Debating Women’s Health: Reflections in Popular Hindi Print-culture in Colonial India, XIXth-XXth century

This paper tries to delineate the intervention of ‘educated section’ of colonial India with western medicine, scientific knowledge about reproduction, reproductive organs and mechanical means of contraception the manner in which it was discussed in the public sphere. In this context this study explores the way women have been represented, shown or projected in the twentieth century in popular Hindi print culture. It further shows how scientific knowledge about reproduction was invoked in public? What were the debates about norms of marriage, procreation and pleasure? For this purpose this paper examines contemporary Hindi literature, medical tracts published in Hindi and advertisements of contraceptives and aphrodisiacs placed in Hindi newspapers and journals. It argues that this intervention generated a rich corpus of medical tracts in Hindi which familiarize the scientific notion about body, sex and reproduction among ‘the masses’ or those within the broad circumference of a reading public. This paper further shows how multiplicity and complexity of social interaction and encounter in forms of advertisements reinforces caste, patriarchy, gender and communal identities. Nevertheless, their main concern was only about a healthy male progeny and man’s pleasure thus marginalising woman’s health and pleasure. The ‘educated section’, in their engagement at various levels sought a new pedagogical role in public life by disseminating this knowledge in paternalistic form to women and married couples. However their primary agenda was to build a ‘strong’, ‘virile’ and ‘masculine’ nation. Women were expected to be ‘good’ wives and mothers, and reproduce/nourish healthy male children for this nation. However, ironically they were clearly outside the boundary of this ‘masculine’ nation. On the basis of our exploration one can perhaps argue that the tracts and the debates opened issues related to sex/sexual pleasure and sexuality to the public domain.

Madhuri Sharma is a Fellow at Nehru Memorial, Museum & Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi, working on a project titled Media, Medicine and Society in North India, c-1900-2000. She completed her doctoral research on colonial medicine in 2007 from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has taught history in some colleges at the University of Delhi and was a Visiting fellow of the British Academy in the Department of History, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in 2007-08. India’s premier body of historian’s Indian History Congress has awarded twice best paper prize to two of her papers in 2003 and 2006. One of her papers titled Universal Panacea: Reflections on Health in Hindi Print Media was awarded an International Outstanding Essay Prize at the Third Conference of the Asian Society for History of Medicine held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in November 2006.

Contesting Pahari Conjugality in the Western Himalayas: Sexuality, Colonialism and the Question of Inheritance

The historiography of social reform in colonial India continues to be influenced by the dominant language of critique of the lived lives of the natives. In the context of western Himalayan region, the hilly areas of colonial Punjab, this early twentieth century debate was largely influenced by the discourse of migrants who came to settle in Shimla, the summer capital of British Empire in India, in the late nineteenth century. The contestations of a local custom of reet, which defined varied aspects of Pahari conjugality, were central to the debates of these reformers who sought to abolish this custom through legislation. But the nature of relationship between the colonial state and the native chiefs of several hill states and the inherent diversity and exclusivity of several regions in these Pahari areas altered the language of rhetoric against reet and evoked an interesting counter-discourse on sexuality, labour, freedom, reform, inheritance and colonialism.

This paper is an attempt to foreground a historiography ‘with characteristic emphasis: first on the variety of idioms, or “languages” as they came to be known, in which political argument might be conducted and second, on the participants in political argument as historical actors, responding to one another in a diversity of linguistic and other political and historical contexts that gave the recoverable history of their argument a very rich texture.’ The argument is divided into several parts and shall evolve a discussion on the notion of reform, Pahari landscape and its relationship with conjugality and sexuality, and colonial anxiety with the question of inheritance and social reform.

Yogesh Snehi Yogesh Snehi teaches history at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). He has been engaging with critical debates on the Punjab region and has published research, organised workshops and conducted surveys on themes related to diversity, sexuality, region formation, identity and communalism, piety and orality at popular sufi shrines and social reform in colonial Punjab. Snehi is jointly editing a book ‘Modernity and Changing Social Fabric of Punjab and Haryana’ with Indian Institute of Advanced, Shimla. Through a Tasveer Ghar fellowship, he has also created a digital repository of images that are in circulation at popular sufi shrines in contemporary Punjab.

Écrit sur le corps : femmes et genre dans l’affaire Maria Hertogh (1950)

En 1950, le mariage d’une Néerlandaise de 13 ans avec un Malais de 22 ans dans la colonie britannique de Singapour scandalise les deux métropoles. Nommée « fille de la jungle », sa revendication par sa famille catholique hollandaise et sa mère adoptive musulmane malaise déclenche une controverse sans précédent. Par ailleurs, ce « mariage d’enfant » inspire à un Britannique de proposer une loi reculant l’âge du mariage. Cette proposition soulève l’intérêt du public pour les questions du bien-être de l’enfant, de la modernité et de la colonisation. Ces deux événements provoquent à Singapour la manifestation la plus sanglante – les émeutes de 1950. Mon travail retrace l’histoire de cette fille piégée entre deux puissances coloniales et le monde indigène à l’aube de l’ère post-coloniale en Asie du Sud-Est. J’analyse dans une perspective « trans-coloniale » la représentation et la revendication de cette fille afin de montrer les enjeux et les motivations des deux puissances européennes différentes. De plus, cette communication explore l’existence d’un espace public indigène et la naissance d’un mouvement féministe à Singapour – les exemples de l’autogestion des « gens ordinaires » – au travers d’une analyse de la controverse sur le mariage d’enfant. Situé au croisement de l’histoire de la sexualité, du corps et du colonialisme dans la situation critique à la sortie de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, ce travail a pour but d’aborder l’importance du genre dans le contexte colonial.

Christina Wu est une étudiante de Laura Lee Downs à l’EHESS. Elle est l’auteur de “Under the Skin: Colonial-Local Anxieties of the Domestic Realm in the Maria Hertogh Controversy”, dans Monograph in Honour of Mubin Sheppard, Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS), à paraître.