Feminism, Tradition and Modernity

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Item Code: IDG121
Author: Chandrakala Padia
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789382396222
Pages: 405
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 670 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

Two major excellencies make this volume significant: its relevance and richness. A lot of women in India today is by on feminism have made it very clear, with help of both argument and well-researched evidence. But the mere diagnosis is hardly enough. We have of find ways to remedy the ills. Would it be proper to quietly acquiesce in, and follow the measures suggested by feminist writers in the West? Or do we have to look at what still saves the Indian family from utter dissolution, and turn anew to our ancient text, often misconstrues, for some sage counsel that may help us in the present? Dos modernity call for a wholesale rejection of our time-honoured values? And does it make sense to impose alien modes of thought and conduct on any society without paying due heed to what has kept it up so long?

It is such questions of the moment, which the present work addresses and analyses and suggestions are provided by eminent scholars from divers fields. Political scientist, and philosophers-all have contributed to make this works a potential academic stimulus. It may even prove to be an influence.

About the Author

Professor Chandrakala Padia is currently Vice Chancellor of Maharaja Ganga Singh University. Bikaner and Chairperson of Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Shimla. She was Pofessor, Political Science at Banaras Hindu University, and Director, Banaras Chapter of Russell Society (INC., USA), Dr. Chandrakala Padia has been a Visiting Professor at universities of Texas (Austin), Toronto, McMaster, Chicago and Stockholm. Has authored the widely acclaimed book, Liberty and Social Transformation: A study in Bertrand Russell’s Political Thought; edited Bhartiya Manisha Ke Argadoot-Pandit Madan Malvoya; and published essays in reputed national and international journals. Winner of quite a few Fellowship and Awards such as Fulbright, Shastri Indo Canadian, Salzburg Award and D.P. Mukherjee Award of ISSA, Prof. Chandrakala is actively involved which women’s issues and problems for the past two decade. She was convener of the and Co-ordinator of the working group on ‘Woman and Family’ of the International Forum for India’s Heritage.


In the last few decades, feminist theory has emerged as one of the most challenging areas thought. Earlier, feminist movements and theories have been confined to European and North American perspectives ignoring the diverse realities and socio-cultural background of the third world women. Now, new methodologies and rich perspective have sprung up to analyse the complexities of the situation and problems of third world women. In the Con-temporary World, there appears to be more need for the critique of modernity and Western hegemony, the focus no difference and identity, the emphasis on the relationship between culture and gender, and the deconstruction of colonial and post-colonial representations of South Women as a dependent ‘other’.

I believe that the present book emerging out of the national seminar on Feminism, Tradition and Modernity may prove to be a watershed in developing the above perspective. All the papers presented in the seminar clearly lay sown how the present feminist studies suffer from deepseated ethnocentric and Eurocentric biases; how the Indian reality has been studied and viewed from some borrowed Western frameworks; and how this all has resulted in narrow understanding of India’s rich tradition of sociological thinking. Indian Feminist movement should be rooted in Indian traditions of Indian nationhood.

I congratulate Professor Chandrakala Padia for taking initiative in this direction and presenting an indigenous model for dealing with the problems of women in India. All the paper presenters deserve applause. I feel privileged to be a part of such a meaningful seminar that may create a new history in Women Studies.


A seminar is no mere happening. It is an exercise in serious reflection from diverse points of view, and it must a matter of obvious relevance. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study has surely acted on purpose. Few subjects are more urgent and contemporary than the one chosen for the present seminar. So, if we, the participants, have reason to be grateful to the Institute and its Director, as we surely are, it is essentially because of the subject’s clear significance.

At the same time, it is not easy to deal with the subject chosen, as a whole and clearly. Feminism may, quite generally, be taken to signify a renascent concern for women’s welfare. But the concepts of tradition and modernity are pretty complex. Nor is it easy to see how exactly they are related, in fact and it principle, to the role and status of women in society.

Two points, here, are indeed a little ticklish. First, in our study of traditional texts, do we always take care to relate them to the specific socio-cultural contexts in which they were written? What looks odd us today may well have been demanded by their day. Secondly, tradition is not merely a matter of practice; it is also to be found embodies in books, as argument and as distillation of wisdom from long and deep observation of life-experience. So, though social practices may well have been improper in a particular periods of history, is possible that the books of those days may yet be able to provide some gems of insight for situating women in relation to tradit5ion and modernity?

Luckily, the essays which the present work comprise are enlightening enough. This is partly because of the sheer variety of disciplines which the essayists represent. A virtual bouquet of viewpoints is at work in this book. Specialists in literature, philosophy, ancient Indian history and culture, political science and sociology-all have helped in making the present venture click happily.

It is noteworthy that male contributors to this volume have been just as keen to throw light on the subject as women participants. This itself may be regarded as a welcome index of things to come.

