discipline and accountability. If Mumbai today, despite its many infrastructural problems, still remains a favoured destination for entrepreneurs and business, not the least because it is seen and experienced as urban, a fair degree of the credit should go to its mills.
Sadly, the mills are now part of history. The textile strike of the early ’80s, so evocatively captured in Rajni Baxi’s book The Long Haul (BUILD documentation Centre), may have made it to the Guinness records as the largest ever industrial action, but it hammered a final nail in the coffin of a declining industry. As new powerloom complexes, often in the informal sector, and integrated composite mills dealing with synthetics and polyesters took over the market, the mills became empty shells. Not only did close to 200,000 workers lose their jobs, the areas of central Mumbai where the textile mills were located became the site for a major contestation over the redevelopment of land and thus the future imagination of India’s premier city.
Many years back Darryl, along with social researcher and journalist Narendra Panjwani, had started work on India’s urban environment. He had also coined an evocative phrase – a city of trenches – to describe the city he so loves and identifies with. Ripping the Fabric brings together his continuing work on how the city has been changing, focusing primarily on the contestation around the new use for land, over 500 acres, in the heart of central Mumbai. This effort brings alive a complex story of both land and textiles, the out-of-work labour, mill owners seeking to capitalise on valuable real estate, politicians, city planners and Mafia dons – all of whom together are seeking to redefine the meaning of a city, above all who it belongs to and who it is for.
This book is crucial in other ways too. Many of our other cities, Ahmedabad is an excellent example, face similar challenges, outgrowing and now encapsulating industrial complexes once at the outskirts. As market conditions alter, technologies change, criteria of acceptable pollution levels and safety are revised upwards, many of these centres face closure. But such is the nature of our politics and decision-making processes that we find it difficult, quickly enough, to decide on alternative use for the land now locked up.
Should the land be used as a green space, put to collective use in parks, used for economically weaker section housing, redeveloped as office and commercial space, and the list can be expanded, is neither self-evident nor amenable to easy agreement. More than two decades after the DCM Mills shut down in central Delhi, the government is unable to decide what to do. And as the delay mounts, and the cost of holding onto a non-performing asset increases astronomically, involved parties approach the courts and sometimes criminals for settling the dispute.
Darryl D’Monte captures all this in the context of the mill land in Mumbai. Fortunately, and unusually for an Indian researcher, he also brings in a comparative dimension, discussing similar processes in Manchester (also an erstwhile textile centre) and London, where the redevelopment of the dockyards under the control of the Ports Authority gave rise to similar debates and conflicts.
It is undeniable that the real estate under consideration is extremely valuable. Given the high stakes, concerned players are willing to try all stratagems – from bribing city officials and politicians to bringing in the Mafia – in an effort to ensure a favourable outcome. It is to Darryl’s credit that he never lets us forget the workers, both because of their historical contribution and claims, but also because factoring them in as equal players dramatically alters our conception of the city. Equally, he is realistic enough to appreciate the changing requirements of the marketplace as also the imagination of the newer generation of younger professionals who see Mumbai more as a vibrant financial and commercial hub than as an industrial city.
If there is a downside to the book it lies in the plethora of detail, very useful to researchers, but marring the narrative flow. Fortunately, there is no nostalgia, a common drawback of accounts by older, somewhat elite residents who rue the passing away of a more genteel age. As a book which discusses urban politics and planning and is successfully able to link together the changing structure of our largest city with the actors and processes seeking to shape its present and future, Ripping the Fabric, remains a worthwhile read.
THE NARMADA DAMMED: An Inquiry into the Politics of Development by Dilip D’Souza. Penguin Books, Delhi, 2002.
FOR what arguably is India’s most talked about development project, at least in the last two decades, there is surprisingly little knowledge about it. Of course, everyone knows that the first large dam on the Narmada river, the Sardar Sarovar, has been in the eye of the storm, that it sparked off modern India’s most high profile environmental protest, one that still continues despite the Supreme Court ruling giving the project the go ahead.
Most readers of newspapers, even those who watch TV news, would recognise the name Medha Patkar, possibly even her face. And many of us are aware of how Arundhati Roy was held in contempt by the Supreme Court for questioning its motivation regarding the final judgement.
Making sense of the complex debate around the cost-benefits of the dam is less easy. It is now widely accepted that the Sardar Sarovar project will displace a lot of people, many of them poor, and that, despite claims to the contrary, a large proportion of the project affected people (PAP) will become worse off even on the grid of monetary compensation, forget land for land or rehabilitation, such that their quality of life does not worsen. Not only do most not trust the figures trotted out on the costs of the project – number of people displaced, environmental damage, long term implications of both dislocation and an irreversible change in the local ecology – there is considerable scepticism about the claimed benefits – irrigation, drinking water, flood control and power generation.
Yet, not many would buy an anti-big dam position, both in general and in this specific instance. Maybe it is because so many of us have internalised Nehru’s slogan of ‘Dams as temples of modern India’ and the pride in the technological and engineering achievements associated with such projects, but mainly because so many of us, particularly urban residents, continue to believe that the bounties of nature need to be harnessed for the good of man.
