‘Feminism’, a rather politically and emotionally charged word, has been incorporated in the Indian discourse on women’s rights only lately. This is not to say that there was no feminist thinking and action previously. On the contrary, the women’s movement in India has had a long and colourful albeit ignored history which extends from the mid nineteenth century to the recent Nirbhaya movement.
Emergence of the politically active and engaging feminist politics in India can be credited to the series of movements and active organisations that emerged, inspired by the civil rights and women’s lib movements of the west. These movements and organisations started by women were rooted in the marginalisation experienced by them during their engagement with other the movements of the left in 1960s and 70s. Indian women’s movements has included in its agenda issues ranging from environment to wages, trade, consumer rights, body, religion, caste, class and community.
There has been a growing feminist consciousness in India. Different sections of women are demanding rights, be it the anganwadi workers or sex workers, students, Dalit women or Muslim women. However, male dominated politics and the active safeguard of regressive traditions and practices in the garb of ‘Indian culture’ have been perpetual impediments to actualisation of equal rights for women. Even when the law is sensitive and advanced, its implementation is hampered by social customs and beliefs which are averse to a disturbance in the status quo.
Within the movement, itself, there are divisions along caste, class and political lines.
Caste is a central feature of the Indian society and thereby, women of different castes experience and understand oppresion of different kinds and at different levels. Feminism in India, therefore, is on its way to be more inclusive and sensitive to the double oppression faced by women from supposedly ‘lower’ castes and lower class.
Through writing, Indian feminists have explored and questioned the origins of patriarchy in India, the violence associated with a woman’s body, sensitivity of law, religion and society towards gender equity, economic, political and social oppression of women as well as, protests and movements by women.
An introductory read, Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon
this book has been touted as “a bold and wide-ranging book that re-orders contemporary society For Nivedita Menon, feminism is not about a moment of final triumph over patriarchy but about the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever”
To understand the history of women’s movement in India, The History of Doing by S. Radhakumar
A theoretical exploration of the pervasive social structure called Patriarchy by V. Geetha
An exploration of how women negotiate with restrictions on their mobility,
Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets
Book by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa RanadeTo explore the relationship between law and feminist politics,
Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law
Book by Nivedita Menon : Find it on Google Books
To understand the intersection between caste and gender, Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens by Uma Chakraborty
(Not available on the internet, unless you’d like to get it from Amazon, Flipkart, or the local Universal Book Centre )
To understand marginalisation of women in Dalit literature,
Writing Caste Writing Gender:Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies
Book by Sharmila Rege
A book on sex work and sex workers in India, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India
Book by Prabha Kotiswaran
The autobiography of a politically conscious Dalit woman, The Weave of My Life (Aaydaan) by Urmila Pawar
The autobiography of a domestic worker, someone invisible in middle and upper-class peoples’ everyday consciousness, A Life Less Ordinary by Baby Halder
(download the PDF file )
Some fictional reads on the subject include Rich Like Us by Nayantara Sahgal, That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande; and a rendition of the Hindu epic Mahabharata as told from Draupadi’s viewpoint, raising some important feminist questions, The Palace of Illusions: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
The writer is a sociology student and is presently serving as the Founder-President of the Sociology Society of Indraprastha College For Women, The University of Delhi. The article represents her personal views ( but whether or not you agree with her, if you have a thought to add to this piece, drop us a comment below) .