Feminist Thought In India

Pedogogies of Solidarity

A Little Bit About Me; My Lens: Sheila Sastri

It wasn't until my professor inquired what I hoped to gain by writing this digital paper, that I had thought about what my purpose was. I wanted a digital vehicle to reach a wider audience so that I may disseminate the knowledge that I have gained with this reasearch. In order to conceptualize my own experiences and learning, it was clear the importance of navigating the tensions of political, social and feminist thought. While I realize I don't have all the answers, nor begin to offer any real solutions, the process of inquiry begins with the step of ontological authenticity. "If each person's reality is constructed and reconstructed as that person gains experience, interacts with others, and deals with the consequences of various personal actions and beliefs, an appropriate criterion to apply is that of improvement in the individual's (and group's) conscious experiencing of the world." (Schwandt, Lincoln, Guba, 2007)

While it was important to learn for myself, it was more important to mobilize the knowledge I gained. I have briefly brushed upon the theme of social justice, unpacking ideas of race, privilege, identity, colonization, feminism and activism. While these ideas may seem foreign to some or unclear as it was to me, it is my hope that more women, especially South Asian Women, choose to at the very least read the ideas in this paper and to consider slightly, what it means to them. I've given it a great deal of thought to consider how we are silenced by others and how a society constructs the appropriateness of it. The ideas presented in this paper, are from my culture, seen as mysterious talk. Something that stirs up the mind and forces uncomfortable spaces. I've learned silencing my own voice is a far greater concern over who I am judged for.

Before I begin, I would also like to mention the lens from which I write this. As a South Asian woman born and raised in Canada, I understand the privilege I hold and have begun to deconstruct the spaces that I occupy. In other words, my views expressed are shaped by who I am and understanding my own personal narrative. I try to remain bias free and hope with a clear conscious I might uncover a deeper understanding of the human struggle for freedom, empowerment and social justice.

The Spark: Why women? Why India?

I embarked on this journey of self exploration after I signed up for an elective during a Master's of Education program I was currently in. I use the word journey because, unbeknownst to me, I'd taken on a shift in thought from what I simply did not care to think about, to considering deeply in all that I do. For my final assignment, I wanted to consider the plight of women in India and how after so much time, they still stood shrouded under the heavy veil of oppression. Developing my self identity, as a South Asian Canadian woman, I wanted to understand how I could affect change in any small way.


The Role of Women in India. The Paradox

Traditionally, women are the heart of India. However, there is a paradox in this land that seems to filter throughout the fabric of social life in many regions of her lands. In parts of India, women are raped, beaten and killed simply for being female. From being revered to coping with unthinkable atrocities, India is as blessed as it is cursed through the lens of being a female. From her birth, a girl child is disadvantaged. It is believed that girls burden families because they must be married off to a family expecting a dowry. Women also assume many roles, and sometimes the pressure to live up to all these roles becomes immeasurable. Women take care of the household, rear children, take care of parents or in-laws and make sure life is harmonious for everyone, but herself. She is subject to the practice of sati and honour killings, although illegal. Despite this, crimes against women are practiced daily in many parts of India with little to stop the injustice.


Feminist Thought in India: Will Anything Change?

Feminism in India arose from three phases starting in the late 1800's, moving towards the colonial era, to the Gandhian era and now what is referred to as post 1947 independence. Issues that women struggle for remain the same and are mainly centred around equal access to land and education to instil rights for women who live in a predominately patriarchal society. Two notable feminists will be highlighted for their dedication and support of women's rights.

Feminist # 1 Saroj Nalini Dutt

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Social Reformer

Saroj Nalini Dutt's aim to raise the status of women in India arose out of a deep interest to combat marginalization of women, their access to education and humanitarian social justice.

Feminist # 2 Kavita Krishnan

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Gang Rape of Women in India

Kavita has fought for the rights of women as a prominent member of the Communist party. She has highlighted the injustices of women and rape in India.
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The Pink Sari Revolution

The Pink Sari Revolution began with one person's tenacity, vigor, and unrelenting resolve. Her name is Samrat Pal. Samrat Pal was instrumental in the formation of gangs in rural India, Uttar Pradesh. Her "no nonsense" brass earned her a viable spot on the stage towards creating awareness to injustices against women and people.

