-Priyanka Kaushik

Gender is undeniably one of the most important factors of any society. Not only gender molds socio-cultural relations, dictates terms of interaction of the sexes and exposes the underlying structures of patriarchy, it also provides an epistemology to understand different processes in different temporal-spatial zones and understand and help understand aspects of colonialism, nationalism, caste, religion etc with a new lens. Over the time, different scholars have worked on different aspects of gender and have tried to understand various phenomenon and challenge the existing notions through its gender analysis.

The question of gender is one of the most debatable concepts of our times. With the coming of gender consciousness gender constructs are no longer seen as inevitable ones and those are studies like one by “Kate millet” to suggest the relation between sex relations and power, as she says-“personal is political”. So we need to see these processes and layers of the gendered structures intertwined in such a way that a superficial imposed structure after a time looks inevitable and natural to us.

Gender is a field of huge contestation as this is a field where there is a lack of consensus among scholars over the meaning, nature and extent of gender distinctions. Thus the historiography of gender analysis is a complex and subjective discourse and need to be analyzed within a set of socio-economic context.

John W. Scott in her work “Gender: a useful category of historical analysis” analyzes the concepts of gender and proposing how a new understanding of gender influences our understanding of history.

but Scott’s understanding of gender also cast its effect on the discipline of history altogether. her theory revolves around knowledge, meanings and truths as constructive discourse, a structure, a way of “ordering the world” which is not strictly predecessor  to social organization. that’s why according to John Scott, the discipline of history produces knowledge generally about the past. feminist history, in that context, is not restricted to just an attempt to correct or supplement an incomplete record of the past but rather a critical understanding of history as a “site of production of knowledge of gender in general and knowledge in general”.

she also points out that as soon as historians will acknowledge the multivalent and constructed nature of society and knowledge, they will be forced to abandon single cause explanations for historical change. Power is central to Scott’s analysis, for she is interested in the notion of equality, and she argues that by studying gender relations, one can gain an understanding of (in)equality in general.

for this, she calls for us to alter our understanding of power: “we need to replace the notion that social power is unified, coherent and centralized with something like Michel Foucault’s concept of unequal relationships, discursively constituted in social “field of force”. so, power is not something that exists outside the social organization and is then wielded by persons. “The point of new historical investigation”,  Scott writes, is to disrupt the notion of fixity, to discover the nature of the debate or repression that leads to the appearance of timeless permanence. in this view, attention should not be given solely to people’s actions, but instead to the meaning that people (and their actions) acquire through social interaction. lastly Scott believes that the process of constructing gender relations can also be used to discuss class, race, ethnicity or any social process. so, it is indeed a “useful category of historical analysis”.

the question of gender is one of the most debatable concept of our times. with the coming of gender consciousness “gender constructs are no longer seen as inevitable ones” and there are studies, like by Kate Millet  to suggest the relation between sex relations and power, as she says- “personal is political”. in the context of India, religion is one of that dominant aspect through which gender relations are defined as well as justified. Most of the times, the nature of these religious texts are prescriptive and normative, but still as religion and religious texts enter into popular consciousness, they try to form crystallized categories. religious  symbols, iconography etc support the texts in building these difference. we are concerned here not just with religion per say but the gendered relations over the years and how religion plays a dominant role in the proceedings.

though the sati-pratha was abolished in the 19th century through legislation in 1829, there was a resurgence of the sati movement in 1980’s in Rajasthan. the basis of this movement was harking back to the glorious tradition of the “sati-mata” which was an antithesis to the wave of feminist movement in India at the same time.

Nevertheless, religious symbols are put to use in a very different way to justify a movement. another irony  lies in the fact that the most staunch supporters of the movement were women themselves. thus, it actually reveals the process of legitimizing and “sacralizing” the institution and the rhetoric to create an illusion of a glorious tradition. thus, religious tradition could themselves then be used as a text to study the dynamics of gender and the process of legitimization through religion.

As Michel Foucault points out- church, educational institutions and hospitals were three spheres of “discursive discourse” of sexuality through which the domain of sexuality which was repressed in the sphere and locus of “legitimate sexuality” was able to manifest itself without harking to the “illegitimate” sphere of sexuality. power structure has an indelible presence in the realm of gender relations but whether the relations are always hierarchical or sometimes the relation is rhizomatic as well,, whether the power structure is has an overarching presence or it emanated from different nodes of interaction. in that sense, religion may prove very useful in not only studying these interactions of power structures of  gender, but how the process of signification in the rhetoric of gender, becomes an enigma that creates an illusion of a hidden meaning that have to be prized out through a commentary (as in different interpretations of religious texts) and which sometimes create meanings which doesn’t exist in the first place. through deconstructing the structure we have to analyze the women’s sphere through the prism of religion, and similarly through the prism of history.