Sacred Subjects: Gender And Nation In South Asian Fiction

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My dissertation, Sacred Subjects: Gender and Nation in South Asian Literature, intervenes in the ongoing debates in postcolonial and feminist studies about the mapping of woman onto nation. There has been a tendency to read the land as female in both colonial and postcolonial discourse. As feminist scholars like Anne McClintock have shown, such a mapping places the burden of representing the nation onto the gendered subject. My dissertation argues that fiction in Bengali, Urdu and English undoes this mapping by creating non-normative gendered figures implicated in the sacred, who counteract the paternalistic figurations of gender present in imperialist and nationalist discourse. My introductory chapter argues that the non-normative gendered figures of this fiction have been repressed by the nation-state in order to create a homogenous entity called the "nation." My second chapter argues that late-nineteenth century Bengali domestic fiction, namely Bankimchandra Chatterjee's Krishnakanta's Will and The Poison Tree, Rabindranath Tagore's Chokher Bali and Saratchandra Chatterjee's Charitraheen and Srikanta, challenges the notion of the exploited Hindu widow who needs to be rescued from her plight, by creating the widow as an empowered character who usurps wifely devotion or satita, implicated in Hindu devotional practices, to create a space for herself within her society. My third chapter analyzes the Urdu novel, namely Mohammed Hadi Ruswa's Umrao Jan Ada and Premchand's Sevasadan and argues that the courtesans of these novels usurp modesty and service, borne from Islamic and Hindu codes of conduct for veiled women, to re-instate themselves within respectable society. My fourth chapter continues these analyses to consider a contemporary novel, Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, which destabilizes the gendering of the nation by rewriting the passive, religious, feminine, Indian nation of Rudyard Kipling's Kim as a heterogeneous, complicated space that defies narrativization. My final chapter reflects on the discourse of liberal secularism and argues that it subsumes the agency of subjects implicated in the sacred.

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