Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 36, September 2014

Srila Roy (editor)

New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities

Zed Books, London, 2012
ISBN: 978 1 78032 189 9 (pbk); x + 198 pp.

reviewed by Manjeet Bhatia

  1. New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities edited by Srila Roy, provides the current state of politics in the South Asian region and its diaspora. The contributors attempt to draw the attention of the reader to new ways that feminist activism has emerged in the face of paradoxes and possibilities that come with globalisation and liberalisation in the region. Roy categorises current feminist activism into four broad themes through eight essays:

      The complex and unwieldy category of South Asian feminisms that intersect with established and new movements.

      The implication of feminist politics in the context of its institutionalisation at various sites such as state and the law; andcomplexities of NGO practices.

      Gendered violence that is converging more than diverging feminist politics; feminists' continuationof resistance to gendered violence through old and new sites.

      The new modes of feminist interventions and new generation feminists that are observed at local sites.

  2. Svati P. Shah in her chapter 'Sex workers' rights and women's movements in India: a very brief genealogy,' raises more questions than it solves. Important among them is: how much of the sex workers' movement is sex-worker led? What does this mean and how is it important? Shah argues for a post-abolitionist discourse on sex work to generate a new analysis capturing the tension between sexuality and geopolitics.
  3. Sadaf Ahmad shares innovative ways to get stakeholders to recognise and address the sexual harassment of women in Pakistan. The Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASH) first studied the various patterns associated with the crime and developed a code to address the issue. Later, the Alliance got like-minded companies on their side to adopt the code before the government could see the wisdom of adopting it. The chapter shows innovative indigenous ways women's groups have pre-empted the hurdles of developing codes that protect women from sexual harassment.
  4. Trishima Mitra-Kahn has taken up an interesting area to articulate the political within the cyberlife of feminism in urban India. In her chapter, 'Offline issues, online lives? The emerging cyberlife of feminist politics in urban India,' Mitra-Kahn focuses on three case studies to help readers understand their strategies and impact. She rightly points out that this emerging activism needs to be watched carefully.
  5. Srimati Basu in her chapter, 'Family law organisation and mediation of resources and violence in Kolkata,' categorises women's movements in Kolkata into three sets of women's groups based on an analysis of the groups' approaches to the mediation of marriages that have gone wrong. In the process, Basu lays bare the environment including the control of resources and ideologies that are embedded in the women's movement.
  6. Sohela Nazneen and Maheen Sultan have contributed a chapter on contemporary feminist politics in Bangladesh. They have two major concerns: how have feminists dealt with NGO-isation processes and how have they adapted to the post-NGO-ised phase? What had been the nature of generational shifts and their impact on feminist activism in Bangladesh? NGO-isation has helped by linking women's organisations to different social sectors, providing increased outreach and it has also created a divide between the voluntary and professional ways of the feminist involvement. Though there has been collaboration between two generations of feminists on specific issues and in the face of threats, one needs to wait and watch for a long term cooperation to emerge.
  7. Debarati Sen takes up the divide between the politics of recognition and politics of equality for women plantation workers in Darjeeling. Sen illustrates, with the help of ethnographic studies of women plantation labourers, the context of the sub-national politics of Gorkhland. The ethnic identity movement uses women's labour and their influence as hard workers to build a masculinist agenda within Nepali autonomy. In the process women as workers get further marginalised while their desire for inclusion is strengthened.
  8. The Sri Lakan contribution, 'Speak to the women as the men have all gone: women's support networks in eastern Sri Lanka', comes from Rebecca Walker. Walker draws upon the many small women's initiatives at a local level in conflict-ridden Sri Lanka that emerged when the formal structures of the women's movement fell apart under state repression. In this context, the role that falls on women is to support life in the face of threat to life. She illustrates by referring to the role of one such women's organisation called 'Valkai' in conflict-ridden eastern Sri Lanka that comes to the rescue of men and women facing violence.The author feels that the military action has damaged the democratic structures, economy and reputation of the country. It has left the eastern and northern regions extremely volatile and peace still evades the region. In her chapter, Walker also reconceptualises gender when only one gender is left to act; life becomes the site of action, not the asymmetry of power in gender relations. Walker suggests reflecting on a reconceptualisation of gender when there is a threat to life and women are the only ones who protect both men and women; women become a repository of life in situations of war.
  9. In their chapter, 'Feminism in the shadow of multi-faithism: implications for South Asian women in the UK,' Sukhwant Daliwal and Pragna Patel discuss the British policy slide from multiculturism to multifaithism in the name of mainstreaming and cohesion of communities. The authors illustrate that such a policy unfolds as a withdrawal of funds to specialist secular women's groups. The author bases her discussion around research on faith and cohesion through detailed interviews by members of the South Hall Black Sisters with South Asian women that benefit from their services. Most of the women interviewed reject such a policy shift initiative on multiple grounds.
  10. Srila Roy has succeeded in her attempt at a difficult task of giving a picture of current South Asian feminisms and substantiatingthese against the impression of the 'passing-off' of feminism in the region. The book is a rich anthology that raises new issues, new forms of old women's concerns, as well as new technology-driven strategiesand approaches of young feminists to address issues that most affect women.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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