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Sunday, January 5, 2014

* At the launch of Pegasus volume on Reading and Writing Difference & Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Special in Diplomatist

The formal book release of Pegasus volume on Reading and Writing Difference: Gender and Literature (Ed. Sanjukta Das, ISBN 9789380542560, Kolkata: Monfakira, 2013, Rs. 150) took place on 4th January, 2014, at Bhawanipur Education Society. Pegasus ( and especially its steering head Prof. Salil Biswas have been striving for the last thirteen years in producing volumes on research work of academic merit in the form of journals and books. This latest volume consists of excellent research articles by academicians as well as Sanjukta Das's review article of the book Media, Gender and Popular Culture (co-authored by Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sudeshna Chakraborty and Dipankar Sinha). The Pegasus volume was launched by Dr. Paromita Chakravarti, Director of School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. She also spoke on “Gender and Politics” delineating the history of women’s movement from the time of Mary Wollstonecraft to the modern feminism of today. She showed how issues of class, caste, race, economy, and other categories of double marginalization fracture the binary of gender difference. More so in the current consideration of issues of sexuality, gender is seen as a spectrum rather than being constricted by definition in terms of difference.

This lecture was followed by a group discussion on “Gender and Literature” by the panelists comprising young researchers Jashomati Ghose, Sanghita Sanyal, Swaty Mitra and Gargi Talapatra. They spoke variously on representation of gender in fairy tales, women’s writing in England, the coloured women’s literature in the US and gender representations in Indian literature. The audience enthusiastically participated in the discussion especially on the issue of representation of Little Red Riding Hood, which underwent transformation from an oral erotic tale of how the girl seduced the wolf and escaped to a Victorian tale of being rescued by a male hunter. One member of the audience pointed out that in a retelling of the tale in the TV series “Once Upon a Time” it is the girl who is transformed into the wolf. There was heated debate on  whether the whole oeuvre of fairy tales should be rewritten to make them gender sensitive and suitably consumable for the children of the new generation. Dr. Chakravarti intervened to say that instead of rewriting fairy tales in an age where all sorts of information is freely available it is advisable that children should be taught to read correctly. Sensitivity has to be inculcated rather than censorship imposed.

Dr. Chakravarti had earlier narrated an anecdote about the 2006 Autonomous Women's Conference where malejournalists were banned from entering because it was a women-only event. But interestingly the labouring class who worked to put up the event were all males. She pointed out that the underprivileged male workers were somehow not seen in terms of their masculinity whereas the male journalists were not treated similarly because of their privileged status. Then there was the issue of LGBTs. There was the question of whom to include - whether those who are biologically male by feel psychologically female or those who are biologically female but feel psychologically male. She then legitimately raised the perplexing question - Who is the subject of the discipline of “gender” or just who is a “woman”?

This situation made me think of a discussion I once had in Calcutta University with some fellow researchers on whether those Dalits who belong to the creamy layer and have attained economic and social status need the privilege of positive discrimination. Then came the question of Dalit consciousness. All subalterns who have passed through years of discrimination inherit this consciousness which often may not seem apparent. Gender consciousness may not be apparent when a privileged-class woman is in front of a poor male stall owner on the street. But it will be apparent if it is the middle of the night and the street is abandoned. It becomes an issue of power and not necessarily of strength but a consciousness of dominance and marginalization. So to answer the question “Who is a woman?” we just have to take two individuals from the gender spectrum and whoever is potentially the vulnerable of the pair in a given situation is the representative woman and the right subject of the discipline of gender.

Read my article "The Indian Diasporic Creative: Literature to Music" in the January 2014 issue (volume 2 issue 1) of Diplomatist magazine released on the occasion of the twelfth edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi, 7th-9th January, 2014. 

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