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Ving-cinq ans après

Enrica Asquer
Anna Bellavitis
Isabelle Chabot

Histoire globale et histoire du genre

Women’s and gender history in India :

Between academia and activism

Elena Borghi


The paper reflects on the historiography on Indian women and gender, tracing its journey up to the present time. It discusses the turns that have characterised the field and the main authors and texts, which have made it a rich and influential branch of both South Asian and Women’s and Gender History. Moreover, the paper seeks to analyse the close relationship the field has always maintained with the Indian political context, placing scholarly trends and turns within that scenario, and showing the ‘militant’ side of this academic enterprise.

The field of Women’s History gained prominence in India especially from the mid-1970s, fuelled by a wave of social protest and political ferment, which for the first time questioned optimistic views about postcolonial India, and laid bare its unfulfilled promises. The publication, in 1974, of Towards equality, a report commissioned by the Indian government on the status of women in India, was particularly significant for scholars and activists interested in women. Evidence of unaltered gender norms within postcolonial Indian society, and of women’s exclusion from the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, helped to catalyse a new wave of research, setting the agenda for emerging Women’s Studies programs. This moment sealed the intimate relationship between feminist politics and Women’s History, an alliance that has remained the backbone of the historiography on Indian women and gender up to the present time. As members of the protest movements, women historians who first contributed to the professionalization of the field have ever since understood writing women’s history as political activism.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Towards equality. Report of the Committee on the status of women in India, 1974.
  • 2 Ibid., 1974, p. 359.

1In India, as in Europe and North America, women’s history as an academic discipline and an intellectual movement is grounded in the feminist activism of the 1970s. Any discussion of the evolution of women’s studies – of which gender and women’s history is part – defines 1974 as the founding moment of a new wave of research on Indian women. In that year, Towards equality was published, a report commissioned by the Indian government and written by the Committee on the Status of Women in India.1 Concluding that “large masses of women in this country have remained unaffected by the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and the laws enacted since Independence”, the report clearly showed the gap between, on the one hand, the living conditions of most Indian women and the slowness of any ameliorating changes; and, on the other, the promises of gender equality featured in the Constitution of an independent India.2 Towards equality thus denounced the unfulfilled goals of freedom and development in post-colonial India, where – despite the hopes nurtured within the nationalist project and the enthusiasm engendered by independence in 1947 – the promise of gender equality, rather than approaching, seemed to be becoming increasingly distant. The publication of Towards equality ignited a new wave of research aimed at understanding the reasons behind the lack of improvement in women’s status since 1947, equipping scholars with an unprecedented body of information about women of the lower classes, and allowing for the extension of research to peasant women and informal workers, which would in turn contribute to the broadening of the horizons of the fast-growing women’s movement.

  • 3 Kumar 1993, p. 294-295.

2Feminist political mobilization was at this time bringing up in the public arena issues that had so far been confined within domestic walls. Indian feminist groups were enraged, in particular, by two rape incidents committed by members of the police force in the 1970s. In 1972, a Dalit tribal girl, Mathura, was raped while in custody by two policemen who were eventually acquitted: according to the judgement, Mathura was “habituated to sexual intercourse”, and she must therefore have consented to, if not incited, the intercourse. Six years later, another brutal incident involved a group of Hyderabad policemen, who gang-raped Rameeza Bee, a Muslim woman, and were finally acquitted despite a report from the Commission of Enquiry establishing their guilt.3 The impunity granted by the state to the perpetrators of these crimes against women of ethnic and religious minorities raised issues of social and gender discrimination, and led feminist groups to vociferously demand legislative changes that limited violence against women and started to undermine the cultural system behind the courts’ misogynist judgements.

3Women’s studies emerged in India at this peculiar juncture. At the First National Conference on Women’s Studies, which took place in Bombay in 1981, it was recommended that the field was “viewed as a critical instrument for social and academic development”, thus affirming the double-edged engagement of the discipline. Vina Mazumdar – renowned feminist scholar, activist and secretary of the Committee that wrote Towards equality – clearly exposed the activist roots of women’s studies in her comment on the 1986 adoption by Parliament of the National Policy on Education, which for the first time defined the national educational system as responsible for fostering women’s equality through the revision of curricula and the training of teachers and planners.

