Indian Feminist Publishing and the Sexual Subaltern

Elen Turner, Independent Researcher, Australia


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


Book Review: Masculinity and Its Challenges in India: Essays on Challenging Perceptions

Masculinity and Its Challenges in India: Essays on Changing Perceptions

Edited by Rohit K Dasgupta and K Moti Gokulsing; Foreword by Ruth Vanita

Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland.

2014, 252pp. $45

 Review by Lipi Begum, University of the Arts London, UK

This is book provides an up-to-date insight on how multiple male identities are made in modern Indian cultures. The interdisciplinary nature of the essays close the gap in our understanding of masculinities affected by various layers of social, political, economic and technological shifts operating within a rapidly changing, complex and fragmented cultural context. The book challenges everything one knew about masculinity in India. It delves into authentic narratives and unseen discussions of masculinity, confronting our understanding of issues such as patriarchy and colonialism on the effects of men’s emotional desires and their roles as bearers of tradition –issues usually confined to debates on female sexuality in India.

A great selection of essays and writer sincluding, Sanjay Srivasta’s great opening essay on modern culture of masculinity in India, where Srivasta demonstrates how multiple and complex male identities have been shaped and constructed by the Britishness of the colonial sphere to the rise and demise of the urban twentieth century Five Year Plan (FYP) Hero. Srivasta’s essay challenges our understanding of the singular masculine Indian identity of the stereotypical colonial ‘effeminate Bengali’ (Sinha 1997), with the rarely discussed militant and masculine identity of the ‘martial races’ (Omissi 1991). Srivasta makes important arguments related to masculinity and modernity, from the representation of provincial masculinities within the metropolitan milieu of 1950s and 1960s Hindi films to the embodiment of Nehruvian and technological identities intertwined within the ethnography of the modern city.

The book challenges the homogenous nature of masculine identities in India through several essays. In Pranta Pratik’s essay he reveals the reality of how fat is more than just a female issue. Pratik provides insight into the ways in which fat is a complicated issue, intersecting with the ways in which the online queer communities discriminate along the lines of class, caste, education, sexual position, region and religion. A point which leads nicely onto Mangesh Kulkarni’s essay, which outlines an agenda for ‘Critical Masculinity Studies’ for future teaching and research to better understand homogenous and indigenous male identities, and Roshan das Nairs’s essay, which takes on the intersectionality debate full on, arguing if singularity is the problem then could intersectionality be the solution…Access Full Text of the Review

Stillness of star-less nights: Afghan Women’s Poetry of Exile

Rumpa Das, Maheshtala College, South 24 Parganas, India

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Contemporary English poetry by Afghan women presents a remarkable reading experience. Critical explorations, at ease with post-colonial conditions, minority solitude and feminist readings, have largely remained inimical to the unique, yet chequered history that women poets such as Zohra Saed, Sahar Muradi, Sara Hakeem, Fatana Jahangir Ahrary, Fevziye Rahzigar Barlas and Donia Gobar document in their works. Most of them write in their native Dari and Pushtun languages as well as in English and often their English compositions have smatterings of their native tongues. Even though individual experiences differ, these women delve into the collective memory of oppression, pain and unrest to give vent to their feelings, and seek to reach out towards a sorority of shared angst. This paper seeks to explore the complex cultural contexts which have given birth to Afghan women’s poetry in exile.

Rules of Language in Rules of the House: Study of Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Tibetan English Poetry

Shelly Bhoil, Research Scholar, Barzil

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The displacement of Tibetans in exile has also displaced the Tibetan language to some extent among the new generation of Tibetans who are born or educated in exile. However, with the new languages and forms of expression in exile, they are negotiating their culture, identity and aspirations. Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, the first Tibetan woman poet in English to be published in the West, is one of the representative voices of New Tibetan Literature in English (NTLE). Her first book of poems Rules of the House was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003, and brought NTLE to academic attention. This paper is a thematic study of the philosophical and the social aspects of language in the poems from Rules of the House.

The Poetics of John Ashbery

Gargi Bhattacharya, Rabindra Bharati University

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John Ashbery (1927- ) takes the postmodernist polysemy of meaning in interpreting a work of art and the polyphony of styles in composing as his forte. He questions the various linguistic codes and makes us aware of the artificiality of the language. All political, ethical and aesthetic imperatives are rhetorical constructs. The writer uses language to persuade the reader to accept the formulated truth and he intervenes in the process of perception by his/her politics of representation. Though his iconoclastic approach towards writing and individuality of style has kept him aloof from mainstream academic syllabi, yet he has now become a prominent figure in Contemporary American Literature. It is interesting to note how Ashbery’s poetry revives the Romantic sensibility while applying the digitalized methods and the postmodern syndromes of immediacy, indeterminacy, disjunctive syntax, open-ended and multiplicity of interpretations. This paper explores the aesthetics of John Ashbery’s poetry.

Bob Dylan’s Folk Poetics in the Later Albums: Telling the Story of America in Ruins in Simple Poetic Language

Matt Shedd, University of Oregon, USA

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Bob Dylan’s recent albums have returned to a more basic sense of American vernacular and poetics, employing stock phrases that evoke a rural America of the past. However, the past does not provide any shelter from modern day angst and impending devastation. We see this particularly in the 2001’s Love and Theft, coincidentally released on the day of the Twin Towers attack. By foregoing concepts of radical artistic individuality, Dylan use more traditional folk poetics to provide a historical and communal account of the descent of the United States into what Dylan calls “an empire in ruins.”

Five Poems of Peter Nicholson

                               A Life

No intermediary in the passing night

Brought better news than what the heart revealed,

Sending from its furthest reaches news

Of bitter blood, infatuated calm

Or a tempest of delighted skin.

Thus at midnight, with the world beyond

Your fragmentary reach at goodnesses,

Silence then was best—you were just a guest

Of something larger than this sorrowing.

No use to reason why the crest of time

Has danced on you, then left a trampled rind.

You lived and knew the best, then left your life behind.

Editorial, Volume 3, Number 1, 2011

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This issue is dedicated once again to a more definitive exploration of the interdisciplinary question in humanities, in the inquest which characterizes modern science and a corresponding investigation of the nature of artistic and imaginative pursuits. The essays in this collection bear evidence of the scientific temperament, to say the least, but more importantly an attempt to explain certain creative tendencies on the basis of findings in evolutionary studies and psychology. The concern in academy for a mechanics of perception has taken a turn. This is a very “philosophical” question. We cannot circumscribe its importance.