Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 6
Since the panelists work on different regions of India, this experimental session is well poised to examine the history of sexuality from multiple perspectives. Contemporary politics in India require a critical re-examination of the politics of caste, community and language in shaping the history of Indian sexuality. We are eager to seize the opportunity to work together at the AHA and to draw from audience specialization.
Alongside maximizing discussion with the audience, the panelists will together develop a longer and broader conversation on the power of matrimony and global reconstitution of caste, youth as a sexual category, M.K. Gandhi’s societal celibacy, pre-colonial and colonial connections of kama texts, and the construction of a “decent” community and “masculine” nation. The papers combine a variety of historical sources from research in state archives, with the study of matrimonial columns, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers in regional (Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and Bengali) vernaculars and oral histories to study the strategies deployed by a range of actors in navigating their social and sexual selves.
The history of sexual modernity in South Asia like in other parts of the globe, is intimately connected with discourses about “honor,” “respectability,” racial identities, caste and gendered politics, and the construction of “decent” communities. As a result, intellectuals, politicians, and ordinary women and men were not merely concerned with the symbolic power of sex and sexuality, but constantly worried about the racial, economic, cultural, and political entanglements of marriage, consensual union, youth power, scientificity, prostitution, male power, and so on. Like our papers demonstrate, sexuality was also explicitly politicized at certain historical moments of conflict and transition to assert distinct interests, define identities, and marginalize or even malign social and economic competitors. Our conversations could shed light on some unanswered questions about other historical periods or places. Our analysis of social, gender, and sexual relations may also help explain the power of caste politics and racial democracy myths in India and the US. We initiate a dialogue across different communities, cultures, and regions to investigate the interconnections between caste, class, gender, and sexuality, which are central to understand the construction of public sphere, modernity, difference, and marginality in India. Significantly, the panel draws upon the theoretical frames provided by historians, anthropologists, literary critics, and scholars of women and gender studies to offer a fresh perspective on the role of sexual politics and subject formation in South Asia.