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Indian Feminist Publishing and the Sexual Subaltern

Elen Turner, Independent Researcher, Australia

Abstract

The discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” in India has, after 2009, entered a new phase. Discourse on sexuality was once largely focused on law and health policies; now, such discourse is better able to address positive identities and their multitude of articulations. The relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. This article examines independent feminist publishers as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. Such publishers are significant mediators of feminist scholarship and discourse, so analysing their work can reveal much about ‘mainstream’ forms of feminism. The December 2013 Supreme Court judgment to uphold Section 377 is concerning to many, but in the four and a half years that homosexuality was effectively legal in India, the visibility of the sexual subaltern broadened to the extent that it may be difficult to return to a pre-2009 state.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, usually interpreted as sodomy, was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. The Indian Supreme Court, in December 2013, overturned this judgment, effectually re-criminalising homosexuality. Section 377’s reading down was widely celebrated within the queer community as an important milestone, and the Supreme Court judgment lamented. But the four years in which homosexuality was in effect de-criminalised saw large shifts in public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality, shifts that the judgment of the Supreme Court will likely have little effect upon.

This article suggests that the discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” has, after 2009, entered a new phase, one that is not primarily focused on law and health policies, but is able to look towards positive identities and their articulation in a variety of forms. Furthermore, the relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. I specifically examine independent feminist publishing outlets as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. By ‘independent’, I mean groups that may or may not operate with not-for-profit status, but that are not owned by large publishing corporations, or are subject to the editorial intervention of individuals detached from the main operations of the group. Such publishers are by no means the sole producers of feminist scholarship and discourse, but they are significant mediators of them, so analysing their work can reveal a lot about ‘mainstream’, urban forms of Indian feminism. While in the last decade or so, an increasing amount of online activism and publication has been occurring in India as elsewhere, such work falls outside the scope of this paper as that emerging media warrants a case study in its own right. Book publishing was a form of Indian feminist activism and knowledge production that began in the 1980s, and although it has always claimed to at the forefront of progressive feminist knowledge production, the contradiction between this self-belief and its interactions with the “sexual subaltern” makes it a genre worthy of especial attention…Access Full Text of the Article


 

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