Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Feminist Theory and the Right-Wing: Shiv Sena Women Mobilize Mumbai (1)

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Feminist Theory and the Right-Wing: Shiv Sena Women Mobilize Mumbai (1)

Article excerpt


Feminist scholars engaged in the study of women and religion often grapple with the problem of how to theorize the phenomenon of women's attraction to, and active involvement in politico-religious movements characterized by strongly "patriarchal" authority structures, and by ideologies that either seem to denigrate women or assign them to subordinate social and symbolic roles. This paper looks at some of the approaches that have been taken by feminist scholars to this issue. It reviews some key adaptations of feminist theory to the rising phenomena of women's public participation in religious, right-wing agendas. It specifically explores the relevance of feminist theory for understanding women's involvement in movements driven by Hindu religious revivalism in India. Using ethnographic data collected on the activities of the women's wing of the right-wing, Shiv Sena party (Shivaji's Army) in India, it explores the alternative ways by which feminist theorization might engage with the construction of the female subject that comes into being through religiously motivated political and social agendas in the postcolonial world.

Keywords: feminist theory, right-wing women, religious nationalism


This paper is a review of some of the feminist approaches to the mobilization of women by right-wing politico-religious movements. The goal is to contribute to a discussion of the possibilities for alternative forms of feminist agency within rapidly changing urban contexts where women's lives are intertwined with media and consumer practices, greater physical mobility, and increases in the female workforce. It is an exploratory exercise that uses ethnographic data collected from the women's wing of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party in Western India as the lens through which to debate the multiple ways by which everyday women, negotiate their everyday lives simply to get through the day. It is recognition of these multiple forms of agency articulated by Shiv Sena women that makes it almost impossible for me to provide a 'final' paradigmatic approach to aid the understanding of right-wing women from a feminist approach. Instead, I review multiple approaches that shed light on women's everyday negotiation of political and religious contexts as they live out their public and private lives.

An examination of some of the current debates on women of the right-wing (a surprisingly un-theorized subject until very recently) illustrates the complexities of the topic, particularly the realities of the immensely vexed relationship between feminism and right-wing movements. Moreover, in the case of Hindu nationalist or Hindutva (3) (movements, this paper argues that feminist analyses, despite their highly diverse forms, are useful as much as they are somewhat problematic. For the most part, this problematic arises out of a singular feminist commitment to the ideas of "emancipation" and "patriarchy" (Mahmood, 2001; 2005). By taking on some of the feminist critiques of right-wing mobilization and analyzing them in the context of Shiv Sena women in Mumbai (Bombay), India, I do not suggest that this religious, mobilization is either a "liberal" or a progressive force in the many ways that feminism has been. However, what I do explore is an approach that addresses the desperate need to examine the individual and collective motivations of women of the right-wing in ways that illuminate their own perceptions of themselves as powerful actors within their political party and in their communities-- even if this is often a morally troubling position to take.

Feminism and the Right-Wing: The Need for Theoretical Approaches

The rise of cultural revivalist movements across the world has provided feminist scholars with multiple sites at which to critique the "patriarchy" and "sexist" ideological structures of these movements. However, the rise of these movements has been very important for both feminist theory and feminist activism. …

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