Intellectual History in South Asia: Women Thinking the World

Home/ Intellectual History in South Asia: Women Thinking the World
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSHS2028454

Semester and Year Offered:Winter, 2020

Course Coordinator and Team: Priyanka Jha and Bindu K.C.

Email of course coordinator: bindukc[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in


Course Objectives/Description:

This course looks at the “political” through a history of ideas perspective. This course would be doing a thematic journey through the ideas generated by the colonial and postcolonial women thinkers of South Asia. This is necessary to get a sense of the span and depth of the thinking generated by them. The course would help us ask the question, Who is a thinker? When women think, do they in fact help us in critiquing what is generally invoked and read as the “political?”

Are questions of women’s thinking also methodological questions? Are women being excluded because their ideas are not available in where one usually looks while writing a history of ideas? For instance, should one only be including texts which are treatises and essays - or prose writing, which has become the “rational” genre of expression in modernity and which is usually understood to embody “thinking”. What happens when one spreads out into the imaginative? Will this methodological shift in texts help to include the woman as thinker?

What constitutes Knowledge? Is it a written word? Or is it text or speeches or can one read a life and lifeworld of a thinker as a text? What happens to the political when “other texts” like creative literature and the imaginative are brought into the world of ideas? What happens when ideas flow through the ephemerality of speeches and are preserved through dictation or recording?

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Look at the “political” as a concept.
  • Ask the question why there is an obvious exclusion of women as producers of ideas, especially political ideas.
  • Ask methodological questions that will allow us to “see” women as thinkers, especially political thinkers.
  • Read some of the “originals” by taking a tour of the women’s ideas, mostly concentrating on political thinking which will be from both colonial and post colonial times.
  • Rethink the category “woman” that might have made us exclude potential thinkers.
  • Redo Intellectual History and shifts towards women’s perspectives.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

This is a 4 credit course with 5 modules. The first three modules are conceptual and methodological in nature. The last two modules can be described as “engaged thematic” allowing a reading of some of the primary texts of major women thinkers from South Asia. Though there is a gesture towards South Asian texts, right now, the course is focusing mostly on India.

Contents (brief note on each module; indicative reading list with core and supplementary readings)

Brief description of modules/ Main modules/Readings:

Module I: What is Political? The Hegemony of the Dominant

This module is interested in reconstituting the meaning of the ‘political’ through the lens of gender. The attempt is to shift beyond what is invoked and considered as mainstream which has also been a rendition of the dominant positions and perspectives. We would also ask the question, what does the political exclude? What is affective labour and the gender of this? How does that marginalize women from the political?

Jaggar, Alison M&, Iris Marion Young (Eds.) “Introduction.”A Companion to Feminist Philosophy: Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell, 1999. (selected chapters).

Disch, Lisa and Mary Hawkesworth. (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory. OUP, 2016. 1-15.

Philips, Anne (Ed).Feminism and Politics. OUP, 1998. Pp: 1-15.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin, 2004.103 -115.

Module 2: Where are the Women in the Political? Critiquing Historiography and Pedagogy

evolution of historiography and pedagogy has not been sensitive to the distinctive gendered articulations of the same. This module attempts to position the feminist challenges to scholarship on history and human condition. Posing the challenge to theinvisibilization and marginalization of women’s writings, engagements and articulations, this module locates the missing voices.

Lerner, Gerda, “Why History Matters.” Why History Matters: Life and Thought, OUP, 1997. Pp: 199-212.

Gary, Anne, Khader J Serene and Stone Alison, ‘Introduction’ The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy , Routledge, 2017. 1-10

Sangari, Kumkum and Sudesh Vaid: “Ïntroduction.” Recasting Women: Essays in colonial history , Zubaan, 2013. pp. 1-26.

Majumdar,Veena. Emergence of Women’s Question and role of women Studies, CWDS, 1995.

Chakravarty, Uma. “Whatever happened to the Vedic Dasi? Orientalism, Nationalism and a Script for the Past..” In Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. Recasting Women: Essays in colonial history , Zubaan, 2013. pp. 27-88.

Module 3: What is a Text? Methodological Musings

This module is interested in redefining the understanding of what constitutes a ‘text’, is it simply the written word or does it encapsulates the diversity and multiplicity of the many different ways and mediums through which ‘ideas’ are shared or communicated. Is women’s thinking excluded when one knows how ideas travel, especially in the world of women, where the written comes from privileged positions. Shouldn’t one also be engaging with a variety of mediums through which ideas were shared, eg the performative, literary including life narratives, diaries, memoirs, letters and journals.

Quentin Skinner. ‘Meaning and Understanding in the history of Ideas’ History and Theory, Vol 8, no 1 (1969) pp 3-53.

Sharmila. Scripting Lives: Narratives of ‘Dominant Women’ in Kerala. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2009. Pp: 1-15.

Sarkar, Tanika. “A Book of Her Own. A Life of Her Own: Autobiography of a Nineteenth-century Woman.” History Workshop Journal, 36, 1993.pp: 34-65.

