Agency, Periodisation and Change in the Gender and Women's History of Colonial India



The paper begins with a critique of the ‘imperialism-nationalism’ paradigm and its concomitant privileging of the period 1885–1947, which has dominated the writing of modern Indian history. It is argued here that the fixation with the ‘birth-of-the-nation’ theme has led to the neglect of women's agency; that it has resulted in many inconsistencies, dilemmas and unresolved issues regarding a range of topics within Indian gender-relations; and that this periodisation inhibits the reclamation of terms such as ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’. The second half of the essay proposes that women's agency can be recovered via a new chronology and a new template for understanding agency within which scholars will be enabled to retrieve the conscious voices of Indian women and record change in gender relations.