I may now move to the end of this introductory note with a sort of apology and a word of gratitude. My name, as contributor, occurs twice in the book. This may make it look a little uneven; but, I explain, the closing essays, ‘Gandhi on Women’, had to be included simply because scholars who had been invited to write on the crucial could not somehow find it convenient to do so.

Finally, as Convener of the Seminar, I may touch a quite note of gratitude: to Professor G.C. Pande, Chirman of IIAS, for helping me in fixing the subject of the seminar: to the Institute’s Director, Professor V.C. Srivastava, for generating the basic urge in me to cope with such a formidable job and, for providing essential facilities to all those who took part in the Seminar, as also to his office staff for their secretarial help; and to all the scholarly participants for making me better alive to the many ways of dealing with the subject gainfully.

The book is dedicated to Professor S.K. Saxena (Former Professor of philosophy, Delhi University) whose intense sense of values have ever baffled me-I would not have been what I am today without his benevolent guidance.

I am at loss of words to express my gratitude to my parents Smt. Savitri Ginodia and Shri R.P. Ginodia without whose divine presence and benign support the project would not have been a reality.

I also owe my gratitude to Professor Nalini Pant and Dr. Anuradha Banerjee for their generous support and valuable insights.

I also thank Ms Snehi Chauhan for meticulously reading the proofs of this book; and to Mr. N.k. Maini for his invaluable technical assistance.

Last but not least, I acknowledge the unfailing commitment and support of my son, Dr. Abhishek Chandra in completion of this work.


Contemporary feminist discourse in India has come a long way in putting an edge on feminist consciousness and thought. With a fair measure of success, It has tried to expose the gender bias present in many of our literary texts, political treatise and historical documents. Nor has it failed to show that patriarchal bias all along vitiates the very ways in which questions about women are posed and answered.

Such attitudes have to be examined with care. But because they themselves may be tainted with prejudice, our way of looking at them has to be balanced and impartial. We can neither merely acquiesce in all that the traditional texts say, or are supposed to say about women, nor reject it impatiently in Toto. We have discover and seize the basic human values in them and to reject what is offensive to common sense and disrespectful to human dignity.

Care has to be exercised, I may add, not only in respect of the study of our ancient text but quite as much in our concern with modern writing on feminism; for, most of our scholar and researches today have accepted and build upon the Western models a bit too glibly, at times to the extent of blind acceptance. Such uncritical following has not only led to a misreading of our ancient text that are unduly faulted, but also to suggestions and views that are neither warranted by these texts which are unfairly held responsible for the plight of women, nor are helpful to the preservation of values that still sustain our family life today.

How can one explain this intellectual perversity? I would say, as follows:

By and large, we have ignored our long tradition of sociological thinking that has always been careful of the internal diversity of Indian social reality and so sensitive to the intrinsic non-absoluteness of sociological constructs.

Western thought hold the field today in almost every region of intellectual activity, and quite a few of our scholars today find it convenient to fit the Indian social reality to borrowed (Western) frameworks of thought, with scant regard for our own history of social theory and practice. In doing so, many of us have unquestioningly theory accepted all Western assumptions and constructs. This, in turn, had distorted the proper tenor of our discourse and methodology. The scholars in question first arbitrarily select such extracts from our philosophical texts as appear to lend point to Western theory, and then pick, at their convenience, such emphases from modern Western theory and thought as serve to highlight what is admittedly condemnable our attitude to our women today. These self-styled spokesmen of modernity are quite uninformed about the essentials of traditional Indian sociological thought. Any sociological criticism will be inadequate if it restricts itself only to the level of phenomena and does not pay due attention to their conceptual foundations.

It seems imperative, at this point, to briefly highlight some of the cardinal features of Indian cultural tradition. It advocates an integrated working of the body, mind and spirit, without which attainment of the ultimate end of life, that is, self-realization is not possible. It is quite different from the predominantly material civilization like that of the Wes today. By and large, our emphasis has been on the need to rise up to a fuller vision of the Eternal by following the dictates of conscience, morality and dharma and higher psychological practices. Our whole social system, and our philosophy, religion and yoga, art literature-all are, in principle, directed at this end. This is to be seen not only in our most ancient scriptures and sastras like the Vedas and the Upanisads, but in the Smrtis which are products of a much later period. To quote Manusmrti: Let man discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong, true and false, the real and the unreal; and thus discriminating, let him yet one-pointedly ever behold everything in the Self, the transitory as well as that which abides. He who beholdeth all in the Self… his mind strayeth not into sin.

The underlying idea that resonates most clearly in our basic philosophical tradition is that a person is not only an individual among other individuals, but is, in principle, knit indissolubly with a family, a community, and ultimately with the whole human race. This is the reason why have never looked on society as a mere aggregate of individuals, but rather as a living organism where everyone is a complement of the other, and should therefore, help in creating, sustaining and reinforcing an evolved social order.