Devika, J. “Housewife, Sex Worker and Reformer Controversies over Women Writing Their Lives in Kerala.” Economic and Political Weekly.Vol 41, Issue No 17, 2006. pp: 1675-1683.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Margaret Waller (Trans.) New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. 18-24.

Irigaray, Luce, Speculum of the Other Woman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.pp: 353-364.

Bassard, Katherine Clay. Gender and Genre: Black Women's Autobiography and the Ideology of Literacy. African American Review. Vol. 26, No. 1,1992, pp. 119-129.

Suggested Readings

Guha Thakurta, Meghna & Schendel Willem ed ‘The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture and Politics.’, Duke University Press. 2013. Pg: 83-87

Susie J. Tharu & K Lalitha ‘Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Century.’ Feminist Press, CUNY, New York.1991. Pg: 1-37

Sen Debarati. ‘Rassundari Debi: Excerpts from Amar Jiban Author.’ Published by University of Delhi.

‘Representing Self, Critiquing Society: Selected Lifewritings by Women.’ Edited by Meenakshi Malhotra. Worldview Critical Editions. 2016

Sarkar, Tanika. ‘Words to Win: The Making of a Modern Autobiography.’ New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1992.

Module 4 & 5: Thematics and Thinkers

This course is keen to attempt a ‘herstory’ of ideas, so the last two modules identifies certain ideas as themes with women thinkers’ engagements with these ideas.

One of the axis through which the course would be looking at the critique emerging from women would take the category of identity seriously. Thus, in the first module, where women have also added their voice to the making of the nation, the course also finds its critique emerging from other women’s voices raising questions of identity – which articulate issues of caste, tribe and religion. The latter module takes up the women’s critical thinking traditions, not through identity questions but through a conceptual axis – issues of the body, labour knowledge production itself.

Module 4: Thinkers of South Asia: Women Thinkers and critical themes of Nation and Questions of Identity

  1. Religion: Pandita Ramabai
  2. Caste: Savitribai Phule
  3. Tribe : Mahasweta Devi, C.K. Janu and Naga Mother’s Association
  4. Nation: Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay,and Cornelia Sorabjee: Narratives of partiton and others.

Das, Veena. “The Figure of the Abducted Woman:The Citizen as Sexed.” Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, University of California Press, 2006 18-37.

Bhasin, Kamla & Menon Ritu. Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, Rutgers Press 1998, Pp: 1-30

Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. Zubaan Classics, 2013.

Zia, Afiya. Faith & Feminism in Pakistan: Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy? Sussex Academy Press, 2018, 1-14.

Chattopadhyay,Kamaladevi . Inner Recesses Outer Spaces: Memoirs. Navrang, 1986.

Sorabji, Cornelia. In Susie Tharu and K.Lalita. (Eds). Women Writing in India: 600B.C. to the early twentieth century. New York: The Feminist Press, 1991. Pp: 296-308.

Ramabai, Pandita. “Prefatory Remarks.” High Caste Hindu Women. Bombay: Maharashtra State Board for Literature and Culture Mantralaya, 1887. Pp: 29-39.

Shinde, Tarabai. “A Comparison between Men and Women.” Susie Tharu and K.Lalita. (Eds). Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the early twentieth century. New York: The Feminist Press, 1991. Pp: 223-234.

“Few poems by Savitribai Phule.”

Devi, Mahasveta. “Draupadi". Translated with a Foreword by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

Janu, C.K.. Mother-forest: The Unfinished Story of Janu. N. Ravi Shanker (Translator).
Zubaan, 2004.

Module 5 Thinkers of South Asia: Body, Labour, Knowledge

This module continues the examination of the thematics in the following manner.

  1. Body: Rukmini Devi, Ismat Chugtai
  2. Labour: Anusuaya Sarabai, Godavari parulekar, Prabhadevi Dasgupta
  3. Knowledge: Kumari Jayawardane, Hisila Yami, Saraswati Amma, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain

Arundale, Rukmini Devi. “Introduction.” Some Selected Speeches and Writings of Rukmini Devi Arundale, Vol 1, Kalakshetra Foundation, 2006.

Jayawardene Kumari: Feminism and Nationalism in third World,Kali for Women, 1996.

Godavari Parulekar, Adivasis Revolt,National Book Agency,1975.

Yami, Hisila. People's War and Women's Liberation in Nepal. Janadhawani Publication, 2007.

Chughtai , Ismat. Lihaaf.

Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat. “Sultana's Dream.”

Ray, Sangeeta. ‘Woman as Nation and a Nation of Women: Tagore’s The Home and the World and Hosain’s Sultana’s Dream ‘En-gendering India: Women and nation in colonial and postcolonial narratives, Duke University Press, 2000.

Valliappan, Reshma.. Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenist. Women Unlimited, 2015.

Chib, Malini. One Little Finger. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2011.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Mid Term Assessment (Class Test): 40%
  • End Term Assessment (Term paper): 40%
  • Participation:20%