Skip to main content

When boyfriends, sex were "unwelcome" diversions for Indian Communists

Counterview Desk
Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, who belongs to a communist family in India, in her new book, has sought to examine the lives and subjectivities of militant-nationalist and communist women in India, from the late 1920s, shortly after the communist movement took root, to the 1960s, when it fractured.
The book, “Revolutionary Desires: Women, Communism and Feminism in India”, traces “revolutionary” women’s personal and political experiences through a wide range of writings -- memoirs, autobiographies, novels, party documents, and interviews -- to show how they questioned, and were constrained by, the gendered norms of Indian political culture.
Narrating her own experiences as a child growing up in a communist household, and as a university student activist member of the same party, Loomba presents an account of deep-seated and complex relationship between women’s issues and questions of social justice.

Excerpts from the book:

Both my parents were devoted communists in India, although until my father died in 1973, my mother did not have much time for political party work. She was too busy raising my sister and me and earning a living by teaching in a school, which we could, therefore, attend for free. Both my parents came from well-off backgrounds, and their political choices led them to live lives that were quite different from those of those of their own families.
To be raised by communists in India (or indeed in most parts of the world) was to inhabit a bifurcated world, or to learn to speak two languages. We could not afford the same material comforts as our classmates or cousins but our parents always saw to it that we had enough books. Material shortcomings were compensated for by the assurance of having a powerful ideal to work towards, nothing short of world transformation.
The fact that my mother was the breadwinner, and my father a full-time political activist, also set us apart from every other family we knew. And yet, in many ways, the division of domestic labour was not different, with my mother largely responsible for the everyday running of our lives. My sister and I were conscious of being raised as few others of our friends and peers were, with an enviable freedom denied to most young women in India. 
But we often remarked that our friends would be able to talk to their mothers about boyfriends and sex, heartbreak and hope, in a way that we could not, perhaps because such a focus on the personal was seen as an unwelcome diversion from the struggles that really mattered. In later years, I brought this up with friends whose mothers were also part of the left movement. 
It seemed that their mothers, too, shared that particular quality of being at once supportive of and detached from us, radical in their attitudes to gender and yet curiously puritan. Our mothers – leftists who cane of age in the crucial anti-colonial nationalism – set themselves proudly apart form the usual narrative of wifedom and coupledom. Perhaps because of this they did not always, confront or critique the ways in which their lives had not broken away from these conventional narratives...
Communist self-fashioning did not take place in an ideological or social space of its own. Especially when it came to questions of gender and sexuality, communists were as deeply influenced by nationalist ideas and practices as they were by Marxist or revolutionary ones; indeed, the former provided the lens through which they viewed and appropriated the latter.
As we know, male nationalists insisted on the divide between a public sphere in which they could and best colonial officials. And a private sphere of religion, culture and domesticity, that was to remain immune to any colonial intervention. Women activists both contested this division and were trapped within it.
Partly because women’s emancipation in India was, as in large parts of the colonized world, intertwined complexly with the struggle for independence, feminist scholarship on India has always been sharply conscious of the historical connections between women’s personal, sexual, and political freedoms and the larger structures of social power.
It has traced how, from the nineteenth century onward, Indian women offered critiques of their subordination and, later fought to change their place at home and in the world, while actively participating in movements for social and anti-colonial emancipation...
In the early revolutionary movements, resistance largely took the form of militant and spectacular actions, from robberies and shootings to the hurling of bombs – actions that confirm rather than challenge established forms of heroism. 
In her study of Naxalite women, Mallarika Sinha Roy suggests that “in communist writings, gender ambivalent notions of courage and activism emerge... Female bodies also come to represent qualities of masculine activism. Revolutionary women, who are lauded for their courage and resourcefulness, become de facto ‘men’, and they are also implicitly turned into absolute markers of chaste femininity.”
But surely when ‘female bodies also come to represent masculine activism’, the result is not only ‘gender ambivalent notions of courage and activism’, but also, more fundamentally, a confirmation of gender binaries. When strong women are turned into ‘de facto men’, the equation of courage and activism, with action and manliness is emphasized.

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.