It is not just the residents of Gujarat, who have long looked at the Narmada as a lifeline, a kamadhenu which will solve many problems, but others who feel that despite costs, the country must go ahead with such projects. Images of drought-stricken and parched lands, or of blackouts of the kind western India experienced recently, only intensify the urge for such development. Of course, we should try and minimise costs and damage, take adequate care of those negatively impacted and ensure that there are no delays and corruption, but go ahead we must.
Most debate on the Narmada dams, the Sardar Sarovar in particular, continues to be mired in such conflicting perceptions. There is also a degree of tiredness with the issue. There was, for instance, much less media attention this time around, when protesters stood neck deep in waters to draw attention to the unfulfilled promises of the government. Yet, it is critical that the issue not be forgotten both in the interests of justice but as much because the development path epitomised by the Narmada projects can lead to disaster, both politically and ecologically.
Dilip D’Souza’s book makes for an engaging, even compelling read, this despite taking too much as already known. True, there are many books on the Narmada dams and struggle, including the widely published and discussed essay by Arundhati Roy. Yet in a popular tract brought out by Penguin, one which is sold in the most unlikely of places, it would have helped to put down some basic facts and provide a coherent narrative. A good map, some discussion of upstream and downstream issues, why four states, including Rajasthan, are party to the dispute, the importance of hydel power in deciding the height of the dam and a profile of those likely to be affected would have helped. It is crucial to underscore that not all oustees are poor or landless tribals. Equally, it helps to provide a sketch of the struggle, even as a background, so that the reader can make sense of the conflicting claims.
Nevertheless, the book’s discussion on the politics of development, how decisions are taken and sold with or without reliance on facts, which ‘facts’ acquire importance, when and how, and so on are extremely revealing. It helps that Dilip D’Souza, almost unfailingly, refuses to get shrill, that he takes the water thirst of Gujarat seriously, that he is not an anti-dam or even an anti-development ideologue. Above all, it is his resurrection of the K.R. Datye and Suhas Paranjape et al. proposals that tried to outline ways in which the broad objectives of the project could be met with far less damage, that marks him as a serious critic. (I am, of course, less convinced about the downgrading of the objective of generating hydel-power. We should not forget that this happens to be Madhya Pradesh’s greatest gain from the SSP, not irrigation or drinking water).
The best parts of the book relate to the discussion on how scientific data is gathered and presented – take just the water flow in the river or projections about siltation. Or how glibly concerned governments make promises – about compensation and rehabilitation, compensatory afforestation and so on – knowing fully well that once they have received the necessary clearances, they can forget their promises. Equally shocking are the reflections on the court process, the presuppositions our judges work with, something that our middle class, currently so enamoured of the Supreme Court, needs to factor in.
Most of all this book exposes the warts in our democracy, how all of us are complicit in constructing a process in which the less well-off continue to be denied a voice. I have long been a critic of the political tactics and strategy of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. But there is no doubt as to its commitment and courage as also the deep debt all of us owe to the activists who continue to struggle against making invisibile the underside of our development politics.
BRANCHING OUT: Joint Forest Management in India by Nandini Sundar, Roger Jeffery, Neil Thin and others. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2001.
IN a refreshing change from a primarily programme-oriented body of literature on JFM in India, Branching Out provides a comprehensive analysis of the complex sociopolitical realities within which JFM has sought to entrench itself as the dominant discourse in present day forestry. In six chapters, this book attempts to understand the basic and often missed out underlying themes that affect the success or failure of participatory forest management in the country.
Chapter 1, while providing a brief history of JFM in India, identifies the various problems faced by the forestry sector and examines the underlying causes influencing changes in national forest policy in the wake of economic liberalisation and global capitalism. Criticising the traditional paradigm of ‘scientific forestry’, this chapter recognises the emergence of new non-state actors such as civil society in the new era of ‘participatory forestry’. It also underlines the vast uncertainties that face the forestry administration in defining the differing objectives of forest management today.
Chapter 2 explores through field-level research the different ways in which JFM has actually evolved in practice on the ground in different states. The examination of JFM in four states – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh – clearly reveals the variations in problems, management initiatives and degree of community involvement, not only across states but also across divisions and villages as well.
Chapter 3 assesses JFM from a village-level perspective and analyses the elements of community, power and choice that exist therein. It recognises the ‘reality’ of asymmetry of power between the elite and marginalised sections within village communities. Further, it examines gender dimensions within JFM and also the shifting locus of control between the villagers and the forest department. Besides, the chapter questions the ‘jointness’ of JFM and enquires as to whether, despite the rhetoric, there has been any real devolution of decision-making to the people and to what extent they have been given a choice in the construction of their own needs.
