Opening up Intimate Spaces:
Women’s Writing and Autobiography in India
19th-20th May 2016
Section of South Asian Studies,
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
This workshop will focus on Indian women’s writing in India. Most studies of India have tended to focus on the public and the political spheres, seeing them entirely in masculine terms. The fact of women’s much lower literacy levels, their containment within ideologies of femininity and domesticity, compounded by the deafening silence of the imperial archive on women’s experiences have led to the relegation of women’s writing to the margins of mainstream Indian history. This workshop follows an important shift in studies of Indian history towards a reappraisal of women’s role in the making of pre-modern and modern India by focusing on their writing about their own lives.
Critical and theoretical reflections on women’s life writings are located at the intersection of post-colonial, cultural and women’s studies, opening up a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research. The study of women’s writings then, because of the convolutions of women’s positioning in Indian society, reveals the complexity and interconnectivity of the social and cultural changes taking place in Indian society. The inclusion of these marginalised perspectives brings about a more nuanced reading of India’s history with its multiplicity of social and cultural tensions.
The workshop brings into focus the necessity to include these ‘othered’ voices by examining women’s writing, particularly autobiographical narratives, and the ways in which these writers use the language of privacy, domesticity, femininity and intimacy to raise larger questions. Narratives of personal experience often flip over to reveal articulations that are more politically aware, frequently disturbing seemingly stable stories of home life. The home and the world are then not as separate as they may seem, but make continuous inroads into each other. Tanika Sarkar’s work on Bengali women’s histories in the nineteenth century and especially women’s autobiographical writing in the period has become a landmark for subsequent scholars. This workshop in some ways follows the paths opened up by Sarkar’s research, and updates the debate by bringing together scholars from a number of different, though allied, disciplines into conversation with each other. The project of recovery is still underway, and this workshop will be a platform where some of these new discoveries can be shared, as well as a space where this writing can be analysed closely and its implications drawn out. With this intention in mind, our speakers will present papers focusing on a range of Indian languages: Sanskrit, Bengali, English, Hindi and Marathi.