The anthology Tradition and Modernity Modernity: Essays on Women of India includes essays ranging from the philosophical and analytical to the descriptive and the explorative and the experimental perspectives. It explores the lived experiences and positioning of women in diverse Indian social religious and cultural contexts. The essays deal with issues varying from the intricacies of the gender concepts embedded in contemporary tradition-modernity debates to a detailed consideration of women currents of thought, action and life, and the problem of understanding they throw up.
While most of the papers rightly reflect on the unequal and oppressive situation of the women in highly patriarchal and hierarchical settings, there are quite a few which sensitively touch upon the theme of human spirit and the beauty of love and relationship between man and woman in the midst of caste and gender hierarchies. There is reflection on the theme of the growing awareness about women, environment and development, particularly the relationship between violence of nature and women.
This collection of writings will appeal to readers of all hues as well as students and scholars of culture and religion, in particular of India, gender equality, democracy and difference, and feminist theory.
About the Authors
Atashee Chtterjee Sinha is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Centre of Advanced Study, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her areas of interest are Ethics, Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Language Neuroscience and Feminist Philosophy. She is the author of the Many Faces of Reason and Violence. She has also published many articles in journals and anthologies.
Sashinungla is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Centre of Advanced Study, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her areas of interest are Feminist Theory, North-eastern Tribal Culture and Politics, Critical Theory, and Environmental Philosophy. Her publications include Environment Preservation: A Philosophical Critique; Ethics and Culture: Some Indian Reflections (co-ed.); and Patient-Physician Relationship (co-ed.). She has written articles on insurgency and ethnic conflicts in India’s northeast in the South Asia Intelligence Review and Faultlines.
“Women of India” is one of the Group Research Projects undertaken by the faculty members of the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata under its CAS (Centre of Advanced Study).
Programme. This research project was taken up with the aim of studying the philosophical underpinnings of the life experiences, problems and prospects of women of India. The group members attempt to understand the various aspects of women’s life in different contexts-their identity, their struggles, their aspirations and challenges in a highly hierarchical society.
Conventionally philosophy is concerned with theoretical, analytical, logical, normative activities. However this does not exhaust the ways of philosophical endeavours. The members of the group look into the concrete lived experiences and the positioning of women in multifarious situations like family, society, politics, religion and cultural life. The research group has chosen to specifically focus on the theme Tradition and Modernity: Essays on Women of India for the present volume, which has been elaborated in the introductory chapter. The anthology consists primarily of papers written by the members in the research group “Women of India” Papers included in this volume were presented and deliberated in the group meeting held every fortnight at the Department.
In fact, the Department’s interest and involvement in researching and teaching gender issues and feminist have a long history. This is evidenced by the fact that the course on Feminist Philosophy made up an important part of its curriculum, both in the Postgraduate and M.Phil. levels. In addition, In addition, the Department has organized Seminar on the theme. “Analytic Philosophy and Feminism”, in collaboration with the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Indian Council of Philosophical Research Research (ICPR)-sponsored National Seminar on “Dalit Epistemology and Feminism”, which come under the purview of the present anthology.
The Group Research Project, from which this book has emerged, was funded by the UGC, New Delhi. We are grateful to them for this support. To the Head & CAS Head & CAS Co-ordinator, Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University we owe a special world of thanks for bearing with us through difficult times and supporting us in various stages of the work. Thanks specially to the referees for their feedback and advice. Our gratitude is also due to the Jadavpur University Press and to Suryodaya Books, New Delhi for their patience and assistance. We are thankful to our colleagues for their friendship and support.
Writing an introduction on the topic of women in the Indian context of “tradition and modernity” is a complex enterprise. I use the terms “tradition” and “modernity” with constitutes tradition and what it implores to women’s question? What is the correlation between tradition and modernity? What is the significance of tradition-modernity discourse in the context of women’s question in Indian family systems and societies with that of the “modern” ones? What has changed and what has continued about women’s life and experiences? Is their situation changed for the better or worse?
Our discourses, whether tradition or modernity, characteristically attain some sort of normative consistency by “dramatizing and personifying” historical processes; individual or collective subjects are ascribed with some emblematic value or significance of exemplary holders and bearer of temporal meaning. Such characterization has important consequences for the kind of narrative that unfolds irrespective of whether these subjects are presumed to be male or female. Of course, tradition (whether modern or pre-modern) changes-in fact, change is woven into the structure of tradition itself. Accordingly, its notion of the exemplarity also might change, just as what it is seeking by means of that exemplarity might change. However, what is constant in both the modern and the pre-modern discourses, whether academic or popular, are the images of masculinity and femininity.
The present anthology, Tradition and Modernity: Essays on Women of India, seeks to explore the lived experiences and positioning of women in diverse Indian cultural contexts. An attempt has been made, as mentioned earlier, to look at the different facet (s) of women in diverse contexts in Indian-contexts where they come through as self-conscious, self-empowered and dynamic forces, capable of challenging the discourses that oppress and also in situations where they are objects of male desire, domination and violence. Gender affects not just the historical content of knowledge-what is included and what gets left out-but also the philosophical assumptions underlying our interpretations of the nature and meaning of social processes. Hence, this question of the “gendering history, as well as the historicity of gender” would be the running thread, providing linkages between the different essays contained in the present volume. However, let me be very clear. A collection of essays on a Vast and vexed theme such as this, which also represents a variety of women’s positions and experiences in different cultural, religious, social and linguistic settings, cannot be subjected to any accepted notion of compiling an anthology based on similarity of style or content.
Taking into account all the practical difficulties and limitations, the present anthology, like other such existing volumes, does not make any claims of comprehensiveness. But at a time when the women are not only suffering but also striving and aspiring to reach out to the society or to the rest of the world from their different historically and existentially marginalized position, the diverse writings this anthology brings together, representing a complex Indian society posited at a historically challenging time, would serve as yet another attempt at bringing together multiple intellectual opinions on this very important subject. The response and understanding of the writers about various social, cultural and religious practices and ideology, their negotiations with the issue of gender differences, their analysis of the lived experiences and writing of courageous and inspiration men and women in different periods and contexts of Indian societies, their reflections on the contemporary academic discourses of gender, nation and modernity, their under-standing of human relationships, especially the complex gender relations marriage or in the family- all these could be some of the distinguishable features that connect together an anthology of this nature.
The essays included here range from the philosophical and analytical to the descriptive and the explorative and experimental perspectives. However, no conscious attempt has been made to provide a predominantly philosophical approach to the subject matter. Nor does the present volume seek to create some sort of feminist historiography by systematically charting out the positioning of women in India societies and cultures, beginning from (pre-) Vedic to the present. Till recently major feminist concerns about women’s experiences and needs were not admitted as philosophical concerns. This was primarily because the existing philosophical tools were not designed such an investigation. This has led feminists to design new tools. Side by side feminists are in search of hitherto neglected content. There have been major omissions in mainstream philosophy. The present anthology tries to add to the search of new content as well as to see old problems through feminist lenses.
While a majority of the papers right reflect on the unequal and oppressive situation of the women in highly patriarchal and hierarchical settings, there are quite a few which sensitively touch upon the of human spirit and the beauty of love and relationships between man and woman in the midst of caste and gender hierarchies. There is reflection on the theme of the growing awareness about the women, environment and development, particularly the relationship between violence of nature and women. There is also exploration on the gender differences in acquiring various cognitive skills. Also, considerations which interrogate the relevance of patriarchal cultural and religious practices that are at odds with the women’s democratic rights not only as individual but within family and other socio-political spaces, find a place in this collection.
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