Changing Feminist Thought in India and Implications of Solidarity

Feminist thought in India has endured the stormy climate of India’s current state and histories. A country that suppresses questioning and instills societal roles, and the abuses of power and privilege, are deeply rooted in cultural tradition. Cultural tradition may be at the heart of erasing steps of achievement, however, India’s troubles are those that stem from a marriage between dense structural systems and colonization of women and minds. The spark for women is to see themselves as hears in their own emancipation rather than viewing themselves as victims. There are no concrete answers or radical recommendations towards this issue. It seems every group is guilty of some part in the affliction. Gender, race, politics and globalization all seem to have an appropriate spot on the stage of responsibility. Whether it is the implications of globalization, the effects of colonization, or views of patriarchal societies it is important to understand the players that undermine the progress of feminist thought that seek to bring women together, but may divide complicitly.

Since it is unclear how the verdict shall read, I will simply consider some thoughts of the current discourse of feminist thought in India and the larger implications of solidarity work. The word solidarity poses some wider implications when considering subjects like settler colonialism, decolonization, privilege, race, and most importantly, identity. Tracing our ancestry back, we begin to deconstruct ourselves as subjects in the larger context of society. Interrupting the dominant discourse surrounding the complexity of relationships to the many bodies we encounter in society by unpacking our identity, is at the core of understanding our positionality in the spaces we occupy and the lens from which we view and understand our world, the people in it and our interaction of it. As my professor, writes in his essay, Toward Creative Solidarity in the “Next Moment of Curriculum Work, he writes, “We invest a great deal of personal meaning in the discourses we engage, the spaces we inhabit, and the person we are convinced we are. Challenging these means challenging our own selves and risking the safe zone of the language we know and the spaces we call our own. If we are to engage in curriculum work that significance, we have to be willing to put a lot of who we are-or rather we believe ourselves to be-at stake. (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2009)

Understanding my own identity, it is therefore important to view women in India as free agents rather than victims of the “Third World” mindset, keeping in mind my own privilege living in a capitalist society. In the scholarly paper written by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Boarders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, she argues that we need to rethink working class interests and strategies for organizing groups.

“Thus, while this is not an argument for just recognizing the “common experiences” of Third World women workers, it is an argument for recognizing (concrete, not abstract) “common interests” and the potential bases of cross-national solidarity-a common context of struggle. In addition, while I choose to focus on the “Third World.” Making Third World women workers visible in the gender, race, class formation involves engaging in capitalist script of subordination and exploitation. But it also leads to thinking about the possibilities of emancipatory action on the basis of the reconceptualization of Third World women as agents rather than victims.” (Mohanty, 2000)

Feminism traditionally, written and argued through a “white woman’s” lens, excluded marginalized women of colour in the struggle for emancipation. However, it is important to view women as free agents rather than victims of this earlier thought of divisionality of feminism. While women in India form gangs to control the many injustices they face in rural communities, they come together towards a common interest that serves to legitimize their actions of solidarity. Women in India recognize common experiences towards a common interest in solidarity work, however the lasting bonds of emancipation elude even the strongest mobs.

Take for instance the true story of Pink Sari Revolition. A group of women, together spurred on by their women’s rights to injustice ambassador Sampat Pal. Solidified in pink saris as recognizable to others, they still experienced disruption by some members. Sampat Pal choose to keep the member in the group so that others would not leave. Her strength in numbers attitude deviated from the real issues of solidarity and solidarity work towards the cause or matter. She tells, “If I throw out everyone who makes a mistake, there would be no one left in the gang.” (Fontanella-Khan, 2013) Given that the “Gulabi Gang” rose to speak against injustices, each woman’s experience was vastly different and highly contextual from the injustice they faced.

Creating gangs, seem to be one way of getting noticed, and while it certainly supports women rising up to victimization, some issues, such as colonization, never seem to surface. Many women in India are still unable to own land. Rather they must marry first in order for the land to be in her husband’s name. Women face struggles of marrying young and never having access to education. These problems seem to be what drives the frustration of some feminists, however the larger implications of abandoning notions of race, privilege, colonization and identity are far worse then simply stating what we already know. Take for example the recent rape of a girl on a bus in Delhi. Her story reached an international audience of the injustice women face in India. The Indian public was outraged and took to solidarity by banning together to have their voices heard yet little in the form of cultural change has shaped the movement for such injustices to cease. In Stuart Hall’s paper, “Who Needs Identity?” he poses that while we may have a shared history without change to the stage of cultural identity, it is more superficial or artificially imposed “selves” which people hold in common. (Hall, 1996) People in India, especially women, need to identify who they are in relationship to the other voices of shared beliefs. We need to almost question if it truly is our sameness that we share or is it our differences that bind ourselves in collective movement?

