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In Session: Considering Gender in South Asia
4: Singing Songs, Scripting Selves: Notes on Women’s Orality and the Politics of Gender and Space
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Ashoka University, India
In rural north India, where while men claim the public life with an authority, women do so only under the veil. Patriarchy in these agrarian societies, especially in Haryana, is conditioned through colloquial sayings that attempt to define a man’s “masculinity” and a woman’s “character”, and seeps into much of the folklore. In the popular oral-performative traditions in these societies, women’s entry has largely been restricted, owing to the socio-cultural ideas of “shame”. They have been welcome, however, as singers of Raginis (songs), performing in front of an all-male audience, only to be celebrated and looked down upon simultaneously. In parallel — and in response too — Haryanvi women have been composing and singing their own highly expressive songs, for leisure and for specific occasions. Some of these songs have been confronted by “reformist” attempts in the past and now unfold in women-only spaces within the private boundaries. There is a certain power dynamic at play here between the public and the private oral expressions, the allowed and the restricted, which this paper attempts to trace and analyze in detail, identifying the politics of gender and space that govern it. Treating Haryanvi (literally ‘of Haryana’) as a single bhasha (language) and group to approach this study, this paper employs a close reading of selected songs and audio-visual materials from both settings to expose the contrast, contradictions, and possibilities embedded in women's expressions and spatial navigations. It also deliberates upon the “visibility” of these gendered expressions in the digital space.