Why is the government threatened by women’s studies centres in Indian universities?

#GenderAnd Education: We need women's studies to not just survive but to thrive in our universities, because, despite its problems, it reminds us that gender is not something we are but something we do

Written by Shilpa Phadke | Mumbai | Published:June 15, 2017 10:59 am
Women’s Studies was introduced into the National Policy of Education in 1986. The XII Plan records that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has supported Women’s Studies in universities and colleges since the VII Plan period

Women’s Studies is an interdisciplinary field that grew out of the feminist movement. In India, WS is often seen to be linked to the publication of Towards Equality: A Report on the Status of Women in India in 1974 which brought out the low social status of women in the country. In response, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) initiated a programme in WS in 1976. Predating this, the Research Centre for Women’s Studies (RCWS) was started in 1974 at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. Alongside, in 1981, a Conference on WS was convened in Bombay at the RCWS which resulted in the creation of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) a national forum of individuals engaged in research and activism related to gender.

Women’s Studies was introduced into the National Policy of Education in 1986. The XII Plan records that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has supported Women’s Studies in universities and colleges since the VII Plan period. It also notes that the XI Plan sought to upgrade these into teaching and research departments. Currently, there are 159 Women’s Studies Centres in universities and colleges in India and some outside universities supported by the ICSSR. The XII Plan sought to enhance and expand the Women’s Studies Centres.

Like other such disciplines that grew out of a radical politics, Women’s Studies too, embodies the contradictions inherent when the ideas of an intensely political movement are sought to be institutionalised within a university. There are many critiques, not just in India but also elsewhere, of the ways in which Women’s Studies has quickly acquired a canon and its high priestesses. The presence of such signs of institutionalisation are also ironically the markers of a thriving academic discipline – positions under the UCG plans, demands for publication, and rising numbers of MA and PhD graduates in the discipline. Such institutionalisation notwithstanding, work in women’s studies continues to challenge the status quo and not just in relation to gender and patriarchy.

The discipline itself is self-critical. In 2006, S Anandhi and Padmini Swaminathan examined WS courses in universities in Tamil Nadu and argued that many of these courses were not seen as too political and often regarded as soft options. In keeping with this assumption, Women’s Studies in many universities often ends up getting students who do not get admission into core disciplines. However, as Nithila Kanagasabai points out in an unpublished Women’s Studies MPhil dissertation in 2016, which examines two such courses in two universities in Tamil Nadu, students of Women’s Studies in these universities are not just transformed by the subject but might in turn be seen as transforming Women’s Studies as feminist scholars who are organically located.

In March, this year, there was a scare when the UGC was unable to confirm until the very last minute whether funding committed to Women’s Study Centres under the XII plan would continue after the plan period ended. This threatened the positions of those faculty and staff appointed under the XII Plan. Eventually, the UGC has granted only a one-year extension to the faculty and staff under the XII plan positions so these remain precarious. The delay in extension was misreported by some publications as the imminent closure of women’s studies centres in some universities. This is far from reality. While funding cuts governed by a neo-liberal view of education are hitting all universities and certainly women’s studies will be affected as well, it is not so easy to shut down decades of work and politics.

There is no denying that the presence of Women’s Study Centres and the concomitant enshrining of feminism within the university – for when you have a Women’s Study centre in your university you must be a signatory to the politics of feminism in some form, even if it is a liberal version – it makes political right wing ideologues very nervous. For feminism in any shape or form is an anathema to them.

In 2003, the NDA government sought to rename Women’s Studies Centres in various universities as Women and Family Studies Centres as part of the Tenth Plan. This clearly was no innocuous move as Women’s Studies scholarship incorporates a stringent critique of patriarchal gender relations in the family. The change in nomenclature would have signified a shift in focus and was clearly an attempt to subvert feminist agendas.

Feminism challenges many assumptions that right wing ideologues hold dear: the gendered division of labour, the hierarchy between women and men, indeed the gender binary itself. If feminism via its Women’s Studies centres suggests to us that all who appear as men are not necessarily men and all those who were assigned sex female at birth might not want to live as women then anything is possible. This is deeply threatening to the present government.

This is precisely why we need women’s studies to not just survive but to thrive in our universities, because despite its problems it reminds us that gender is not something we are but something we do.

#GenderAnd — Rethinking how we cover gender in mainstream media. Click here to read about our new series. You can also help us find more such stories using #GenderAnd in your conversations.