Chapter 4 looks at the actual silvicultural management practices in JFM that determine the use of forests. The perception of the forest department towards forest use by villages is classified into three typologies – forest department-tolerated interference, forest department-approved involvement and forest department-disapproved practices respectively. This framework is then used to examine the changing legitimacy of timber felling, grazing, encroachment, employment, NTFP collection and so on in JFM areas.
Chapter 5 critically appraises the interests and actions of NGOs and international donor agencies in promoting JFM, and examines their relationship with the forest department. This chapter also tries to understand the attitudinal changes that have taken place within the forest department and analyses the drivers behind this change.
Chapter 6 attempts to bring the various threads of JFM together as articulated in the previous chapters and explains the wider patterns of change that have determined the paradigm shift towards socially responsible forestry, not only in India but also in other parts of the world. The authors conclude that even though it is still too early to assess whether or not JFM has been a success, the democratisation of institutions and processes leading to equitable access to resources and livelihoods should nonetheless be the priority objective while managing forest resources.
The book provides a thought-provoking insight into the dynamics of JFM in India. Not only do the authors cover the institutional and governance aspects of JFM, they also delve deeper to understand the political economy of various factors that are actually at play at various levels. The book encourages the reader to think of JFM not just in terms of a programme alone, but beyond it as a social movement geared towards greater empowerment of hitherto socially excluded classes in relation to the changing nature of both the market and the state. On the whole, more than being just another book on forestry or even on JFM, this book manages to contextualise both forestry and JFM to the fundamental issue of development in India.
NEW HORIZONS IN WOMEN’S WRITING translated by Amina Amin and Manju Verma. Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Gandhinagar, 2002.
THOUGH the title may lead some to believe that this is yet another critical work on women’s writing, it is not so. New Horizons in Women’s Writing is an anthology of short stories, selected and translated from Gujarati into English. The justification of the title lies in its thematic uniformity and focused attention on the changing profile of the modern urban Gujarati woman. In the translator’s own words: ‘All the stories in this volume have been written by women and they deal with issues which women encounter in their day-to-day lives, both at the familial and social set-ups.’ There are 21 stories selected from a large output of Gujarati short stories. The women writers, all from the second half of the last century, vary in their age group and reputation. Along with the well-established Gujarati short story writers like Dhiruben Patel, Kundanika and Ila Arab Mehta, are young, upcoming and promising lesser-known writers like Amrapali Desai, Sunita Majithia and Swati Mehd.
Each story competently and powerfully brings out ‘a wide range of women’s experiences.’ The stories are linked as all deal with the sociological and psychological conflicts experienced by the contemporary urban middle and upper-middle class woman. There is a marked similarity in the attitude of the protagonists towards their own lives as well as man-woman relationships. They all seem aware of the subtle or crude exploitation their gender suffers. And yet each resolves the conflict in her own unique manner. Each seems to reflect a journey towards self-awareness despite different familial or psychological set ups, providing an interesting and absorbing reading experience. It is evident that the translators have taken great care in their selection of stories, successfully bringing out the issues and problems affecting modern Gujarati urban women in their authentic cultural backdrop to which all can relate and empathise.
As translations, these short-stories provide a lucid and enjoyable read. They are largely free from that oft-found awkwardness in translated works. However, stray instances of clumsy sentences are an inescapable aspect of any translation. Languages are the reflection of their cultures and there can never be a completely satisfactory transition from one to the other. There are some instances of incongruities in the stories. But that seems more due to the translators’ efforts to remain faithful to the original works, including their inherent flaws. This possibly shows that they have not sacrificed authenticity for the sake of artistic achievement.
The flavour of the middle and upper-middle-class Gujarati cultural ethos is effectively reflected through various stylistic devises. Some untranslatable Gujarati words, like, ‘swayamvar’, ‘goro’ or ‘khichdi and kadhi’ are provided with the explanatory footnotes in English to facilitate reading by non-Gujarati readers.
But more important is the translator’s fine sense of discretion in retaining some of the Gujarati words in their original, their translations though available were found inadequate by the translators. For example, words like ‘sasuji’, ‘bahen’, ‘gharwali’ , ‘sali’ or ‘umafai’ immensely help in retaining the authentic Gujarati cultural background of the stories. Though most of the titles of the stories are translated verbatim, some are re-titled, keeping in mind the spirit of the stories, viz. the story ‘Vistar’ is translated as ‘Looking Beyond One’s Self’ in English, ‘Chandranu Ajawalu’ as ‘On the Wrong Line of a Telephone’ and ‘Prapti’ as ‘After Fifteen Years’. This clearly reflects the translators’ sensitive and perceptive insight into the original works and their ability to retain the spirit in the translated versions.
The illuminating introduction goes a long way in helping readers realize how these Gujarati short-stories create new horizons in women’s writing. It includes a brief outline of the history of the Gujarati short story, with special reference to the contribution of women writers. Different stages of development as also how the attitude of the earlier women writers differ from their more recent counterparts are well illustrated. The translators note: ‘The portrayal of women and women’s issues in the works of the early writers and the ones just mentioned is markedly different.’ They bring out how the modern Gujarati short-story has acquired a new form and substance.