  • 4 Mazumdar 1994, p. 48.

It is important to remember that the National Policy on Education did not design women’s studies but only accepted the demand of academic participants in the women’s movement, voiced through a decade of struggle. The perspectives, ideology, and strategies adopted by the women’s studies movement were thus not evolved by the government or the academic establishment but, rather, by the movement and its allies.4

4The scholars participating in the development of women’s studies shared a desire to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and to work in an interdisciplinary fashion. They were also concerned with the need to find their own instruments of analysis, which would not simply result in the adoption of theories and tools designed within Western academia, and could instead shed light on the Indian social context by taking into account its peculiarities. The focus on such peculiarities, together with the close link of women’s studies with activism, would remain the main characteristics of this research field in India.

  • 5 Forbes 2003, p. 170. See also Forbes 1998. Barbara Ramusack was another American pioneer of Indian (...)

5Gender and women’s history in India shares these traits. The work of the first scholars of women’s history, in the 1970s and ‘80s, was mainly devoted to locating and preserving documents that had so far never featured in any official archival collection. These were the years in which the pioneer of Indian women’s history, the American Geraldine Forbes, personally collected diaries, reports, pictures and correspondence on the women’s movement in colonial India, and then consigned them to the British Library. Recalling her first steps as a researcher in the early 1970s, Forbes described the challenges she faced in her work on Indian women’s history: the topic was “dismissed as irrelevant to serious women’s history” and considered unattractive by US editors, who preferred to publish stereotypical accounts following in the footsteps of the American journalist Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, printed in 1927 as a denouncement of supposedly “backward” Indian traditions. “To counter the impact of these popular but flawed accounts”, Forbes recalled, “historians realized they would have to rewrite the history of Indian women using solid archival material. However, the first step involved uncovering and preserving these sources”.5

  • 6
  • 7 Some two decades after its foundation, Kali for Women split into two imprints, Zubaan and Women Unl (...)

6As conventional archival material provided a very partial picture of Indian women’s past, locating other sources was essential in order to reconstruct their lives and experiences. Historians therefore engaged in the collection of memoirs and photographs, as well as in oral history projects, giving shape to ambitious initiatives. One of such enterprises was SPARROW (Sound and Pictures ARchives for Research On Women), founded in Mumbai in 1988 by C.S. Lakshmi, Neera Desai and Maithreyi Krishna Raj. The archive features oral testimonies and photographs of the contemporary women’s movement, and was conceived not only as a place for the collection and preservation of sources, but mainly as “an archive which would be an agent of change”.6 The need for the creation of a shared knowledge base of texts, documents and other material for feminist investigations of Indian history and society led to other projects connecting academic research with political activism. This was the case for Kali for Women, the first feminist publishing house in India, founded in Delhi in 1984 by the editor and activist Urvashi Butalia and the writer and scholar Ritu Menon.7

From women’s to gender history

  • 8 See, for instance, Kaur 1968.

7Kali for Women is to be credited for publishing the text that broadened the horizon of historiographical research on Indian women from its initial focus on uncovering women’s voices and documenting their life experiences in the colonial era.8 In 1989, Kali for Women published Recasting women, edited by two English literature professors at Delhi University – Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid – and collecting the essays of renowned Indian historians such as Uma Chakravarti, Lata Mani and Partha Chatterjee. In the introduction, the editors clearly stated the shift that the volume intended to mark within the historiographical field.

  • 9 Sangari – Vaid 1989, p. 2-3.

Historiography may be feminist without being, exclusively, women’s history. Such a historiography acknowledges that each aspect of reality is gendered, and is thus involved in questioning all that we think we know, in a sustained examination of analytical and epistemological apparatus […] A feminist historiography rethinks historiography as a whole and discards the idea of women as something to be framed by a context, in order to be able to think of gender difference as both structuring and structured by the wide set of social relations.9

  • 10 Borthwick 1984; Minault 1981; O’Hanlon 1994; Tharu – Lalita 1991.
  • 11 Chakravarti 1989; Spivak 1988; Visweswaran 1996.