Shilpa Phadke teaches at the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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  1. R
    rs
    Jun 15, 2017 at 8:26 pm
    A biased article. For every issue bringing right wing and painting it negatively. Gone are those days when it was viewed in that way. If funds are made available, this will continue like any other wing in colleges.
    Reply
    1. I
      IslamForFoools
      Jun 15, 2017 at 6:29 pm
      Leftist jihadi antinational traitors are paid coins to write against massive patriotic organization Rss here. Rss. will catapult India into modern era noike islam which not only takes any country back to barbarism of Stone Age but also physically destro it. All these leftists are nothing but Isis terrorists and only bullets can be answer
      Reply
      1. B
        bitterhoney
        Jun 16, 2017 at 4:50 am
        Watch the mother of barbarianism of all times of gau rakshaks on . Hindu barbarianism is the worst barbarianism. Rakshas, the most cruel humans, have always been there in Hindus.
        Reply
      2. I
        IslamForFoools
        Jun 15, 2017 at 6:24 pm
        amnesty international, human rights commissions, greepeace, religious freedom observant NGOs, feminists are often used as toools to oppose majority community in eastern nations by western evil nations. And traitors within our countries support he se things for money. Hinduism has greatest freedom for women , there ever is. So we don't need some puppet organizations whose agenda is to demonize Hindus and glorify. Islam, when everyone knows Islam suffocates and chokes women to death, may it be via 25 deliveries they have to go through for mohemmed, may it be not allowed to show face , may it be not allowed to talk to men, or literally may it be Islamic honor killings worldwide
        Reply
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          blackpower
          Jun 15, 2017 at 6:04 pm
          Dear Reader - this is all part of the saffron propaganda to take india back into the dark ages - women subservient to men lowcastes forced to do the bidding of the uppercastes (somethings never ever change) - DNA testing debunks the caste system completely and also the myth of the Aryan invasion. these saffronites do not possess a single intellectual in their midst, there has never been a single freedom fighter from the RSS who in fact supported the british. is this the india that you want - lowcaste tribal women washing the feet of uppercastes such as bhagwat and other saffronites who are devoid of any form of reason, logic? lowcaste women washing uppercaste feet - need one say more? - s: truthofgujarat /rss-want-women-become-baby-making-machines/womenwashingmohanbhagwatsfeet/
          Reply
          1. I
            IslamForFoools
            Jun 15, 2017 at 6:20 pm
            Isis terrorist of kuran origin spotted here
            Reply
          2. S
            Shyamal Ganguly
            Jun 15, 2017 at 4:48 pm
            Women are stronger than men by body - they can sustain more pain and give birth to us. Salutations to them. But women's brain function differently. Example: US Chess federation has less than 10 women members out of 80,000. I do not know about India.
            Reply
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              blackpower
              Jun 15, 2017 at 5:54 pm
              what is this supposed to mean? is chess your basis for declaring women inferior? a woman might say that your brain funcstions differently too - equality is the key - not the mindset of an MCP
              Reply
              1. I
                IslamForFoools
                Jun 15, 2017 at 6:25 pm
                Kuran terrorist spotted here
            2. U
              UrBrainless
              Jun 15, 2017 at 4:36 pm
              Really?? I never knew that any good work about women or children or minorities is done by a name and not by the policies implemented. This is a very illogical article without any substance. How does renaming a program equivalent to being afraid of it?? No really you did not explain that part at all. How does adding family to the program name make it anti-women and suppressing women's rights? Come on guys, you are educated, please do not insult your own knowledge and education by spewing such biased and brainless articles
              Reply
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                blackpower
                Jun 15, 2017 at 5:57 pm
                there are lots of things that you are not aware of - for example the earth is not flat. perhaps you will be able to get for us an eightarmed woman riding a tiger! keep writing more - for we all get to laugh at your drivel and your graduation from the nagpore school of RSS - rashtriya school of standup comedy
                Reply
              2. V
                vinay
                Jun 15, 2017 at 12:53 pm
                Why is the Govt threatened by women's studies at Universities ? Because sanghi morons are insecure about their own fragile masculinity , and they are scared of feminism and female empowerment .
                Reply
                1. U
                  UrBrainless
                  Jun 15, 2017 at 4:40 pm
                  sure because ur maculinity is not dependent on your courage and your ability to do the right thing. Your masculinity is totally based on writing such illogical comments sitting behind the veil of a computer. So of course your idea of sanghi masculinity has to be right. You are right, they are foolish to try and argue for a more equal and practical set of laws that actually help women. Unlike your pay masters at cong HQ who only do lipservice. If that makes Sanghi's lack masculinity then be it.
                  Reply
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                    blackpower
                    Jun 15, 2017 at 5:58 pm
                    mr brainless - facts speak for themselves - lowcaste women washing uppercaste feet - need one say more? - s: truthofgujarat /rss-want-women-become-baby-making-machines/womenwashingmohanbhagwatsfeet/
                2. R
                  Ram
                  Jun 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm
                  Another pseudo-liberal leftist with 'femnist' burqua! Otherwise better fight against triple talaq, polygamy etc. which are biggest issues affecting women of this nation which Modi govt also is fighting. No lefty ever want to do real women fight, as it will hurt their favored votebanks! ANy use of 'right' by these cazys show from where they are coming!
                  Reply
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                    Dalbir
                    Jun 15, 2017 at 1:56 pm
                    Oh so all that there is to do fro feminism is triple talak ? You chaddis are so unpad. No wonder Modi is a bachelor and Yogi is you know what. Modi could not even bring himself to act normal in front of Priyankas legs and with Megyn Kelly he was talking umbrella and told her that he was stalking her. He did not get the sophisticated hint when she asked the PM of India if he was on twitter. A polite way of saying get lost because Putin is more important. Now you know why we need more Women Studies departments. Keep Mohan Bhagwat out of this as he at least changed the half pant to a full pant. Less leg to see was his solution.
                    Reply
                    1. U
                      UrBrainless
                      Jun 15, 2017 at 4:41 pm
                      Dalbir I think these chaddi's are better than you chaddi less and clothes less people
                    2. B
                      blackpower
                      Jun 15, 2017 at 5:59 pm
                      ha ha ha ha ROFL ROFL ROFL - definitely graduated from the nagpore school of RSS - rashtriya school of standupcomedy
                      Reply
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