Translation is an art of achieving universality of experience. Only when the translators possess the ability to enter into the essence or the spirit of both literatures and languages are successful results achieved, like in this anthology. As is pointed out, ‘Women writers in Gujarati are handling all genres of literature with great skill and understanding. But while writers in Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala are available in English translations, not much work has been undertaken in this respect in Gujarat.’ This collection marks a useful beginning, paving the way for a larger recognition of Gujarati literature.
WOMAN AND EMPIRE: Representations in the Writings of British India (1858-1900) by Indrani Sen. Orient Longman, Delhi, 2002.
Indrani Sen’s Woman and Empire: Representations in the Writings of British India (1858-1900) is part of a body of work that seeks to straddle disciplines but falls flat between them. Neither history nor literary criticism, the book is a curiously lightweight and superficial work, the purpose of which is not quite clear. The fact that it is published in the New Perspectives in South Asian History series prompts one to look for what contribution it makes to our historical understanding of the period; the answer is none whatsoever. Presumably, one is to expect new facets to the cultural history of the period, but one finds none. This is doubtless because of the kind of cultural analysis that pervades the text. Sen’s main sources are colonial novels and there is little or no sophisticated textual analysis that could yield new facets or nuances.
The preface does not advance any theoretical framework through which literary texts can be brushed against the grain of history and made to enrich our understanding of the period. Indeed, Sen appears to be following some primitive reflective model where the differences between representation and historiography (let alone representation and historical ‘reality’) have been collapsed into a seamless continuum. Worse, for a literary practitioner, her literary skills leave much to be desired. Finally, the preface outlines a theoretical grid that is remarkably unreconstructed. Gender is seen as conclusively constructionist, yet race is privileged; colonial discourse is both paralysed and essentialist in her definition, yet she trades in ‘shifting, multiple, contradictory’ niceties. It becomes clear that this is no more than fashionable babble. None of these coordinates – gender, race and colonialism – is delineated with any sophistication.
The book is schematically divided into two sections. The first two chapters are what Delhi University syllabi-makers would call Background and the subsequent ones the Texts proper. These offer us no new insights into 19th century British India and, in fact, use dodgy sources like Hyam leaving them completely unproblematised.
The ostensible meat of the book, the textual analysis, alas is no better. Sen appears to have little sense of form and though she speaks in the main of novels and short stories, no attempt is made to see what kinds of fiction are being written – textual strategies, narrative techniques and literary effects. Instead, texts are plumed for content, for thematic tropes and these are matched with ‘real life’ (sic). Even when she uses terms like ‘narrative strategy’, Sen is talking about plot. Furthermore, potentially interesting themes like the White/Indian men’s common pursuit of the Indian woman or the trope of the flirt are not given enough space and fleshed out.
The chapters on Philip Meadows Taylor, Flora Annie Steel and Kipling all suffer from this problem. Interesting patterns when mentioned, like Taylor’s using of the past to inform the present or cross-cultural female bonding in his fiction, are left at the level of stray remarks. There is no narrative analysis of the effects of powerful, melodramatic and emotionally exploitative stories like Steel’s ‘Mussumat Kirpo’s Doll’. Indeed, even when interesting possibilities are opened up, they are discarded before one has the chance to mull over them. Sen seems too eager to put down her political foot on the more contradictory aspects of texts. It is some indication of the impoverished nature of this book that there are almost no quotes and their analysis from the novels or stories, apart from a phrase here or there. Gender subversions in Kipling are superficially alluded to, and terms like complex narratorial voice, elusive ironies, deliberate ambivalence, and so on are bandied about but without absolutely any textual evidence. We have to take Indrani Sen’s word for it.
That one would be disinclined to is apparent because hers is such a theoretically unreliable voice. The Epilogue speaks of a ‘materialist feminism’ which sees gender as a social construct created by (which means patriarchy also created by) ‘men as well as by women’ (the itals are Sen’s). One is at a loss about which material feminism this is as also by the bizarre sharing of blame for patriarchy without sufficient awareness of larger structures and available modes of agency. All in all, this is a somewhat disappointing book. Neither history nor literary criticism, neither theoretical sophistication nor sure of its gender politics, it leaves one more in the dark than when one had begun.
LOCAL ENVIRONMENT AND LIVED EXPERIENCE: The Mountain Women of Himachal Pradesh by Brenda Cranney. Sage Publications, Delhi, 2001.
WHILE much has been written on issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, or on women and development, one rarely finds detailed work on how rural environment impacts on the everyday life of people in general and mountain women in particular. Subjected to patriarchal norms and the harsh terrain in which they live, the impact of environmental degradation is felt all the more severely by mountain women. Dependent on their immediate environment, the life of ‘pahari’ women is woven around making provisions for fuel, fodder and water for the household.