8What Sangari and Vaid had in mind was a shift from the mere “addition” of women within the framework of wider history10 – for instance as active participants in the movement for national independence – to a rethinking of that history based on the identification of gender as an element structuring and being structured by power relations between the various actors composing the social fabric. Recasting women thus contributed to the expansion of the scope of women’s history, which in the second half of the 1980s underwent a global shift from women’s to gender history. Accounts of women’s life experiences were mixed with analyses of the discourses and narratives that contributed to shaping patriarchies in the colonial era, while the influence of the Subaltern Studies Group led to the introduction of questions about the relationship between elite and non-elite subjects. The category of gender intertwined with those of class, caste and religion, allowing for historical accounts that were aware of the complexity of a social reality whose subalternities and forms of oppression have their roots in the intersections between multiple categories and identities.11

  • 12 Sinha 1995.
  • 13 Nair 1996.

9A critique of modernity and progress, as constructed by both nationalist visions and the colonial regime, was central to the gender historiography of the early 1990s. Postcolonial analyses influenced the research on colonial India penned in these years by feminist historians, who read through the lens of gender the narratives of the imperialist cultural project, based on the dichotomy between a “Western self” and an “Oriental other”, immutable in his traditional passivity. The book by Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial masculinity: The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late 19th century is one instance of this historiography.12 Again a publication of Kali for Women, this volume by the Indian historian based at Michigan University shows how colonial discourse constructed the two dominant classes – the indigenous and the British – as typically composed of effeminate and manly men respectively. The book traces the cultural battle for political hegemony, as it was built upon the masculinity issue on the one hand, and racial supremacy on the other: a battle between two forms of patriarchy, sometimes conflicting, and at other times joining forces in the attempt to retain male control over the domestic sphere, that is, women. Colonial institutions, such as colonial law, have also been at the centre of analyses taking a related approach and tracing the patriarchal ideologies informing legislative action on women’s property rights, franchise, labour, marriage and divorce.13

  • 14 Ahluwalia 2008.
  • 15 Ahluwalia 2003, p. 193.

10In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of transnational history projects took shape, implemented especially by scholars based in the United States. This is the case, for instance, in Sanjam Ahluwalia’s work on the history of birth control movements in the late-19th and 20th centuries, as they developed and interacted with each other across India, Britain and the US.14 Through an analysis of the rhetoric on contraception and population management, the book shows that the global agenda of these movements was more concerned with eugenic politics than it was with women’s welfare and freedom, and was often built upon classist and racist arguments. According to Ahluwalia, “feminist historians need to adopt a cross-national approach to question the agenda of those we are often tempted to celebrate because they forwarded a cause we understand as necessarily progressive”.15

  • 16 Burton 2003, p. 26-27. See also Burton 2006.
  • 17 Arondekar 2009, p. 2.

11The politics of the archive have also attracted the attention of scholars of Indian women’s and gender history based in the US academe. Finding official colonial archives biased and in most cases responsible for erasing subaltern voices, these historians have explored alternative sources, while simultaneously deconstructing the mechanisms of knowledge production underlying the constitution of the colonial archive. In her book Dwelling in the archive, Antoinette Burton has drawn on the memories of home featured in three texts by colonial Indian women, concluding that these homes, their physical spaces and the material practices they have historically contained are “archives that produce histories”; they are not more provisional and porous than other archives, and are “not simply representations but material evidence of the gendered experiences of domestic life and family culture that help to constitute the political past, the national story, the colonial narrative”.16 More recently, Anjali Arondekar has also engaged in a sophisticated interrogation of the colonial archive, countering the “simplistic and triumphant forms of empiricism” generated by “the coupling of archive with minoritized knowledge formations – such as queer, postcolonial and feminist in particular”.17 Focusing on mid-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century India, and drawing upon postcolonial discourse analysis, queer, sexuality and literary studies, and feminist and subaltern historiography, Arondekar has examined sexuality’s relationship to the colonial archive through its spectacularization in law, literature, anthropology and pornography. Contrary to what others have done, she does not call for new archives, but for new methods of reading existing ones.

A burdensome socio-political context

  • 18 Agnes 1995, p. 151.
  • 19 Butalia 1998. The first feminist analyses of the Partition were published in 1993 in the Indian mag (...)