Naturally, different roles are assigned to different persons, in accordance with their individual natures and aptitudes. There is no place here for the Utopia of wholly independent and isolated individuals. The dominant emphasis has always been on collective social interdependence. Superficially, this may seem to be oppressive. Undemocratic; but in practice, such a view makes for the promotion of social cohesion and stability, and an overall improvement in the quality of life. In the hierarchy of a social structure so conceived, the so-called subordinates and superiors and both allotted specific and socially helpful functions. The former gets chance to cultivate deference, loyalty, and obedience reasonably; and the latter, to develop the attitudes of nurturance and concern in such a way that the subordinates capacity for self effort may not be harmed.

Unfortunately, this behavior pattern, which is still there in quite a few Indian families, is often misunderstood by Western scholars as sheer passivity and compliance. They miss the fact that these sets of values for subordinates and superiors are reciprocal. The relationships involved are oriented towards the well being of the extended family as a whole. TH practice of hierarchical values tends to orient the husband and the wife towards caring for the larger family. Generally, the emphasis is in doing of one’s duty (dharma), as against the egoistic play of individual tastes and wishes, that us, on the inner cultivation of the right sense of values than on merely formal propriety. The entire value system rests on the need to cooperate with, and to understand each other, and also to appreciate individual differences and abilities.

In such a social set-up, it is obvious, women could never be regarded as inferior to man. Our traditional texts, in fat accorded her a very high position in society, mainly because of her exceptional nurturing abilities. But the trouble with contemporary feminist theory is that it glibly equates all that is traditional with conservatism, repression, faith and backwardness; and, on the other hand, sheer rationality and freedom, and progress in science and technology-which hold the field today-with the only makes of true modernity. What is worse, the two words, tradition and modernity, have been generally so interpreted as to favour imperialism, exaggerated individualism, and blind nationalism. Such an impatient and ill balanced attitude has led to crass indifference to the details of truth and reality.

This attitude, however, has not sprung of itself. The colonial bias has been at work. It is this which has led to a gross misinterpretation of the role and value of women in our curricula towards western literature and values, and from Indian cultural traditions. However, such defect can be remedied. We have only to realized that our word for tradition-that is, parampara-does not exclude progress, but signifies continuity of progress in this parampara has always rejected that anthropology which promotes alienation; that ontology which believes in pure naturalism; that epistemology which believes in sheer empiricism; and that motivation which aims at repression of others, as against eliciting their willing cooperation. Positively, it has always stood for participation, care for spiritual values, and idealism, and wisdom since times immemorial and have all along provided coherence and stability to Indian society. It is only the greed-centered people who impose their selfish will on other and treat them as mere tools and instruments, to the total neglect of the ideals laid down in Sastras. It is these people only who should be blamed for the distortion of the texts to serve their own selfish ends.


Obsession Qwith The West: Retrieving the Indian
Hindu Women, Traditions and Modernity29
Constructing an Indian Theory of Feminism: Problems and Potentialities57
A Journey Through Literature
Literary Feminism in India: In Search of Theory85
Exploring the Icons: Sita and Radha99
Imaging of Woman in Indian Literature: The Archetype, the Stereotype and the Real125
In-between: Locating Tradition and Modernity in the works of Maitreyi Pushpa141
Androgyny in Search of Modernity: Fiction and Reality163
Pen and Needle: The Changing Metaphors of Self in Autobiographies by Women in Post-Independence India175
Re-exploring Stereotypes: A Study of Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying' and Rajinder Singh Bedi's 'Lajwanti'187
Infidel Heteroglossia? Postmodernist Feminist Configurations in Githa Hariharan's 'The Art of Dying'201
Dharmasastra: Fetters or Freedom?
How to Read the Manusmrti219
Feminism, Tradition and Modernity: An Essay in Relation to Manusmrti231
Ontological Status of Women in the Dharma Sastras: An Essay in Relation to Manusmrti Discrepancies between the Positive Perception and the Negative241
Spirituality as Panacea for Misplaced Feminism253
Tradition and Modernity as Determinants of 'Women's Roles & Status: Romance and Reality261
The Therigatha: A Study in Tradition and Modernity285
Braving the Challenges
Evolving Traditions, Retreating Modernities: 'Women's Roles & Status: Romance and Reality Women and the Gendered Social Reality323
Ecofeminism: Patriarchy through the Backdoor339
Patriarchal Discourse-Construction and Subversion: A Case Study of the Nineteenth Century Maharashtra355
Feminist Issues: Action, Research and Women's Studies403
Feminism, Tradition and Modernity in Relation to the Representation of Tribal Women in Modern Indian Writing419
A Contemporary Reading of Ancient Women's Vrata435
Gandhi opn Women an Liberty445

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