Resistance can be as esoteric as silence and silence can be as impenetrable as hegemonic power; conversely, both resistance and silence have the potential to challenge power. By its very nature, resistance is non-confrontational. It works subtly through seemingly small, innocuous everyday acts of non-compliance and achieves the desired results imperceptibly and slowly. As a socio-cultural-historical practice, resistance has been largely successful, the most obvious example being Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘passive resistance’; as a literary practice it poses challenge to the reader as well as the author.
Indian women writers have provided variegated pictures of resistance practices in the modern Indian context. In this study, Bande examines the treatment of resistance in nine contemporary novels written in English, Through a close reading of the selected novels of Anita desai, Shashi Deshpande, Githa Hariharan, Manju kapur , Shobha De, Arudhati Roy and Bapsi sidhwa, she examines women’s conditioning, their internalization of patriarchy and the reasons for their inability to subscribe to any oppositional action. Textual resistance functioning within the feminist, cultural and post-colonial of the novels provides a platform to understand the theoretical debates and identify various resistant strategies deployed by the creative writers. She traces – drawing on the theories of feminist resistance, resistance operative during the ant-colonial/nationalist struggle, and subaltern resistance – the inter-connection between gender, cultural practices and the Western influence on India social system. Bande observes that despite the influence of the Western ideologies, which cannot be avoided in the Third World context, and the present socio-economic changes, one cannot sidetrack the strong cultural leaning of the author that provide unique ethos to the works. In her analysis, Bande focuses on issues such as resistance offered to patriarchy, to the matriarch as patriarchy’s agent, rape and violence against women, childhood experiences as resistance and revisionist mythmaking as resistance. Recognition of resistance in the these texts help us locate the implicit urges of women to re-define their ‘self’ and to survive not in abject passivity but with dignity.
Dr. Usha Bande, till recently Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, was on the faculty of English literature in Govt. College for Women, Shimla and Principal of Govt. College, Arki under the Himachal Pradesh University, shimla. She started her schooling with St. Joseph’s convent, Jabalpur and has had a brilliant academic career. Dr. Bande worked for her doctorate on the novels of Anita Desai, interpreting Desai’s characters from the angle of Third Force psychology. Hers is an innovative approach and has been widely acclaimed by U.S. scholars in the field. She has numerous research papers and seven books to her credit. She completed a major UG.C. and has worked recently in the field of Women’s Studies at the I.I.A.S. She visited U.S.A. as an associate and Canada under the Cultural Exchange Program.
Preface of the First Edition
When I first considered exploring resistance in Indian women’s writing in English, my idea of resistance was almost conventional, limited to seeing resistance as an overt protest and defiance; and was colored with Western feminist notions – the individualistic self-association, the quest for identity, the question of ‘control’ over sexuality, in short, a lot cliché we associate with feminist theory and that contemporary women’s writings seem to subscribe to at first glance. But delving deeper, I discovered not only the broad range of resistance practices but also their intensely penetrating power. The concept of resistance is shaped by the contemporary discourses of poststructuralist, postmodernism and even postfeminism, and in turn resistance shapes the social order by tits non-confrontational, non-violent action. In time, it becomes the dreaded “weapon of the weak.” Since resistance is enacted in the socio-cultural milieu, it cannot be understood and defined separated from the culture.
Therefore, any approach to resistance needs to be culture specific. This study starts on that premise and resistance operative in the fictional narrative from an Indo-centric angle. Many of the contemporary novels endorse the Western paradigms of resistance and defiance, with result that the reader succumbs to its overall aggressive tone and frank female assertions, and the underlying cultural implications go unnoticed. On the other hand, if only culture is kept under focus, another problem arises: how does one identify women’s resistance in a culture that that theoretically sees woman as powerful and strong and yet helpless by its persistent silencing strategies and severe hegemonic control? After all, a novel is a product of the balancing art of the author who weaves the current, lived realities with cultural exigencies in the fabric of the narrative to achieve aesthetic effect. To work through such intricate patterns and pressures and to evaluate the oppositional stances that produce resistance becomes a rewarding critical exercise. Resistance works at several levels in contemporary novels. And through one recognizes the presence of the theoretical landscape in building resistance, one need not address these theories to understand resistance running through the texts.
This study takes into account the emergence of Indian feminism during the national struggle for freedom but does not negate the influence of Western theoretical concepts. Indian feminism emerged out of the historical process that was at once liberating and women’s writing vibrates with resistance to authority but while the novels up to the 1980s have either mild or circuitous form of resistance, vacillating between a feeble ‘yes’ or an ineffectual ‘no’, the works of the 1980s and after demonstrate confidence in saying ‘no’ to injustice and ‘yes’ to the self. I have concentrated on the novels written in the 1980sand 1990s, though some of them tend to look back on the 1940s and even beyond like Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters and a significant part of Deshpande’s Matter of Time and Desai’s When shall We Go This Summer? Besides, almost at the novelists portray the modern, urban, middle class woman who is educated, aware, sensitive, and influenced by Western ideas yet conscious of the indigenous traditions and culture. That evolves a pattern and gives and edge to this analysis.
Readers may find it arguable that this discussion gives a major space to Shashi Deshppande whose three novels come under scrutiny whereas only one work each of the remaining six novelists has been examined. It may be clarified here, though not to justify, that only Shashi Deshpande has dealt with the issue of rape, an important aspect of feminist debate on violence and violation, and to the woman’s right to day. The Dark Holds Ni Terrors and The Binding Vine have, therefore, deserved extra attention with one chapter devoted to rap and its aftermath without which no study of resistance could be called complete.
I am aware that a strong body of fiction still remain to be explored and a large number of women novelists go unrepresented Kamala Markandaya, Attia Hossain, Nayantara Sahgal and many works of Anita Desai, the powerful diasporic women writers, the European or non-Indian writers like Jhabwala who resists the Indian society, and the new millennium writers. Also, the rural, the semi-rural and the unprivileged woman who really gives credence to any investigation directed at knowing the Indian woman I nowhere in sight; but then, one would have to turn to writers like M.k.Indira (kannnada), Mahasweta Devi and Asha Purana Devi (Bagali), Vibhavari Shiroorkar (Marathi) and a whole lot of regional language writings, that would mean embarking on another investigation. The purpose of any study of this kind is not to venture into too broad a canvas that may become unmanageable and diffused; the aim should be to open up vistas for further inquiry so that new and fresh perspective is added to the existing body of knowledge. The ball is set rolling; it is for the younger generation critics an scholars to take up the challenge.
Contemporary Indian woman’s writing is marked by the imperatives of saying ‘No’, thus giving impetus to what is appropriated as resistance: the phenomenon that insists on rethinking the past and eliminating the traditional hegemonic biases that obstructed the identity of subaltern group (woman in this case) and silenced them. Resistance involves reinterpretation so as to bring the marginalized into the center; it also recognizes the need to “hear voices” and give consideration to the recognizes. By its semantic nature-it is derived from the Latin root-word resistere, meaning to stand against-it denotes a slow but insistent, invisible but enduring behavioral strategy having the potential to dislodge the dominant structure, id not dismantle it. Resistance can be defined, to borrow from Haynes and Prakash, as “non-confrontational” and “contestatory” and “constantly present in the behavious, traditions and consciousness of the subaltern, “having the power to “tear through the fabric of hegemonic forms” (Haynes & Prakash 1991:1). Scholars in the field take into account its socio-cultural nature and tend to locate the recurring interplay between domination and resistance. Domination gives rise to resistance, and resistance emerges as a consequence of power play. It is conditioned by those very social and political power structures that it seeks to challenge. These fact point toward two important situations: first, that domination and resistance are mutually dependent, neither is autonomous; and second, that power is central to both. Since dramatic events or heroic deeds of revolutionary or rebellious nature are not the constituents of resistance, it is believed to have the capacity to build an identity-giving culture.
