In Radha’s Name (Widows and other Women in Brindaban)

Item Code: NAF890
Author: Malini Bhattacharya
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788189487409
Pages: 118
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 210 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


In 1999, the West Bengal Commission for Women was entrusted by the state government to explore the social and human problem of destitute Bengali women, mostly widows, eking out a fragile existence in the ancient pilgrim- town of Brindaban, in Uttar Pradesh. The Report prepared by the Committee set up for this purpose, of which the author was a member, forms the core of this book. However, the author has added to it important historical and analytical material that throws new light not only on the identities of the women who have migrated to Brindaban, but also on the reasons for and factors governing their migration. The book traces the origins of religious pilgrimage from Nabadwip of medieval Bengal to Brindaban, propelled by the popularity of the Vaishnava cult, as well as charts its metamorphosis into the NRI-sponsored pilgrim tourism of today, In the context of globalization. It describes the Social vulnerabilities affecting women in different circumstances that led them to seek a life of piety such that the devotional ambience of the women of Brindaban, in their collectivity as 'mais, is forever ruptured and Individual faces with specific histories show up within the uniform narrative of faith.


The author argues that by participating in temple rituals, the women not only enhanced their own piety or fulfilled their material needs but contributed to the reproduction of faith, in fact to keeping the whole system of institutionalized worship In operation. With globalization, however, the position of the women In the temple economy has perforce become uncertain The image of women devotees carrying the banner of the supreme glory of Hindu womanhood has been exploited by Hindu nationalists not only for promoting faith as the traditional way of life, but also for demanding that religion be defended by muscle power creating ground for communal violence But this iconic representation completely masks the actual struggles of the women to formulate their own subjectivity in the face of heavy odds.



About the Author


Malini Bhattacharya was Professor of English and Director of the School of Women's Studies at Jadavpur University till her retirement In 2003 She was a Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, from 1989 t01996. She was also Member, West Bengal Commission for Women (WBCW) from 1998 to 2004 and Member, National Commission for Women [NCW) from 2005 to 2008. She IS currently Chairperson of the WBCW Malini Bhattacharya has written and published plays and songs on women's issues in Bengali, and has edited anthologies of short stories of Manik Bandyopadhyay and Somen Chanda In English translation, apart from editing a collection of articles on 'Globalization: Perspectives in Women's Studies'. Her other areas of interest and research Include the Indian People's Theatre Association [IPTA!. folk culture, women and media.




When I joined the West Bengal Commission for Women as its Chair- W person in October 2001, one of the important events that was being tied up was the Report on the Bengali Widows in Brindaban that the Com- mission in the earlier phase had been asked to prepare by the government. Professor Malini Bhattacharya, who was member of the Commission, was conducting the research and making trips to collect qualitative data, some- times accompanied by another member, Professor Ratnabali Chattopadhyay. When I looked at the Report, I realized that there is an important book latent in the way the findings had been organized by Malini Bhattacharya. The special circumstances that converged to make this Report necessary also contained a slice of contemporary history that was worth recording.


Apart from the fact that widowhood is a highly gendered concept amongst the dominant community in India, the special position occupied by Brinda- ban in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Bhakti tradition of Bengal made it a special pilgrimage destination where the marginal and deprived Hindu widows of Bengal found some of the compensatory salvation. I was therefore delighted when Professor Malini Bhattacharya agreed to my proposal that she should produce a book out of this entire experience.


Having been fully aware of the complexity involved in producing the Report that was duly submitted to the government, I was still taken by surprise by the richness of the book that Malini Bhattacharya has produced. The unravelling of the political situation that made the Bengali widows in Brindaban such a major interstate issue at the end of the last century, is done with a brilliant clarity. The historical chapter that frames the route opened up by the Gaudiya Vaishnava Bhakti cult is done with masterly compilation and juxtaposition of facts. Finally, the logic of patriarchy that hounded a Bengali widow to Brindaban for a dubious 'space of her own' is also brought out by the author with a relentlessness that has not precluded sensitivity.


Malini Bhattacharya has also taken into account the massive displacement that marked the partition years just after independence, and again in 1971 during the break-up of Pakistan, which prompted many marginal women to make their way towards Brindaban where the shackles of the family were relatively less fierce, and the sexual mores were meant to be relatively more lax. But did these absences produce a sense of liberation in these women? In taking up these complex questions, the book has neither oversimplified nor tried to mitigate the harsh realities of their lives, caught in an inexorable web of freedom and servitude. It is with a special pride that I, on behalf of the West Bengal Commission for Women, offer this book to readers.








Chapter One

The Making of this Book


Chapter Two

How They Came to Brindaban:

The Historical Context


Chapter Three

The Experience of the Survey


Chapter Four



Chapter Five

The Hidden Violence of Faith


Chapter Six

A Postcript




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