Sexuality, in all societies, pervades every aspect of social existence and remains an enigmatic theme of research in social sciences. Addressing the relationship between sex, gender, and sexuality, this volume establishes a firm analytical framework for sexuality studies in India. It widely covers the interconnected dimensions of history, legality, religion, class, sexual orientation, politics, and power. It engages with a host of themes, ranging from the colonial sexologists and pulp literature to family courts; the development discourses to queer imagery in Hindu nationalistic imagination; the laws on perversion and prostitution to romance and the Indian media; and the established patterns of research on sexuality in India.
Sexuality Studies explores the dimensions of history, legality, sexual cultures, power politics, community and values, race, and class. The essays engage with these dimensions in the prevalent discourses of Indian sexual cultures. Outlining the contours and main themes of sexuality studies in India, this volume will provide a lasting foundation to this immensely important field.
Presenting a nuanced view of sexual cultures in India, this book will be indispensable to students and scholars of sociology, social anthropology, gender studies, social psychology, and the informed general reader.
Sanjay Srivastava is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.
Discussions of sexual culture in India have an almost ritualistic nature in their invocations of beliefs and practices that lie between the instructional mode of the Kama Sutra and Gandhian efforts to erase desire. However, beyond some vague notion of 'Indian heritage', it has never been clear how a text intended for the elite of its time, and idiosyncratic applications of principles of asceticism have much to say about the sexual cultures of contemporary India. The politics of colonial nationalism (Ray 1998) and a postcolonial one that concerns middle-class (and increasingly, diasporic) remaking of 'Indian heritage' have significantly contributed to a continuing focus on both 'ancient' texts and practices as representative of modern Indian realties and beliefs. The continuing salience of the Kama Sutra might also derive from attempts to throw off the historical accusation of prudery against Indian culture. Here is a text, public discourses surrounding it suggest, that 'proves' that Indians were no less 'advanced' in such matters-indeed, even more so-than Westerners. This much appears to have been also accepted by Michel Foucault with his ahistorical formulation of the putative difference between Western and Eastern sexual cultures as 'scientific' and 'erotic'.
This collection is part of a growing body of work (for example, Adams and Pigg 2005; Alter 2011; Bose and Bhattacharyya 2008; John and Nair 1998; Menon 2007; Narrain and Bhan 2006; Narrain and Gupta 2011; Srivastava 2004) that seek to offer alternatives to the Kama Sutra and Gandhian narratives of Indian sexual cultures (that utilize spurious ideas of, stable' Indian traditions) and Foucauldian frameworks (that posit too sharp a difference between Western and Eastern sexual contexts); in the 'land of the Kama Surra', there are considerable audiences for both Sex and the City and the surreptitiously made 'cut piece' pornographic film clips (Hoek 2010).
Notwithstanding the ground that this volume shares with the many recent anthologies-such as those listed in the previous paragraph-that address Indian sexual politics and cultures, there are also some differences in the approach and content that make it distinct. Firstly, all chapters employ methods that are drawn from sociology or historical sociology. That is to say, authors are singularly interested in the network of social contexts-power, kinship, legality, class, gender, for example-through which sexual cultures are produced, controlled, and contested. In this way, the volume proceeds from the assumption that scholarly analysis is not only a powerful ally of activist intervention, but also that it has a place and character of its own. Secondly, and just as significantly, the volume is explicitly organized as an exploration of relationships between the 'mainstream' and its others, in order that we might more fully understand the making of the former. If cultures of sexuality are to be seen for what they are-unstable, contested, and in flux-then it is important to juxtapose different kinds of sexual claims. Finally, in this context, the book is also interested in exploring why it is that we talk about sexuality at this moment in time and in the ways that we do. That is to say, what is specific to the social, cultural, and political processes of our time that makes for the kinds of discussions that this book contains? And further, why are histories of sexuality important to the present?
These concerns show up in this volume through another way: absence of those frameworks that are a familiar part of a certain strand of scholarship on sexuality. So, for example, it is noticeable that none of the chapters included here make use of psychoanalytic (or psychologized) frameworks that have found favour in studies of Indian sexuality. Rather, the idea of 'sexual culture' is scattered across a number of domains that both implicitly problematize it as an independent (or self-referential) arena, as well as forcing us to think about the various ways in which different domains (the law, the state, 'middle-class' opinion, science, and 'sexual-health' programmes, for example) contribute to its construction.
And though there are no overarching narratives through which the significance of sexuality is explained, the exploration of sexual meanings in this volume is implicitly organized around certain key themes. Firstly, contributors demonstrate how 'sexuality' carries different meanings across cultures, such that terms that conventionally gather around it such as 'desire', pleasure, anxiety, control, and 'need' -travel along multiple trajectories of local histories, producing hybrid meanings. That is to say, the terms of address that seeks to capture sexual meanings only become intelligible through a specific understanding of the ways in which localized and wider processes coalesce to form an inherently unstable social world. 'The meaning of erotic, emotional and sexual practices differ widely ... among various ... societies and over time', as Morgan and Wieringa point out, speaking of the African context. 'Various forms of physical attraction are recorded', they add, suggesting that 'Whether these were called "sexual" differs widely' (Morgan and Wieringa 2005: 297-8). While Morgan and Wieringa speak of how sexuality is imagined at the level of individual and group experience, contributors to this volume extend this line of discussion through explorations of the multiple sites of modernity within which individual lives are enmeshed. These are points of negotiations between individuals and the broader structures within which they are located, producing meanings about sexual 'nature' and culture. They are also pointers to why sex and sexuality constitute significant topics of discussion.