12While historians based in Western universities have enjoyed conspicuous freedom in the choice of their research themes, those working in Indian institutions have rarely been allowed to avoid the urgencies of the local social and political context. In the 1990s, the issue of communalism took centre stage; the popularity of the nationalist Hindu right and of its party (the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP) was increasing, and in 1992-93 India was the theatre of severe Hindu-Muslim riots, provoked by the destruction of the mosque of Ayodhya by militants of the Hindu right, and resulting in thousands of casualties, mostly among Muslims. While the nationalist right resorted to filo-Hindu revivalist interpretations of Indian history, narrating Indian Muslims as invaders and alien to an ultimately Hindu nation, feminist historians investigated the origins and patriarchal premises of Hindutva – the ideology behind Hindu nationalism – as well as the historical evolution of the relationships between the two communities. As Flavia Agnes wrote in her contribution to the volume edited by Urvashi Butalia and Tanika Sarkar, Women and right-wing movements, “The riots dealt a severe blow to the premise that the women have a separate existence away from their communal identity”, the premise on which the women’s movement had hitherto built its battles.18 Urvashi Butalia also authored one of the first monographic works to uncover a gendered history of the 1947 Partition of British India into India and Pakistan, and of the extreme violence it entailed, in her work The other side of silence, an intimate account published in 1998 and largely based on the memories of survivors.19

  • 20 Bacchetta – Jeffrey 2002.
  • 21 Bacchetta 2004.

13Like Butalia and Sarkar, other scholars focused on women’s participation in religious nationalist movements, which despite the deeply patriarchal foundations of their ideologies and contrary to feminists’ expectations became for many women places of empowerment and assertion, though within carefully traced boundaries. The volume edited by Patricia Jeffrey and Amrita Basu, Appropriating gender, looked at the issue through a comparative South Asian lens; while Right-wing women, edited by Paola Bacchetta and Margaret Power, extended the geographical and chronological scope from South Asia to Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.20 Two years later, Bacchetta published a monographic volume on women activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu right paramilitary volunteer organization linked to the Hindu nationalist party BJP.21

  • 22 Forbes 2003, p. 3.
  • 23 Sarkar 2001.

14Among the works produced at this juncture, those penned by historian Tanika Sarkar stand out. After authoring several articles and book chapters on the subject, in 2001 Sarkar published Hindu wife, Hindu nation. Community, religion, and cultural nationalism, which focuses on late-nineteenth century Bengal and traces the origins of Hindu revivalist-nationalist ideology with the stated aim of understanding the present. Investigating that ideology from a gendered point of view, Sarkar shed light on its patriarchal bases, and analysed the symbolic role assigned to women in the process of the construction of Indian national identity. She also undertook a critique of the approaches of Edward Said, of the pundits of the Subaltern Studies Group, and of some feminist scholars in Western academia whom she deemed responsible for advancing a schematic reading of Indian history, with dangerous consequences for the contemporary political context. Women historians, Sarkar held, “are caught within the dialectics of empowerment and containment. They live in a world where they cannot escape the political and social consequences of their scholarship”.22 According to her, historical analyses identifying the source of all forms of power in the colonial construction of knowledge on the “Orient” risk representing the colonized subject as a monolith, with no agency towards his own history, and therefore no co-responsibility in the creation of hegemonic structures. Within such accounts, the colonized subject is at best responsible for his surrender; any form of resistance and opposition (Hindu nationalism included) is thus equally sanctioned, and is assigned an emancipatory aura for opposing the colonial reform project, deemed to be the only form of patriarchy of modern India.23

15The work of Charu Gupta, historian at Delhi University, is also grounded in a reflection on contemporaneity and on the rise of political Hinduism. In her work Sexuality, obscenity, community. Women, Muslims and the Hindu public in colonial India, again a 2001 publication, Gupta has analysed the intersection of gender with the emergence of aggressive filo-Hindu organizations and ideologies in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century northern India. From reading the Hindi popular press, pamphlets, advice manuals, fiction and newspapers of the time, she showed how the Hindu community shaped its identity, on the one hand, through the rhetorical construction of an obscene and promiscuous Muslim “other”, and, on the other hand, through the propagation of norms restricting women’s freedom and sexuality. Like Tanika Sarkar, Gupta thus shifted the focus of her analysis from the hegemonic function of the colonial regime to the influence of indigenous voices, believing that the Hindu middle classes were in fact engaged in constant negotiations with the colonial power, not only and not always in a subordinate position.

