By Manju Gupta
Women in Indian Borderlands, Paula Banerjee and Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury (eds.), Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, Pp 234, Rs 595
This ethnographic collection of articles which is an outcome of a two-year long research programme, is devoted to issues of women and borders in South Asia in general and women in India’s borderlands in particular, looking deeply at the interface of gender and democracy.
The borders between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are markers of past bitter history. The bitterness of the past, the lack of mutual confidence, the security concerns of these States and the existence of a thousand and one linkages make the South Asian borders unique and the borderland more complex.
The borderlands are regions of endemic poverty and violence. Women living in India’s borderlands survive the ordeal of violence and resist in their small ways the massive structure of State powers. They negotiate their difficulties with the state, through democratic means but which desires space to differences based on ethnicity, religion, class or gender.
Paula Banerjee addresses nations about the increasing violence in the borders as a tool of managing and the paradigm shift in what is considered crime as a result of flows. She discusses how stopping of trafficking has become part of the international agenda whereas all other crime has become negligible in comparison.
Anasua Basu argues that borders are not just lines in the landscape; they actively shape the societies and cultures that they enclose. She unravels the stories of three Muslim women of Hooghly, an otherwise calm and quiet place, during the turbulent year of Partition. The purpose of her study is to enquire on how women negotiate borders – borders of sect, community, particularly and of conflicts not only in their own land, but also in the alien land away from their homeland.
In the second section, there are narratives from Kashmir where Anuradha Bahasin highlights women as the major voices in warfare, particularly their vulnerability to sexual assault and rape. Sumona Das Gupta identifies the term ‘border not just as a physical boundary represented by de facto and de jure cartographic lines that separate the sovereign writ of one State from another. She explores some of the fault lines/borderlines in the iconography of the contemporary conflict in Jammu & Kashmir, using gender as a contemporary cross cutting variables, rather than a separate add-on issue.
Most of the papers also discuss a number of contentious issues such as AIDS and its effects on women in the borderlands.
This is a study which will help those who work on feminism, Partition, displacement and also those who strive to put an end to racist, sexist and militant domination in the borderlands of this region.
(Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi – 110 044.)