Representation of ‘resistance’ in women’s fictional narratives and autobiographies articulates both the existence of the dominant power structure and the female desire to disavow and defy that structure. It doing so, it becomes a vehicle for expressing the cultural, literary and feminist dilemmas a vehicle for expressing the cultural, literary and feminist dilemmas concerning the validation of female agency and the recovery of the female voice. Resistance is a part of the dynamics of social life. As a process, lived in culturally and socially specific specific ways, it needs to be understood in its socio-cultural-historical perspective, as also from a gender-specific viewpoint. Women’s resistance is variable, complex and multivalent because women live in dialectical relations with the partriachal ideological structure. The fact that they “a consensual and relationship (Sangari 1993:867-82) with men produces a mixture of consent and resistance and places women in a contradictory relationship with patriarchy and the dominant discourse. Sangari points out that in ‘traditional’ and ‘semi-traditional’ societies like ours, the spheres of power reserved for women provide them space for their subjectivity within the society, giving them power to exercise their agency. Besides, in the South Asian context, women’s issues need to be addressed taking into account factors such as class, caste, community and the tribal situation; in short, it needs to be culture-specific.
Perhaps the most troubling proposition for scholars reading resistance in literature concerns the relationship between resistance and literature and resistance and other contemporary discurses such as feminism, post-feminism, postmodernism, post-structur-alism and post-colonialism. Resistance by itself is not a theory, nor is it as ideology but because of its non-confrontational nature, it an ideology but because of non-confrontational nature, its sensitivity to the subaltern and the ‘other’, its project to recontextualize and retrieve the past and its commitment o culture, it is associated with all those theoretical disciplines that foreground multiplicity, particularity and heterogeneity, and identify the resistant impulses of the powerless. This, however, does not go on to suggest that all current theories are critical declarations against power, or that all the “post” discourses can be looked as homogenized universals. Even then, one cannot dismiss the role of the critical theories in valoeizing the powerless, the oppressed and the dispossessed. As Homi K. Bhabha points out, “a range of contemporary critical theories suggest that it is from those who have suffered the sentence of history-subjugation, domination, diaspora, displacement-that we learn our most enduring lesson for living and thinking. There is even a growing conviction that the affective experience of social marginality … transforms our critical strategies” (Bhabha 1994:172).
From Marx to Foucault, including Bhabha, Spivak, Ahmad and the feminists, the question of “power” has been close to the theorists and their theories attempting to define the various positions-political, economic, historical and concerning gender. They visualize change in the existing conditions, and it is here that the different discourses intersect. To put it simply, postmodernism is an anti-authoritarian movement; poststructualism is a critique of historicism with its emphasis on the injustice towards the marginalized; postcolonialism represents a heightened awareness of power relation between the erstwhile imperial power and the colonial subject, and postfeminism shifts its focus to the terrain of culture to resolve women’s issues. Within the context of this juncture, the issues related to resistance become visible. They very idea of change has at its basis the resistance consciousness, which conversely generates resistance to resistance itself. As a critic observes: “Resistance to the feminist movement easily turns into a resistance to seeing that women have any problem at all” (Richards 1980:3). That makes it possible to juxtapose different theoretical issues and concerns with such oppositional debates to call into question the systems of representation and the institutionalized power.
Scholars of late have been emphasizing on the role of power structures and the circulation of power as fundamental to the understanding of oppression, injustice and objectification, be it in relation to the colonized or the subaltern or gender. Feminist scholars in particular have focused upon the spheres of ‘power’ as signs of women’s transformative capacity. Theorists of power often see resistance as an exercise of power. “a projection of alternative truth” (Radtike and Stam 1994:53). In their creative writings women are manifesting what Foucault calls “reverse discourse” (Foucault 1980:101), that is, they ceitique the existing power structure and at the same time tend to borrow from its tenet and re-inscribe its concepts, thus contesting their own spaces and re-shaping their surroundings. Linda Hutcheon, a theorist of feminism and postmodernism asserts in one of her interview s that since women have to define themselves against the dominant and subvert it through various literary strategies like parody or exaggeration. By re-contextualizing it they mimic the speech without subscribing to its “implied ideals and value” (O’ Grady 1988:20-22). As such study of resistance must take into account the system of power operating in social, political or economic organizations.
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