  • 24 Orsini 1999, p. 137-160.
  • 25 Banerjee 2001, p. 7-36; Banerjee 2010, p. 455-473.
  • 26 Walsh 2004; Walsh 2005.

16Indigenous patriarchies, their interactions with colonial modernity, their efforts in the reformulation of Indian womanhood, and women’s responses to such efforts have been the focus of works investigating domesticity and advice manuals. Francesca Orsini, based at London’s SOAS, has examined the northern Indian case, and the ways in which this topic was elaborated in the Hindi women’s magazines in the early 1900s,24 while historians like Swapna Banerjee and Judith Walsh have concentrated on Bengal.25 In two books, How to be a goddess of your home and Domesticity in colonial India, Walsh, in particular, has undertaken a thorough analysis of nineteenth-century Bengali domestic advice literature, disclosing the gendered implications of the process of class formation, which gradually replaced the traditional authority of older women within the extended family with that of the young husband in the new romantic-partnership model.26

  • 27 Rege 2006; Chakravarti 2003; Omvedt 2006; Sreenivas 2013, p. 176-177.

17Gender history has unfolded in new directions in the twenty-first century. The acceleration of the liberalization of the Indian economy and the progressive dismantling of the public sector have, on the one hand, resulted in the country’s growing economic power on the world stage, and have been celebrated by the elites participating in this new affluence. On the other hand, this increasing economic might has only widened the already severe inequalities between different groups, exacerbating social tensions and producing new ones. India’s status as an emerging power has not gone hand in hand, for instance, with the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and the questions raised by the 1974 report Towards equality are still tragically relevant for women and other oppressed groups. Several social movements have emerged from within this context, confronting the new global and national order, in which women have played a critical role. They have agitated against environmental degradation, state and police violence, forced displacements of tribal and indigenous groups, and the abuse of reproductive technologies harming the life prospects of women and girls. Dalit (lower-caste) feminist activism has also been vibrant, highlighting the multiple layers that construct women’s subordination and subjectivity, and critiquing the erasure of lower caste consciousness from most scholarly works on “women”.27

  • 28 John – Nair 1998.
  • 29 Vanita – Kidwai 2000.
  • 30 Vanita 2002.
  • 31 Dave 2016.

18Sexuality and its history have also attracted scholarly attention. This interest has been fuelled by on-going preoccupations with the “non-Indian” character of alternative sexualities, as well as by an increasingly visible LGBT movement fighting for equality and agitating around the British-made Section 377 of the Indian penal code, introduced in 1860 and establishing (male) homosexual intercourse as a criminal offence. The colonial origins and legacy in relation to sexuality have thus been at the centre of works like Anjali Arondekar’s For the record, cited above, or like A question of silence?, edited by Mary E. John and Janaki Nair.28 Anticipating Arondekar’s disagreement on the absence of sexuality from the colonial archive, the collection edited by John and Nair has showed that the assumption that sexuality was silenced in modern India is wrong; in fact, the authors have argued, sexuality was elaborated in various contexts, and immensely preoccupied both colonial governance and nationalist efforts to define the model citizen of an India in the making. The collection Same-sex love in India, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai,29 and Queering India, again edited by Ruth Vanita,30 have also engaged in explorations of sexuality and gender, recovering gay and lesbian lives in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial India. Naisargi Dave’s Queer activism in India, a 2012 Duke University Press publication reprinted by Zubaan in 2016, looks instead at the contemporary period, examining the formation of lesbian communities and at the everyday practices of lesbian activism.31

  • 32 Mani 1998.
  • 33 Anagol 2006.
  • 34 Anagol 2008, p. 603-627.

19The 2000s have also been years of critique and revision of the historiographical approaches adopted in the previous two decades. Works such as Mrinalini Sinha’s above-mentioned Colonial masculinity, or Lata Mani’s book on sati, Contentious traditions,32 have received critiques, for instance, from Cardiff-based historian Padma Anagol. According to her, historical analyses focusing exclusively on discourses and narratives construct women only as sites for the endless reformulation of competing patriarchal structures, or of concepts like tradition and modernity. Such approaches end up silencing female voices, leaving no space for action for women as historical agents, and failing to assess processes and changes at work in a given context. In her book The emergence of feminism in India, Anagol has analysed the case of Maharashtra, locating women themselves – rather than colonial or indigenous structures responsible for their oppression – at the centre of the historical narration, demonstrating that women in fact very actively opposed and/or interacted with such structures.33 Besides deconstructive approaches, the periodization usually adopted within the history of modern India has also contributed to silencing women’s voices: an imperialist-nationalist framework of analysis, privileging themes related to the birth of the Indian nation and to the contest between colonial and nationalist forces, has dominated historiography, and this has often led to the erasure of topics not directly falling within that interpretive grid, such as women’s activism. Analyses centred on the years preceding the 1920s are necessary, Anagol has argued, to shed light on the emerging autonomous feminist consciousness.34


20Since its inception, the historiography on women and gender in India has mostly engaged in thorough analyses of the late-colonial era, understood as a period capable of providing explanations of the present and its questions. The intertwining of colonial and nationalist patriarchies, their aspirations and their conflicting or allied interests have been at the core of many important works, as have the discursive and material consequences of this relationship on the lives of women. Shifting from a mere recovery of women’s lived experiences to deconstructive analyses of the narratives and discourses underlying Indian modernity, the historiography on women and gender has recently merged the two approaches, integrating women not only as the sites for others’ reformulation of concepts and norms, but as subjects with autonomous consciousness and distinct voices, and agents of their own history.

  • 35 Pinto-Jayawardena – Jayawardena 2016; Sharma – Tamang 2016; Mohsin – Hossain 2016; Chakravarti 2016 (...)

21Deeply concerned with the inequalities and contradictions of the context from which they speak, gender historians based in India have always combined activism and theoretical knowledge in their works. Indian social and political events have often influenced the agenda of these scholars, who have engaged with issues such as communalism and the rise of Hindu nationalism, discrimination towards low-caste groups and tribal communities, environmental degradation and LGBT rights, expanding the scope of their research well beyond the condition of women. A distinctive trait of gender historiography in India, this deep relationship with the context outside the walls of academia has continued up to the present day. As recent events in India have forcefully brought sexual violence to global public attention, scholars of women’s and gender history are once again on the front line of efforts to understand the origins and development of the systemic, institutional, societal, community and individual structures maintaining impunity for perpetrators. It is worth concluding this paper by crediting Zubaan – the imprint of the first Indian feminist publishing house, Kali for Women, mentioned in the first section – for coordinating the Sexual Violence and Impunity research project, which addresses precisely these issues and has produced five country volumes and one stand-alone volume, covering the history of sexual violence and impunity in South Asia.35 In addition to their social and political value, efforts like this are also important contributions to the expansion of the scope of the discipline, which is only now starting to cross the colonial/postcolonial divide, and shed light on postcolonial India.



Agnes 1995 = F. Agnes, Redefining the agenda of the women’s movement within a secular framework, in U. Butalia and T. Sarkar (eds.), Women and right-wing movements: Indian experiences, London, 1995, p. 135-157.

Ahluwalia 2008 = S. Ahluwalia, Reproductive restraints. Birth control in India, 1877-1947, Chicago, 2008.

Ahluwalia 2003 = S. Ahluwalia, Rethinking boundaries: feminism and (inter) nationalism in early-twentieth-century India, in Journal of Women’s History, 14-4, 2003, p. 188-195.

Anagol 2008 = P. Anagol, Agency, periodisation and change in the gender and women’s history of colonial India, in Gender & History, 20/3, 2008, p. 83-108.

Anagol 2006 = P. Anagol, The emergence of feminism in India, 1850-1920, Oxford, 2006.

Arondekar 2009 = A. Arondekar, For the record. On sexuality and the colonial archive in India, Durham, 2009.

Bacchetta 2004 = P. Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu nation. RSS women as ideologues, New Delhi, 2004.

Bacchetta 2002 = P. Bacchetta and P. Jeffrey (eds.), Right-wing women. From conservatives to extremists around the world, London, 2002.

Banerjee 2010 = S. Banerjee, Debates on domesticity and position of women in late colonial India, in History Compass Journal, 6, 2010, p. 455-473.

Banerjee 2001 = S. Banerjee, Domestic manuals on mistress-servant relationships: constructing Bengali middle class identity through “appropriate” codes of conduct, in Modern Historical Studies, 2, 2001, p. 7-36.

Borthwick 1984 = M. Borthwick, The changing role of women in Bengal, Princeton, 1984.

Burton 2003 = A. Burton, Dwelling in the archive. Women writing house, home and history in late colonial India, New York, 2003.

Burton 2006 = A. Burton (ed.), Archive stories. Facts, fictions, and the writing of history, Durham, 2006.

Butalia 1998 = U. Butalia, The other side of silence. Voices from the partition of India, New Delhi, 1998.

Chakravarti 2016 = U. Chakravarti (ed.), Fault lines of history: the India papers, vol. I and II, New Delhi, 2016.

Chakravarti 2003 = U. Chakravarti, Gendering caste through a feminist lens, Calcutta, 2003.

Chakravarti 1989 = U. Chakravarti, Whatever happened to the Vedic Dasi? Orientalism, nationalism, and a script for the past, in K. Sangari and S. Vaid (eds.), Recasting women. Essays in Indian colonial history, New Delhi, 1989, p. 27-87.

Committee on the Status of Women in India, Towards equality. Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, Government of India, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, New Delhi, 1974.

Dave 2016 = N. Dave, Queer activism in India. A story in the anthropology of ethics, New Delhi, 2016.

Forbes 2003 = G. Forbes, Locating and preserving documents: the first steps in writing Women’s history, in Journal of Women’s History, 14-4, 2003. p. 169-178.

Forbes 1998 = G. Forbes, Women in modern India, Cambridge, 1998.

Forbes 2003 = G. Forbes, Reflections on South Asian women’s/gender history: past and future, in Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 4-1, 2003, Project MUSE, doi: 10.1353/cch.2003.0012

Geetha 2016 = V. Geetha, Undoing impunity. Speeches after sexual violence, New Delhi, 2016.

John and Nair 1998 = M. E. John and J. Nair (eds.), A question of silence? The sexual economies of modern India, London, 1998.

Kaur 1968 = M. Kaur, Role of women in the freedom movement 1857-1947, New Delhi, 1968.

Kumar 1993 = R. Kumar, The history of doing. An illustrated account of movements for women’s rights and feminism in India, 1800-1990, New Delhi, 1993.

Mani 1998 = L. Mani, Contentious traditions. The debate on sati in colonial India, Berkeley, 1998.

Mazumdar 1994 = V. Mazumdar, Women’s Studies and the women’s movement in India. An overview, in Women’s Studies Quarterly, 3-4, 1994, p. 42-54.

Menon – Bhasin 1993 = R. Menon and K. Bhasin, Recovery, rupture, resistance: Indian state and abduction of women during Partition, in Economic and Political Weekly, 28-17, 1993, p. 2-11.

Minault 1981 = G. Minault, The extended family. Women and political participation in India and Pakistan, New Delhi, 1981.

Mohsin – Hossain 2016 = A. Mohsin and H. Hossain (eds.), Of the nation born: the Bangladesh papers, New Delhi, 2016.

Nair 1996 = J. Nair, Women and law in colonial India: a social history, New Delhi, 1996.

O’Hanlon 1994 = R. O’Hanlon, A comparison between women and men. Tarabai Shinde and the critique of gender relations in colonial India, Madras, 1994.

Omvedt 2006 = G. Omvedt, Dalit visions. The anti-caste movements and the constructions of an Indian identity, Hyderabad, 2006.

Orsini 1999 = F. Orsini, Domesticity and beyond. Hindi women’s journals in the early twentieth century, in South Asia Research, 19, 1999, p. 137-160.

Pinto-Jayawardena – Jayawardena 2016 = K. Pinto-Jayawardena and K. Jayawardena (eds.), The search for justice: the Sri Lanka papers, New Delhi, 2016.

Ramusack – Sievers 1990 = B. Ramusack and S. Sievers (eds.), Women in Asia: Restoring women to history, Bloomington, 1990.

