Most studies of the role of women in the Indian national movement have concentrated on the contribution made by only a handful of prominent women leaders such as Sarojini Naidu, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Sucheta Kripalani and Aruna Asaf Ali. Less acknowledged but equally forceful was the participation of hundreds of women at the local level—out in the streets as well as inside their homes. This book, significantly, focuses on the nationalist participation of ordinary middle-class women in India’s freedom movement, especially in the United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh).
While capturing the nationalist expressions of women in the public and domestic spheres, the author • investigates how women engaged with nationalist politics despite constraints like the purdah system, social backwardness and high rates of female illiteracy in the region;
• identifies two parallel processes that were at work: (a) the domestication of the public sphere—how women participated in the streets without compromising on their domestic values; and (b) the politicisation of the domestic sphere—how women handled situations in the family when nationalism entered households through the activities of their husbands and sons; and
• shows how women used the symbolic repertoire of the national movement and the political language of Gandhi to facilitate their own participation.
To construct the nationalist narrative of unheard voices, the author goes beyond conventional sources of history such as official and archival records. Instead, she employs a diverse range of materials—including oral narratives, poetry, cartoons, vernacular magazines and private correspondence—in order to let these women speak for themselves.
Drawing upon field studies in northern India’s Hindi-speaking heartland, the author also sheds light on the domestic lives of middle-class women caught in the swirling vortex of political emotions. She discusses issues of contestation and subordination within patriarchal structures, and the contexts within which women’s political consciousness are shaped. The book will be of interest to scholars of history, anthropology, women’s studies and politics both for its contents and for the methodology it employs.