Nandini Ramachandran at Caravan:
The horizons of Indian women have long been defined by the peculiar demands of Indian sovereignty. Scholars such as Tanika Sarkar and Partha Chatterjee have argued that the female body—especially the Hindu female body—was crucial to the shaping of nationalism in the nineteenth century. Nationalist thinkers, eager to find a space “free” from colonialism within which they could locate an essential Indian culture that had to be liberated, settled upon the “Hindu home.” Hindu wives, who presided over those homes, thus became inextricably linked to patriotism. These wives—pure, virtuous, spiritual, submissive—were the soul of the motherland. They had to be saved from the depredations of modernity and colonialism, even when this meant they had to be saved from themselves. This ideology, that women are repositories of a cultural legacy, is as prevalent today as it was two hundred years ago—consider the violent policing of inter-caste marriages by khap panchayats, or the hysterical conversation about “love jihad” that presents Muslim men as existential threats to the Hindu family. This ideology, moreover, is also why most Indian women who survive outside the conventions of marriage must resign themselves to living with a submerged self.
The more interesting question remains, however, how women are to navigate such circumstances. One way would be through the discourse of empowerment, which suggests that women make choices that benefit them as individuals rather than those that benefit them as members of collectives such as the family or society. It demands that independent, self-respecting women defy the social strictures that hold them to home and hearth, and thus replace their pain with pleasure.