woman' and middle-class Indian feminism in the Mother India controversy as not just a retrieval of some lost historical past, but as an
intervention in the historical present. The range of women's
responses in the Mother India controversy indicates that there was
nothing necessarily inevitable or predetermined about the voice of
the modern Indian woman. In fact, the particular discursive strategies that gave rise to the subject position of the 'modern Indian
woman' and the politics of middle-class Indian feminism were produced by, and meant to intervene in, a certain historical moment.
This understanding of the historical specificity of the Indian
woman allows us to recognize an ideological continuity in the contemporary re-articulation of the Indian woman as the figure of
some essentialized identity. In recent years, various communalist
and nativist movements in India have engaged in constituting and
reconstituting the Indian/Hindu woman as subjects and as objects
of virulently anti-democratic discourses.
74 By insisting on historicizing the identity of the Indian woman, we can begin to critique
the implications of the resurgence of an essentialized and ahistorical identity, divorced from the political and economic contexts in
which it is produced and which it helps sustain.
Kumkum Sangari and
Sudesh Vaid, 'Recasting Women: An Introduction: in K. Sangari and
S. Vaid (eds.), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial
History ( New Brunswick, NJ, 1990), 2-3.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, "'Cartographies of Struggle'" in
C. Mohanty, A. Russo, and
L. Torres (eds.), Third World Women and the Politics of
Feminism ( Bloomington, Ind., 1991), 12-13.
Teresa de Lauretis, "'Displacing Hegemonic Discourses: Reflections on
Feminist Theory in the 1980s'", Inscriptions, 3/ 4 ( 1988), 136.
Katherine Mayo, Mother India ( New York, 1927).
For a detailed study of Mayo's imperialist politics, see Manoranjan Jha, Katherine Mayo and India ( New Delhi, 1971).
The actual quotation is from the foreword, written by Sarojini Naidu, one of
the most famous Indian women of the time, for a collection of essays by Indian
women, Evelyn C. Gedge and
Mithan Choksi (eds.), Women in Modern India,
Fifteen Papers by Indian Women Writers ( Bombay, 1929).
See Joanna Liddle and
Rama Joshi, "'Gender and Imperialism in British India'", South Asia Research, 5/ 2 ( Nov 1985), 147-65.
This tendency of evaluating women's mobilization in India along one or
another of these lines is referred to in Geraldine Forbes, "'The Politics of
Respectability: Indian Women and the Indian National Congress'" in
D. A. Low
(ed.), Congress, Centenary Hindsights ( Delhi, 1988), 54-97.
Chandra Mohanty, "'Cartographies of Struggle'", 5-6.