Subjects to Change: Gender Trouble and Women’s “Authority”

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 2)


This chapter is about two important, though lesser-known Indian English novels, Ratanbai: A Sketch of a Bombay High Caste Hindu Woman (1895) by Sevantibai M. Nikambe, and Clarinda (1915) by A. Madhaviah. Both books have women at the centre of the narrative; the first is also written by a woman, while the second, although authored by a man, wishes to foreground women’s issues. What makes these books so remarkable is that they map overlapping and contentious domains: they are not only about the emergence of a new kind of subjectivity of a certain section of Indian women, but also about caste, class, conversion, colonialism, and national consciousness. Most of these books could not have been published without the active support and encouragement, if not patronage of British authorities—or their spouses. From the British side, such literature was useful in conveying the impression that the Raj was benign and beneficial to the natives. That is to say, the British ruled not so much through coercion but consent. It is clear that one such mask of conquest was the whole discourse of “Improvement,” which both the Liberals and Utilitarians employed to justify empire. The native elites also lent support to this imperial project by championing various kinds of social reform movements. Of course, the two were neither exactly the same nor were they comfortably compatible with each other. The Indian reform project often ran afoul with imperial authority, increasingly so as the national struggle for liberation gathered force. Women occupied a curious pride of place in both these discourses. The signifier “woman” not only encompassed real people who by all accounts were an oppressed group, but also a highly politicized space which was sought to be appropriated by the various competing forces of the time. “The woman’s question” was thus at the heart of the very self-constitution of modern India.


Indian Woman Social Reform British Rule Woman Writer Hindu Woman 
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Copyright information

© Makarand R. Paranjape 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for English Studies School of Language, Literature, and Culture StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

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