The negotiations-or, the struggle-over sexual meanings might be understood in another way, one that also informs perspectives within the covers of this book. Referring to a long-standing debate, Jeffery Weeks suggests that 'The real problem does not lie in whether homosexuality is inborn or learned: Rather, he says, it can be expressed in the question: 'what are the meanings this particular culture gives to homosexual behavior, however, it may be caused, and what are the effects of those meanings on the ways in which individuals organize their sexual lives' (Weeks 2003: 34). The relay between 'culture' and the 'individual' is precisely the process this volume seeks to track.
This relay of sexual meanings is, to wit, the 'history of social relations' Padgug 1989: 20). Further, since this history is itself both unstable and culturally specific, there can be 'no abstract and universal category of "the erotic" or "the sexual" applicable without change to all societies.
Any view which suggests otherwise is hopelessly mired in one or another form of biologism' (ibid.: 21). In seeking to explore the ways in which 'We become human only in human society' (ibid.: 20), these essays move between two levels-'human' and 'human society'-that form the grounds for fashioning quotidian existence.
By insisting that we can only productively engage with this topic through understanding the different contexts which influence the making of sexuality (or, more accurately, 'sexualities'), these essays problernarize the notion that it constitutes a world-unto-Itself A significant consequence of thinking that sexuality as a world-unto-itself has been that it tends to be simultaneously regarded as a very narrowly confined domain that has nothing to do with, say, politics and economics, as well as something that is of very general significance that is absolutely fundamental to the way we are and the very 'truth' of our being (Padgug 1989). We tend to both inflate its significance and downplay its role as a social process by treating it as a private 'thing'. So, for example, if you're a bad cook, it's a minor blemish, but being 'bad' at sex is seen as both a major crisis that requires intervention (through seeking help of sexologists', for example). It is ironic that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), whose writings were fundamental to providing new-non-biological directions in the study of sexuality in the West, was, nevertheless, a believer in sexuality-as-a-biological drive theory (Weeks 2003). Despite literary, historical, artistic, and other evidence that suggests that sexuality-both its expression and control-is fundamentally linked to contexts such' as class, religion, wealth, and gender norms, we nevertheless tend to delink it from these social realities. If anything, we are inclined to think of these aspects as incidental, choosing to believe that 'underneath it all' there lurks a fundamentally fixed essence-and a drive-we can identify as sexuality.
The preceding discussion points to a significant aspect of the history of sexuality in the Indian context: that it may be difficult to trace its outline in the manner in which it has been done for the West. Michel Foucault's writings have, as is well known, outlined the ways in which sexual identity became a central category of European modernity. His analysis shows how the 'conversion of acts into roles/personalities, and ultimately into entire subcultures, cannot be said to have been accomplished before at least the seventeenth century, and, as a firm belief and more or less close approximation of reality, the late nineteenth century' (Padgug 1989: 21). Further, as Foucault pointed out, the 'roles/personalities' that emerged through the classification of 'acts' were 'the hysterical woman, the masturbating child, the Malthusian couple, and the perverse adult' (Foucault 1979: 105). Subsequently, sexuality became focused on the family. That is to say, an entire range of experts (doctors, psychiatrists, priests, teachers, and so on) turned their attention to the family, advising against the perils of 'bad' sexuality and ensuring its 'good health'. Through these processes, the family was both 'sexualized' and acted as an agent of sexualization. Further, the family became the benchmark for debates on 'good' and 'bad' sexuality, and 'healthy' and 'aberrant' sexual behaviour. In these ways, sexuality became a very important topic of discussion, rather than being banned from being discussed (or, repressed) as is commonly thought. 'Good' sexuality within the family-reproductive sexuality, able to produce a suitable labour force-then became part of the development of capitalism.
To what extent is it possible to apply Foucault's analytical framework (as distinct from subscribing to his political project-the exploration of power relationships) to the Indian society? While this is not a question that can be answered at any length in this introduction, it is certainly an aspect worth thinking about. So, for example, how suitable is Foucaulr's disciplinary model of power-which assumes that ideas of 'discipline' and 'self-discipline' permeate an entire society-for a context that is characterized by multiple and fragmented public spheres? That is to say, the processes of transmission of information-and the establishment of mechanisms and discourses of power-in India would appear to be quite different to that in Europe. The historically fragmented nature of Indian public spheres-along, say, the axes of linguistic identity, ethnicity, status, profession, religion, and kinship organization-makes it difficult to assume that 'centrally' fashioned ideas of discipline and 'roles/personalities' might have been easily absorbed across various populations. Further, colonialism-which goes almost unacknowledged in Foucaulr's work, except, perhaps indirectly through references to racism (Stoler 1995)-would seem to have fundamentally altered the possibility of finding coherent objects of knowledge-'the hysterical woman, the masturbating child ...' that might have shared currency within Indian social formations (as distinct from fragments within it, say, the native intelligentsia) (Foucault 1979: 105). What we need, therefore, are ways of understanding a fragmented (sexual) past that might be transforming into a complex present due to the effect of certain modern technologies-such as the media and the internet-that are more powerful agents of change than, say, state power.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend