This research project aims to explore the metaphorization of womanhood in the construction of the Indian nation, through Hindi, Bengali and Urdu literature, from the mid-nationalist period (early-20th century) to the Partition and its aftermath. This project will also explore the strategies of deconstruction of the nationalization of women and womanhood as a central motive of contemporary feminist literature.
First, I will work on three texts written between 1915-1940, during the “key-decades” of the nationalist period (Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World, 1916; H.R. Bachchan’s Madhushala, 1935; Premchand’s Godan, 1936), where women as characters, real or metaphorical, play a crucial role. I will notably question the symbolic function of this role in the ideal of the nation through its poetical elaboration in the literary text.
Second, I will examine a body of “Partition fictions”: some stories (1947-1955), by Saadat Hasan Manto (Urdu); the novel Pinjar (1950), by Amrita Pritam (Panjabi: I will work with the French translations); the novel Guzra hua zamana (1981), by Krishna Baldev Vaid (Hindi). In the light of Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s (1998) and Gyanendra Pandey’s (2001) works, this research will underline the crucial role of the historical narration of Partition in the elaboration of an ideal of the Indian nation. If Partition, as a major event from both the political and the social perspective, was followed by a massive production of fiction in different languages (Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi, Bengali, English), the politicization of womanhood is made obvious in those texts. Thus, I will notably stress two categories of archetypal characters who are recurrent in Partition fictions: the sacrificed heroine on the one hand, and the silenced victim (or “cold meat” in Saadat Hasan Manto’s words) on the other hand, who each symbolize either the soiled or the glorious nation.
Finally, with a body of Hindi and Bengali contemporary texts (by Mridula Garg, Mahasweta Devi, Anamika and Mallika Sengupta), I will explore the way the deconstruction of this national metaphor appears to be one of the main issues at stake in feminist literature in contemporary India. I will also attempt to show that Indian feminist literature (at least, in Hindi and Bengali) aims not only at giving voice to women as subjects, but also at reclaiming a feminine popular culture as an alternative culture: mythologies, folk stories, traditional songs etc.