The Emblematics of Gender and Sexuality in Indian Nationalist Discourse

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Abstract

At one point in the novel Kanthapura (1938) the eponymous village is literally emptied of men. Thereafter, the novel focuses, for the most part, on the remaining female inhabitants of the village and their resistance to male embodiments of colonial authority, namely the policemen. The moment dramatically foregrounds the whole question of gender in the novel which, though seldom noticed by critics, is one of the most fundamental issues in the text. Yet a gendered reading has been consistently overlooked in the critical discourse in favour of a reading which approaches the novel as an account of nationalist politics. In the effort to collapse the novel's politics into merely an instance of nationalist sentiment what is missed is the possibility of gendering a reading of nationalism itself. In other words, Kanthapura offers us the opportunity to locate Rao's representations of gender and sexuality within the discursive parameters of nationalist ideology in the 1930s and in so doing enable us to examine how these gender representations are in fact overdetermined by questions of identity, both communal and national. It is important, however, to recognize that Rao's gender representations—like those of many other Indian writers, thinkers, and ideologues—operated within the discursive framework of an ideology which had, over the years, elaborated a complex symbolism around signs of femininity. It is important, therefore, to trace the genealogy of gender representations within Indian nationalist discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-936
JournalModern Asian Studies
Volume36
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2002

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