The point I would like to make is that while women in India seek out opportunities to enrich the lives of women who face the many injustices inflicted upon them and others, the more common, “getting our voices heard” tactics are simply not enough to carry out the type of change that India’s women need. This seems to be a common solution that may indeed be an avenue for awareness with little progress for substantial change from the overarching issues of social injustice for India's women. Exploring issues of identity, our histories, who we and in what direction we should aim towards seem to be ideologies that remain unclear and under a heavy amour of political fighting. If it were not enough to blame the government, India has been indoctrinated through years of patriarchal societies, which seem to undermine the advancement of women. Even more disturbing is women accept these beliefs, which continue to be challenged in any real way for change giving rise to the type of solidarity work that undermines their advancement. India's problems stem from a myriad of complexities in their societies. If women want the type of creative change it takes towards the movement of emancipation, then women themselves need to see it for themselves.

Creating gangs, protesting or using the press maybe the first steps to take however creating change will take more than just disruption of the dominant voices in society. Women must interrupt the free flow of ideas that have underpinned the culture and hearts of India's people. A change in attitudes and beliefs through education and access of it are at the heart of more than just schooling children to remain silent in their beliefs. India must nurture a culture of critical thinkers in women. They must explore their own personal narratives and believe their voice is important. There must be another way for women to unshed themselves from the heavy cloak of marginalization. There must be a way for women to stand together in light of their differences to forge a different path. Perhaps what makes each of us unique in our struggle may be the one reason we stand together, as a force, in solidarity work. Perhaps, the continued struggle for freedom, empowerment and social justice is what unites us despite our apparent differences.


Fontanella-Khan, A. (2013). Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India.

London, UK. One World Publications.

Gaztambide-Fernandez, R. (2009). Toward creative solidarity in the "next" moment of curriculum work. In E. Malewski, (ed.), The curriculum studies reader: The "next" moments, (pp. 78-94). New York: Routidge

Hall, S. (1996). Who needs 'identity'? In S. Hall and P. du Gay, (eds.) Questions of cultural identity, (pp. 1-17). London: Sage.

Mohanty, C. (2000) Women workers and the politics of solidarity. In Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Duke University Press.

Schwandt, T.A., Lincoln, Y.S., & Guba, E. G. (2007). Judging interpretations: but is it rigorous? trustworthiness and authenticity in naturalistic evaluation. New directions for evaluation, 2007 (114), 11-25

Break and Build: A Poem By: Sheila Sastri

Rip it, Sew it

Cut it and paste;

The things I learn

Are bitter; hard to taste

I’ve learned, all the ways

We live without care;

But do something about it

I struggle to dare

When asked, who you are?

I fail to realize;

The true meaning of ME,

The things I should circumcise

Identity True, Identity Now,

Privilege; who me?

Privilege; how?

Fold it, Crumple it,

Put it away;

All the things I have learned,

I struggle to say

Shall I bury it deep?

With all that I know?

Or, do something about it,

Or let my feelings show

Stand alone, or Together

Are we really the same?

Or, is your battle

Under a different name?

Strip it, Unravel,

Bare, to the soul

Are you white as snow

Or black as coal?

Maybe you are

Maybe your’re not

Who is to say

Your identity is bought?

Take it, Embrace it

Hold on tight;

Tailored to you,

With all your might

Never accept,

That brazen stamp;

That people create,

Under a dim lamp

Open up, shine,

Be brave, Be brilliant;

Allow others to see,

You’re colours are different

And if they still see,

Only under their veil;

Remove all those barriers,

Before they cast their sails

For when minds open wide,

Even for a crack;

Something might happen,

To never look back

Written by: Sheila Sastri

Sheila Sastri

I am a Master's of Education student at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Education Department, (OISE) and a Student Work Study Teacher with the Peel Board of Education. I am passionate about teaching and learning within a social justice context.