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Gender and Imperialism in British India
Joanna Liddle and Rama Joshi
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 20, No. 43 (Oct. 26, 1985), pp. WS72-WS78
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4374973
Page Count: 7
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The British used the particular form which gender divisions took in India as a vehicle for proving their liberality, as a demonstration of their superiority, and as a legitimation of their rule. They signally failed to understand the particular form of male supremacy in their own culture, or to analyse how they created and reinforced aspects of male oppression within Indian culture, seeing no parallels between the different cultural forms of male dominance in the two countries. The women's movement in India did not concentrate on male supremacy to the exclusion of foreign domination as the cause of their inequality, for in India male domination alone did not account for women's subordination. The colonists both improved women's position and worsened it in particular ways, but their actions were dictated, not out of concern for women, but out of the desire to maintain their financial interests and political power in the foreign country. Equally, it is clear that women's inequality was not identical with foreign rule, for the men in the nationalist movement opposed the women's demands when these threatened male privileges in the family; and despite the gains made at Independence, women's subordination did not disappear with the ending of political domination. The women's movement recognised this, constructing their demands around women's domestic, as well as political oppression, and organising autonomously for the emancipation of women rather than simply absorbing themselves into the freedom movement. So the Indian women's movement attacked both male supremacy and foreign domination. What inhibited them from emphasising male supremacy as one cause of their oppression was the use that would be made of such a focus in Britain. This concern itself supports the movement's analysis that neither male domination nor imperialism alone accounts for women's subordination, but that both act upon the gender division, and are linked in perpetuating women's oppression.
Economic and Political Weekly © 1985 Economic and Political Weekly