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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Syncretic socialism in post-colonial West Bengal : mobilizing and disciplining women for a ‘sustha’ nation-state Datta, Anisha


The discourse of equality, emancipation and dignity for women does not necessarily lead to the formation of an emancipated female subject, but often ends up supporting structures and practices against which the struggle was begun. The thesis develops this argument through a close reading of the textual discourse of the socialist women’s mass organization, the Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Mahilaa Samity (PBGMS). The PBGMS is the largest state unit of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which in turn is affiliated with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the largest communist party in India. While the PBGMS relentlessly fights for women’s rights in public life, an examination of its published materials suggests that its ultimate aim to create a sustha (normal) nation-state, a cohesive society and a happy family turn these rights into new shackles for women. In particular, through a close reading of its publications – including pedagogical booklets, editorials, essays, poems, travelogues and fictional narratives from the periodical Eksathe – the thesis explores how the PBGMS views women instrumentally as reproductive and socializing agents for the supply of future sources of productive labor and as productive beings to act as a reserve force of labor. While comparisons can be made with other countries in the socialist world, in particular China and the USSR, this thesis focuses on PBGMS textual discourse within the specific social and political history of India, in particular Bengal. Through its selective appropriation and use of ideologies from both traditional cultural resources and modern political philosophies, the organization produces a ‘syncretic’ variety of socialism. In particular, by discursively unifying diverse beliefs and tenets the organization ironically produces a narrow nation-state centred orthodoxy rather than a dynamic heterodoxy and pluralism. This research attempts to answer the question: In what ways does the textual discourse of this communist party affiliated women’s mass organization, in pursuit of building a sustha socialist nation-state, attempt to discipline the political constituency of women? Although the political party and its mass organization aim to mobilize women by appealing to their equality and emancipation, this mobilization also seeks to constrain women’s subjectivity and curtail the scope of their emancipation.

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