Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gender and Caste: Self-Respect Movement in the Madras Presidency, 1925–1950
by Ganesan, Uma, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, 2011, 276; 3490871
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the Self-Respect movement's program for a radical reform of Hindu society in the Madras presidency in late colonial south India. It argues that gender crucially informed this program of reform enabling the mobilization of a radical politics of caste and gender. Launched in 1925–26, the Movement's anti-caste emphasis reflected the larger Dravidian movement's goal for non-Brahmin uplift. It deployed the discourse of Brahmin-non-Brahmin divide in south Indian society and identified the Hindu caste system, created, maintained, and nurtured by the Brahmins, as the root-cause of non-Brahmin backwardness. It cast the Brahmins as the 'other'—Aryan, Sanskritic, North as opposed to Dravidian/non-Brahmin, Tamil, South. In its emphasis on gender as a crucial organizing principle of the caste system, it transcended the goals of the Dravidian movement as well as those of the Gandhian nationalist movement and the Indian women's movement.

This dissertation considers both the discursive and material terrain upon which the Movement mounted its critique of religion, caste, and gender. The controversy unleashed by the publication of Katherine Mayo's Mother India and the intensive campaigns and debates to raise the ages of marriage and of consent to sexual relations provided ample opportunity for the Movement to propagandize its program of radical reform. Most notably, its advocacy of birth control and divorce for women presented foundational challenges to Hindu social organization by delinking sex from procreation and marriage from religion. The Movement thus demonstrated a radical consciousness about women's sexual freedom. The dissertation analyzes Self-Respect marriages to demonstrate the transformative potential of marriage reform for women's autonomy. By transforming the nature of marriage—from sacrament to contract—the Movement invested women with the freedom to choose their partner, to divorce, and to remarry. The Movement's participation in the anti-Hindi agitations of the late 1930s had a dual effect on women: while it mobilized women in large numbers to come out into the streets for the first time in the Madras presidency to demonstrate against the imposition of Hindi—a north Indian Sanskritic language—by the Madras government, it also glorified them as mothers in contrast to men who were construed as heroes of the anti-Hindi agitation. The dissertation thus suggests a familiar trajectory for women in the Movement wherein their freedom and choices were constrained as Tamil nationalism became dominant. Using feminist theories of nationalism, it underscores women's problematic and complex relationship to nationalism that almost always casts them as symbols while men are construed as the subjects and agents of nationhood. The epilogue considers the status of women in Tamilnadu, the major post-independent state carved wholly out of the Madras presidency.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ramusack, Barbara N.
Commitee: Laura, Jenkins D., Maura, O'Connor, Mytheli, Sreenivas
School: University of Cincinnati
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 73/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: History, Womens studies, South Asian Studies
Keywords: Caste, Gender, India, Madras, Marriage, Nationalism, Religion, Self-Respect Movement, Women
Publication Number: 3490871
ISBN: 9781267121035
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