The limited availability, difficult access to or total absence of these basic requirements due to natural calamity or as a consequence of inappropriate development policies makes the already arduous life of mountain women even more stressful, affecting their work, health and existing lifestyle. Researcher and activist, Brenda Cranney provides a detailed insight into the everyday life of mountain women of Himachal Pradesh. She explores and unfolds in a lucid and persuasive manner her ‘lived experience with the women of Ichasser and Dev Nagar’, the two villages of Himachal Pradesh where she conducted her study.
The book under review, based on her doctoral work, allows the reader an insight into the inner world and existence of ‘pahari’ women and how the degradation of environment and capitalist transformation has negatively impacted their lives, thus laying bare the hidden truths about their struggle and resistance. It informs the reader as to how ‘the degradation of environment, land fragmentation and the erosion of subsistence economy by unsustainable and inappropriate development or maldevelopment in Ichasser and Dev Nagar has, in fact resulted in fragmentation of the social fabric of the family and the community.’
What makes the book interesting is the manner in which Cranney narrates her experiences, involving an element of story telling. Using a mixed writing style consisting of both diary format and regular writing, the author takes the reader along to experience the everyday life, emotional upheavals and deep involvement of simple Himachali women whom she met, lived, worked and developed a life time relationship with. Its rigorous methodological application adds depth to the work, combining oral histories, personal interviews, photographs and participant observation, thereby developing an integrated approach that cuts across the disciplines of sociology and anthropology.
Chapters two and three of the book detail the choice of her methodological tools, how her research focus shifted from macro to micro analysis and finally her attempt to develop an appropriate research framework to study the ways in which development has changed the life and work patterns of the rural poor women. In order to capture the finer dynamics as well as intensity of women’s work, the ‘voices of women are woven into the text throughout’ and thereby the author has been to able to preserve the identity of those unheard voices.
Development policies in India are primarily guided by the dominant official framework of the post-colonial state which, with its centralising and intrusive strategies, tends to push the main actors, i.e., ‘the people’ to the periphery. The implications of such policies are felt and become visible even at the micro level, affecting the production process and the social structure of the village economy in which women and the poor peasants are the worst hit as they are systematically marginalised from the development agenda. This argument also holds true in the case of Himachal Pradesh, particularly in the context of social forestry programmes.
Cranney rightly points out how social forestry projects have not only marginalised and neglected peoples’ needs and opinion including their choice of tree species, these projects have failed because of their focus on profit maximization and commercialisation, their inability and unwillingness to address ‘structural changes’ and finally the ‘top down approach to project planning, identification and implementation.’ With the introduction of development policies based on the capitalist mode of production there has been a distinct shift in the economy of the state from the semi-feudal to market economy. The book asserts that such policies have not only affected the social fabric of the village community but also the natural resources of the region under study.
Life in a mountain society is fundamentally linked to the geographical, topographical, environmental and political factors that make the mountain. Verticality and marginalisation and a vital dependence on the environment are basic aspects of the region. In this context any effort to understand the dynamics of development and its repercussions, particularly on women, emerges as a complex issue linked closely to a multitude of factors – environmental and social. The lack of this realisation and knowledge, therefore, has a bearing on the kind of policies that are being framed and implemented. The book argues that the situation became complicated and difficult for hilly states like Himachal Pradesh as it had to accept policies generally meant for the plains which fail to take into consideration the geographical, cultural and socio-economic as well as ‘local’ specificities of the region, devoid as they are of a ‘mountain perspective’.
In her effort to understand the implications of economic development and state policies at the micro level, Cranney refers to the life histories of three women – Nirmala, Kalabati and Shanti. Representing three different generations, their narratives touch upon diverse issues like environment, culture, sexuality, politics and economics, and demonstrate how macro concerns translate into their everyday existence. Through their stories one gets a glimpse of women’s lives in rural India from ‘girlhood to old age’. The book also emphatically argues that macroeconomic policies have not merely marginalised these women in terms of resource depletion but further reduced the choices available to them to join the mainstream economy.
In the chapter, ‘The Environment and Women’s Work’, the author shows how women are subjected to extremely hard work and of these, fodder collection and water are the most important and arduous. The situation is further exacerbated due to gendered division of labour and in more recent times because of environmental degradation which impacts both the availability of natural resources as also the time required to procure such resources. By applying time cycle as a research tool, Brenda Cranney argues that the women she studied, worked on an average for 17 hours a day. No surprise that women are reluctant to get involved in any kind of income generating activities introduced by development projects as this involves extra work and hence more labour. Moreover, the heavy workload contributes to many health problems among women as well as their family members, a situation worsened due to extreme poverty as also the dominant culture of the region that is shaped by patriarchy. For example, Cranney cites, that ‘women in rural India are valued only if they can reproduce.’
Despite the detrimental impact of environment and development policies on the region in general and the dismal situation of women in particular, Cranney looks at the main actors in the study not as passive recipients of the circumstances in which they find themselves but as active agents. She argues that women have been able to use their agency to articulate concerns and find ways to bring about change. Their lives have not merely been sites of oppression but of resistance and they have challenged and protested against ‘traditional, patriarchal and cultural expectations’ both in the private and public domain. In coping with changes that capitalist transformation has brought about in Himachal Pradesh, women have asserted their agency in both adopting certain coping mechanisms and resisting. The book concludes on an optimistic note that the struggles and challenges which the women face have strengthened their agency and made them politically active.
