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Periyar: Forging a New Female Self


· Shailaja Menon Ambedkar University (Delhi, India)


07/28 | 11:20-11:40 UTC+2/CEST


If there is one group which has perennially found itself at the margins because of its social location across South Asia, it’s the category of gender. Albeit heterogeneous by nature, women have borne the burden of history, community, tradition and even geography being violently mapped across their bodies. No wonder that the past two centuries has witnessed heated debates on the women’s question in the region ranging from the Altekarian paradigm to the valorized mother figure who is ever nurturing and generous. Many social reformers both male and female sought to battle orthodoxy, religious chauvinism and caste based status-quoism widening the contours of gender justice in the process. The tropes revolved around consent and coercion, public battles over scriptural legitimacy and contentious traditions. The reformers were treading on delicate grounds as the sacred domain of the ‘home’ had to be kept immune from any polluting winds of ‘western’ ideology.

Periyar deliberated deeply on the gender issues of his time and sought to forge a new semantics for the same. His speeches and writings worked to create a discursive context which enabled women to be part of the public domain and express their politics in various forms. Periyar also articulated on sexuality, masculinity, the need for a new aesthetics which would prove to be more liberative for women. This paper seeks to unravel the new forms of conjugality, ideas on chastity and motherhood, creating a public space for women through political and literary endeavours as envisaged by Periyar and his Self Respect politics.