ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Contextualising Sati

Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India by Lata Mani; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999; pp 246, Rs 495.

Women’s studies scholars have pointed out over and again that colonialism meant the privileging of written sources, in this case brahmanical patriarchal scriptures as the proper foundation of law and grounds for debate. This has had long-term consequences for the status and position of women in both colonial and post-colonial India as it becomes the frame against which ‘the women’s question’ is debated.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a growing body of work in the area of gender history, locating contemporary feminist issues within socio-historical contexts of colonialism in the 19th and early 20th century. The confrontation between the western colonial, masculinist ideas of India and the revivalist and reformative enthusiasms of Indian intellectuals contributed substantially to the evolution of a system of constructions about Indian women. In their own limited way these efforts at reform succeeded in bringing about some legal and social changes that made inroads into improving the position of women in Indian society. However, the broadly accepted critique of these efforts by feminist scholars is that they continued to construct women as primarily wives and mothers and also failed to include their voices, their subjectivities and agencies. Women’s studies in India since the 1970s have been engaged in an effort to reclaim the unrecorded voices of women in various arenas. To this end, feminist scholars such as Uma Chakravarti, Kumkum Sangari, Sudesh Vaid among others have sought to problematise history by gendering it. Lata Mani’s book can be seen in such a context as being yet another effective contribution towards the corrective task of revisioning the multiple dimensions of an intense and intimate socio-political space.

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