With all its strengths, the book could have done with some editing, in particular the repetition in content, arguments and assertions relating to research methodology, research design and approach. Nonetheless, the book finds its forte in the rigorous fieldwork using varied research tools and methods, the theoretical framework and an interdisciplinary approach that the author developed. An interesting and useful read for any student of development studies.
COURTS AND THEIR JUDGMENTS by Arun Shourie. Rupa and Co., New Delhi, 2001.
WHEN a centuries old hierarchical society is under threat of replacement by an egalitarian social order the magnitude of the sociopolitical tension and chaos thrown up by the confrontation is bound to be enormous.
With the electors, most of whom have yet to learn democratic praxis, voting their castes or casting their votes in the periodic elections, with most of those elected from among them who fill the legislatures (Parliament and Assemblies) also not knowing democracy which, as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar cautioned, is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic, the executive made up of sections of the so elected not only carries the imperfections and inadequacies of the legislatures, but more importantly confounds them with the perfidies of its newfound power. More often than not, it is obtrusive and obdurate, and betrays its constitutional mandate for democratic governance by, among other things, executive excesses, inertia, ineptitude, intellectual and moral turpitude and turning rule of law into rule of thumb.
While the result is a vicious nexus and a vicious circle involving the electorate, legislatures and the executive, democratic governance in India even at the best of times was only a farce and the executive continues to work in tandem with the old order and all its invidious discriminations. The victims of this tandem structure are predictably the electors themselves, especially the ‘unwashed millions’, who remain at the mercy of politicians, bureaucrats, middlemen, fixers, criminals, power brokers and what have you.
It is in this context that they turn for succour to the judiciary – the most important, awesome and powerful organ of the state. Protecting and upholding the Constitution, ensuring democratic governance in keeping with its provisions, and delivering justice speedily and efficiently, are the most important of its functions. But if Arun Shourie’s book is any indication, the judiciary is a god that failed, in disarray and disrepair. Shourie is at his candid and incisive best in critiquing it using several important judgments, cases, and related issues and processes. Among his observations, only eight are mentioned here. To retain their flavour most of them are reproduced verbatim.
One, misuse of law:
The law against misusing courts to drag persons into vexatious litigation is just as clear. But, like many other authors, I have had to watch helplessly as courts have thought fit to take cases on board which, at least to a beleaguered author, seemed to be of a kind that deserved to be rejected at the threshold. (p. 6)
Two, god’s mill:
The contempt petition came up, and was adjourned. It came up again, and was adjourned again. This went on and on. During the year (1985) the case was adjourned seventy-eight times. (p. 20)
The reference is in the context of Swami Agnivesh’s contempt petition against the non implementation of a judgment by the Supreme Court pursuant to his efforts to liberate bonded labourers in the quarries around Delhi.
Three, judicial inaction:
But it is also true that sometimes I have had to watch helplessly as the courts could not be persuaded to do what seemed clearly within their power, what seemed to be manifestly mandated by law. (p. 5)
Four, verdicts unalloyed by contexts and facts:
A feature that strikes one as one sits listening to arguments in a court, as it does when one reads judgments, is that judges consider each issue as an issue in itself – isolated from the context of society, often independently of the consequences that it requires little imagination to see will follow from it. Furthermore, different principles, different encapsulations of a principle impress themselves upon the judges on different occasions… In judgment after judgment one comes across a determined effort to not let facts come in the way of the verdict… After all, judgments are replete with perorations. It is not that they adhere solely to matters legal: discourses on social philosophy, on sociology, on India’s history – rather, the dominant versions of these – are commonplace. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the particular case is the occasion that the judge has been waiting for to deliver himself of opinions on some subject: so little in the judgment turns on the oration. (pp. 239, 252)
Five, law in book v. law in action:
While the courts often give sweeping directions – ones that get bold headlines, ones that raise hope among citizens – they do not as often follow these up to see whether the executive has carried them out. An important function of the courts is to proclaim ideals before society, to stretch the executive so that it puts in the maximum possible effort. But it should be equally evident that if rulings – or laws – are so far ahead of reality; or if courts having decreed a remedy, do not follow up to ensure that it is being adhered to they run the risk of compounding cynicism – about courts, about laws, about the Rule of Law. (p. 15)
Six, passing files:
The general tenor of rulings, and their tilt have helped create an environment in which it is safer to pass files around than to take a decision, in which it is prudent to go through the motions of doing things than to actually do them. (p. 319)
Seven, goodbye to merit:
The courts have helped drive merit completely out of governance. By straining so much in favour of ‘equality’, ‘fairness’, ‘nondiscrimination’, courts as much as our politicians and intellectuals, have helped make mediocrity – indeed, non-performance – the norm. (pp. 140-41)
Eight, judicial spins and jigsaws:
