Women arising

Sirpa Tenhunen is a research fellow at the Academy of Finland and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki who has worked extensively on India. The result of her study in Janta, a village in the Bankura District of West Bengal will be published shortly by Stree, Kolkata, titled Means of Awakening: Gender, Politics and Practice in Rural India.

Sirpa's ethnographically rich study of local politics and gender in rural India is based on her extensive fieldwork. Janta is a village near Bishnupur in Bankura, West Bengal, a state where the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI(M), has been in power since 1977. "She documents carefully how women are emerging in the forefront of political struggles and the rise of the opposition movements in rural West Bengal, a true marker of the momentous social and political change in India.

The book explores both women’s political participation and agency, including marriage, dowry and women’s role in the panchayats, local government in the villages. Her observations and interviews with both male and female political activists give a candid picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the CPI(M). She also observes how building of mobile networks has led to the intensification of rural networks.

Tenhunen argues that the gendered understanding of politics not only limits women’s political participation, but also enables and shapes women’s political action and critical discourses because the local concept of politics does not exclude home, kinship, and the women’s domain. She suggests that the notions of modernity and development are not applied in local disputes because of their universality or the supremacy of the Western model of modernization, but because these, through their local interpretations, offer concepts through which the taken-for-granted practices can be discussed and questioned, which in turn become means of awakening: of turning women’s personal experiences into questions of social change."

In our Gender and Anthropology sections, in paperback, 196 pages. Rs 345. ISBN: 978818604978

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