The construction of women in terms of recognizable roles, images, models, and labels occurs in discourse in response to specific social imperatives even where it may be offered in terms of the universal and abstract rhetoric of 'Woman' or 'women' (or the 'lndian woman', as the case may be). As Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid have pointed out in the introduction to a collection of essays that explores the project of 'recasting women' in colonial India, 'womanhood is often part of an asserted or desired, not an actual, cultural continuity'. 1 Elsewhere Sangari has argued that
female-ness is not an essential quality. It is constantly made, and redistributed; one has to be able to see the formation of female-ness in each and every form at a given moment or in later interpretations, and see what it is composed of, what its social correlates are, what its ideological potentials are, what its freedoms may be. 2
If we acknowledge (a) that femaleness is constructed, (b) that the terms of such construction are to be sought in the dominant modes of ideology (patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism), and (c) that therefore what is at stake is the investments of desire and the politics of control that representation both signifies and serves, then the task of the feminist critic becomes what Jacqueline Rose describes as 'the critique of male discourse' born of 'a radical distrust of representation which allies itself with a semiotic critique of the sign'. 3 What is required here is an alertness to the political process by which such representation becomes naturalized and ultimately coercive in structuring women's self-representation. In the first two parts of this chapter I undertake this essentially analytical task of ideological critique, pointing to the emergence of a 'new Indian woman' in media and official discourse in India today, a construction which serves not only to reconcile in her subjectivity the conflicts between tradition and modernity in Indian society, but works also to deny the actual conflict that women existentially register as an aspect of their lives.