The judgments – for instance, those mandating equality, those striking down disciplinary proceedings because some ingredient of natural justice has not been complied with fully – are not being delivered in a vacuum. They are being delivered in times when rights mongering and grievance mongering have become the staples of public discourse. They are being delivered at a time when public life is in the hands of a weak political class. This combination has lethal consequences… I do wonder whether judges today are even aware of what the cumulative effect of their progressive rulings (on Articles 14 and 21) has been on the functioning of the governmental apparatus – there is just one word that describes it precisely: paralysis… It is almost impossible to describe how palsied the structure has become. Only when one is thrown into the process does one realize the state to which affairs have fallen. (pp. 239, 319)
Shourie’s summing up of the principal features of the situation we face today that bear on law and the courts runs thus:
The state structure is marked by – that should perhaps be, ‘marred by’ – kargozari, by the show of work, not work... The entire structure, the routines it goes through have become process-oriented, results count for little. So long as the prescribed motions have been gone through, so long as the notings on file are in order, no one even thinks of bringing anyone to book… By now – within the governmental structure, in our legislatures, in the judgments of our courts – merit, efficiency, performance are so much at a discount as to be almost completely out of the reckoning. The consequences of this are certain to be fatal whatever the sphere of state activity that gets infected by it… As it is the largest entity in the country, as it is involved in every aspect of the country’s life, as it is the largest employer, government is the largest litigant. Among the largest block of cases in which government is involved are cases in which it is arrayed against its own employees… The primary responsibility for this state of affairs rests with a weak and ill-informed political class, and with a play-safe, nonexpert bureaucracy. (pp. 9-10)
Though the bulk of the book is on the judiciary, and one of the themes that runs through it is that the executive is as responsible as the courts for the state of affairs, that in many ways it is the one that is primarily responsible for the present condition, the book also touches upon other institutions, especially the legislature. Shourie’s contextual observation (though sounding somewhat contradictory to the general tenor of the book) is this:
After all, a judge can only give directions: and in regard to many of the gravest of problems these directions have to be given to the very institutions whose negligence has compounded the malady in the first place… The malaise often lies not in the way the courts are applying or even in the way they are ‘interpreting’ the law, but in the law that legislatures have enacted. (pp. 399-400)
Shourie makes it clear that his quarrel is not with judicial activism, but with the barnacles that have got attached to its hull.
As the judiciary is a complex institution and not merely courts, judges and judgments, placing it in perspective should mean critiquing the quality of the bar and the bench, judicial process, administrative set up, judgments, interface between litigants and lawyers, lawyers and judges, courts and politics, courts and corruption and so on. Such a critique would have added lustre to the book. Nevertheless, the book is one of a kind, and a very valuable one to understand and prompt introspection about the judiciary, judicial psyche, judicial activism, the judiciary’s ever-expanding interface with the executive, and the chaotic proliferation and prolongation of litigation. While reading this book, it will be beneficial to the legal class, especially judges to recall H.L. Mencken’s observation that ‘A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.’
DAUGHTERS OF THE EARTH: Women and Land in Uttar Pradesh by Smita Tewari Jassal. Manohar, New Delhi, 2001.
WOMEN’S relationship to land is a critical area of debate in gender studies, in the development literature and for feminist politics in India. As the author points out, it has been a concern in women’s studies for some time, though it is only in the last 15 years or so that systematic and detailed analyses focusing on the issue of women and landed property have been undertaken. It is a debate wherein those on the same side of the gender or class fence have taken different strategic positions. It requires us to confront the fundamentals of our understandings of social structures and the state, of class and caste exploitation, gender and women’s oppression, of family intimacy and public policy, of history and tradition, of the politics of change and emancipation, of individual and collective strategies.
The theme running through the book is that of the relationship between various state formations and the construction of gendered subjects in terms of women’s access to land and the valuation of their labour. Jassal concludes with a statement of her general argument pertaining to women and land which provides the framework for ordering the set of essays she has brought together. Women’s rights to own and access land is critical to their access of key productive resources and their empowerment in society and an understanding of the peasant world requires an examination of this dimension. However, the issue which she emphasises, through discussions of women and land in various times and places, is that this generality only gains meaning through the recognition that women’s relationship to land varies with class and caste and has changed with time. This entails an acknowledgement of conflicting interests of different groups of women, simultaneous with their homogeneous exclusions. Further, she argues for a strategic shift of focus from individual to collective ownership.
Jassal makes and highlights a significant point: the devaluation of women’s labour is coincident with, and supportive of, women’s exclusion from landed property. The complexity of this point is undermined by a somewhat naive assumption that rendering the various classes of peasant women visible will ensure a revaluation of their labour. Rather than examining contemporary interests and structures that maintain the devaluation and invisibility despite a plethora of studies, the author attempts to give it a historical basis. This is a critical and problematic enterprise, to which unfortunately Jassal has not done justice, either in the general review of the origins of women’s oppression or in the tracing of shifts in the Indian context.