Rege 2006 = S. Rege, Writing caste, writing gender. Narrating Dalit women’s testimonies, New Delhi, 2006.

Sangari – Vaid 1989 = K. Sangari and S. Vaid (eds.), Recasting women. Essays in Indian colonial history, New Delhi, 1989.

Sarkar 2001 = T. Sarkar, Hindu wife, Hindu nation. Community, religion, and cultural nationalism, Bloomington, 2001.

Sharma – Tamang 2016 = M. Sharma and S. Tamang (eds.), A difficult transition: the Nepal papers, New Delhi, 2016.

Sinha 1995 = M. Sinha, Colonial masculinity. The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late 19th century, New Delhi, 1995.

Spivak 1988 = G. C. Spivak, Can the subaltern speak?, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture, Urbana, 1988.

Sreenivas 2013 = M. Sreenivas, Women’s and gender history in modern India, in P. S. Nadell and K. Haulman (eds.), Making women’s histories beyond national perspectives, New York, 2013, p. 57-88.

Tharu – Lalita 1991 = S. Tharu and K. Lalita (eds.), Women writing in India, 600 B.C. to the early twentieth century, New Delhi, 1991.

Towards equality. Report of the Committee on the status of women in India, Government of India, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, New Delhi, 1974.

Vanita 2002 = R. Vanita (ed.), Queering India. Same-sex love and eroticism in Indian culture and society, New York, 2002.

Vanita – Kidwai 2000 = R. Vanita and S. Kidwai, Same-sex love in India. Readings from literature and history, New York, 2000.

Visweswaran 1996 = K. Visweswaran, Small speeches, subaltern gender. Nationalist ideology and historiography, in S. Amin and D. Chakrabarty (eds.), Subaltern Studies IX, New Delhi, 1996.

Walsh 2004 = J. E. Walsh, Domesticity in colonial India. What women learned when men gave them advice, Lanham, 2004.

Walsh 2005 = J. E. Walsh, How to be a goddess of your home. An anthology of Bengali domestic manuals, New Delhi, 2005.


1 Towards equality. Report of the Committee on the status of women in India, 1974.

2 Ibid., 1974, p. 359.

3 Kumar 1993, p. 294-295.

4 Mazumdar 1994, p. 48.

5 Forbes 2003, p. 170. See also Forbes 1998. Barbara Ramusack was another American pioneer of Indian women’s history (see, among others, Ramusack – Sievers 1990).


7 Some two decades after its foundation, Kali for Women split into two imprints, Zubaan and Women Unlimited, which continue the scholarly and activist work initiated by the first publishing house.

8 See, for instance, Kaur 1968.

9 Sangari – Vaid 1989, p. 2-3.

10 Borthwick 1984; Minault 1981; O’Hanlon 1994; Tharu – Lalita 1991.

11 Chakravarti 1989; Spivak 1988; Visweswaran 1996.

12 Sinha 1995.

13 Nair 1996.

14 Ahluwalia 2008.

15 Ahluwalia 2003, p. 193.

16 Burton 2003, p. 26-27. See also Burton 2006.

17 Arondekar 2009, p. 2.

18 Agnes 1995, p. 151.

19 Butalia 1998. The first feminist analyses of the Partition were published in 1993 in the Indian magazine Economic and Political Weekly. Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin penned one of these articles: Menon – Bhasin 2003, p. 2-11.

20 Bacchetta – Jeffrey 2002.

21 Bacchetta 2004.

22 Forbes 2003, p. 3.

23 Sarkar 2001.

24 Orsini 1999, p. 137-160.

25 Banerjee 2001, p. 7-36; Banerjee 2010, p. 455-473.

26 Walsh 2004; Walsh 2005.

27 Rege 2006; Chakravarti 2003; Omvedt 2006; Sreenivas 2013, p. 176-177.

28 John – Nair 1998.

29 Vanita – Kidwai 2000.

30 Vanita 2002.

31 Dave 2016.

32 Mani 1998.

33 Anagol 2006.

34 Anagol 2008, p. 603-627.

35 Pinto-Jayawardena – Jayawardena 2016; Sharma – Tamang 2016; Mohsin – Hossain 2016; Chakravarti 2016; Geetha 2016.


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