These ventures require a more detailed and even daring treatment and presentation of the literature, the archives, the debates, than she gives them. Using anthropological evidence to trace a historical past is fraught with the risks of taking synchronic difference as diachronic process. The anthropological and historical literatures have to be deconstructed, shibboleths cast aside, terms clarified and statements about processes or gendered specificities documented.
An example is the use of matriarchy and matriliny as virtual synonyms, which one does not expect from a contemporary anthropologist or sociologist. Nor can we assume a literal reflection of social relationships in cosmology, such that the mere presence of female deities point to a matriarchal past, particularly after the work of anthropologists such as Douglas, Sanday and Hershman, as well as Leacock’s warning against applying contemporary understandings of power to the past. I am not a historian, but I still feel uncomfortable with the jumps from the late-Vedic times to the early medieval and thence to sanskritisation processes particular to the early 20th century. Undoubtedly the latter is significant in understanding the caste reform movements she describes and the contemporary processes of the devaluation of peasant and women’s labour, more so than speculation as to the origins of the ‘loss’ of women’s land rights. In fact a greater focus and elaboration of these links would have enriched Jassal’s overall argument.
We are not given an explanation as to why the shift from communal to privatised and fragmented rights should work against women and not men? Jassal tells us that the historical literature posits a connection between the emergence of the shudra varna and the undervaluation of labour, but does not elaborate on it or the whys and hows of the extension of this logic to include the labour of all women, which she suggests is easily done. A possible intermediate process that Jassal could have highlighted is the prestige attached to economic independence and thence the devaluation of working for others as synchronic with or prior to the devaluation of labour itself. Especially for women, the association of their productive and reproductive labours and the social necessity in caste society to control the latter through exclusivity and devaluation could in itself have meant processes linked to one affecting the other.
In another example, Jassal suggests that while land was merely a piece of property for men, for women it was tied to notions of identity, belongingness, security and status. In my own fieldwork in Rajasthan, I did not find such gendered difference in the meanings attached to land, even while the specifics of these notions were not necessarily identical.
In the more detailed and thorough analyses of Awadh through the colonial period, focusing on the different classes of peasant and rural society, Jassal draws out for us the differential and changing relationship of women to land and resources and products thereof. Through the Taluqdari Succession Act of 1869 and a stricter form of patrilineal primogeniture, the colonial state undermined the few advantages taluqdari women held under personal and customary law in terms of inheritance and control of land. Through continuing differentials on revenue/rents paid by various castes, which at the same time undermined the security of khudkasht tenure held by middle and lower castes, and through injunctions on khudkasht households not to employ wage labour, not only was there a tacit acceptance and endorsement of the domestic confinement of women among Rajputs and Brahmins as against that among khudkasht tenants, the field labour of women and men of the latter households and their productivity were made available to the state and the landed elite.
Many scholars have suggested a political rationale for the Raj to refrain from interference in the customs and usages of the people. Jassal suggests an economic rationale for the British colonial state to maintain customary differences between various castes and demonstrates the centrality of the utilisation of women’s labour in the differentiation between classes. One wishes that she had drawn the gendered implications of her analyses further, such as her discussion of residence as crucial in the differentiation of peasants. Surely this links women’s lack of rights in land and patrivirilocal marriage. Or that she had given us more of the specific cases of the impact on women of the changes in land and inheritance law and marriage norms which enrich this chapter.
In continuing her discussion on the varied implications of state formations for women’s access to control over land, Jassal contrasts the Mughal, Peshwa and colonial states which, with their respective class and caste priorities, gave land rights to a limited set of elite women or created extreme dependency amongst even them or by furthering landlessness in the name of ‘public purpose’ increased the pauperisation and powerlessness of women of the disappropriated groups.
The last is a story which continues to the present day with the post-independence Indian state. She underlines the position that women’s land rights in contemporary India have to be examined in the context of class differentiation, persistent landlessness and the incomplete nature of land reforms, which is striking in a polity where the rhetoric of a commitment to participatory democracy should imply a protection of peoples’ rights to livelihood. Jassal introduces into her discussion narratives of kol and chamar women and men who were supposed beneficiaries of land redistribution programmes in Bundelkhand. Her material brings to mind Herring’s discussion of the ‘embedded bureaucracy’ and the inability of ‘ordinary administration’ to ensure radical reform, suggesting also that it is not a monolithic entity as officials collude, attempt to stand up to, or are threatened by landlords. Women’s struggles in the midst of all odds, to support their families, to demand their rights is simultaneously a story of despair and hope.
Jassal’s final conclusion, which she puts forward in her introduction, is that the answer lies in the search for pragmatic solutions such as joint and collective farming and pattas. She expresses the hope that it is through such mobilisation of women that non-state-centric processes of ensuring women’s livelihood, dignity and empowerment can be sustained. In conclusion one can only wish that she had integrated into her analysis the experience of such attempts and their relationship to state structures.