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The white woman in colonial India, c. 1820–1930
Author: Indrani Sen

This book explores colonial gendered interactions, with a special focus on the white woman in colonial India. It examines missionary and memsahibs' colonial writings, probing their construction of Indian women of different classes and regions, such as zenana women, peasants, ayahs and wet-nurses. The three groups of white women focused upon are memsahibs, missionaries and, to a certain extent, ordinary soldiers' wives. Among white women in colonial India, it was the female missionaries who undoubtedly participated most closely in the colonial 'civilising mission'. The book addresses through a scrutiny of the literary works written by 'New Indian Women', such as Flora Annie Steel. Cross-racial gendered interactions were inflected by regional diversities, and the complexity of the category of the 'native woman'. The colonial household was a site of tension, and 'the anxieties of colonial rule manifest themselves most clearly in the home'. The dynamics of the memsahib-ayah relationship were rooted in race/class hierarchies, domestic power structures and predicated on the superiority of the colonising memsahib. The book also examines colonial medical texts, scrutinising how they wielded authoritative power over vulnerable young European women through the power/knowledge of their medical directives. Colonial discourse sought to project the white woman's vulnerability to specific mental health problems, as well as the problem of addiction of 'barrack wives'. Giving voice to the Indian woman, the book scrutinises the fiction of the first generation of western-educated Indian women who wrote in English, exploring their construction of white women and their negotiations with colonial modernities.

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Indrani Sen

This book explores colonial gendered interactions, with a special focus on the white woman in colonial India. It examines a wide range of both literary and non-literary colonial narratives which offer a rich site for studying constructions of inter-racial interactions as well as gender representations against a grid of colonial transactions. The book also examines missionary writings, their delineation of zenana education visitations, their construction of the oppressed purdah woman, as well as their projection of the zenana as a site of disease, ignorance and idleness. It focuses on narratives which underline the disadvantaged position of the white woman in India. The book seeks to unravel the gender politics that undergirded colonial medical handbooks which were authored mostly by male colonial physicians. This book focuses on yet another aspect of female health in the colony, namely mental health.

in Gendered transactions
Zenana encounters in nineteenth-century Bengal
Indrani Sen

Among white women in colonial India, it was the female missionaries who undoubtedly participated most closely in the colonial 'civilising mission'. This chapter examines the role of European female evangelicals in their zenana encounters in colonial Bengal. It looks at representations of zenana visitation in missionary writings as a cross-cultural encounter, examining the type of female education and proselytising that was adopted. In pursuit of their 'civilising mission', missionaries entered the zenanas and turned a critical 'colonial gaze' upon their inhabitants, representing them in their prolific writings as abject and oppressed, and reinforcing negative colonial constructions about them. The chapter focuses on two 'missionary novels': Hannah Catherine Mullens' Faith and Victory: A Story of the Progress of Christianity in Bengal and Mary Leslie's The Dawn of Light: A Story of the Zenana Mission.

in Gendered transactions
The white woman’s health issues in colonial medical writings
Indrani Sen

From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards and up till the early years of the twentieth century, there appeared a growing spate of medical handbooks and manuals, authored by India-based colonial physicians. This chapter examines the construction of gender in the colonial medical texts, scrutinising how they wielded authoritative power over vulnerable young European women in the colonies through the power/knowledge of their medical directives. In medical discourse, European memsahibs were subjected by their male compatriots to a gendered, medical gaze that was often critical and disparaging. White women's physical unfitness to live in the tropical colonies was always a subject of avid debate in medical handbooks, and much of the focus was on the impact of climate on their reproductive health. Gender politics was also played out in the sphere of clothing and climate in medical discourse.

in Gendered transactions
Colonial encounters in Indian women’s English writings in late nineteenth-century western India
Indrani Sen

This chapter presents a scrutiny of the literary works written in English in the late nineteenth century by two educated Indian Christian women of Brahmin origin. These literary works are Ratanbai: A Sketch of a Bombay High Caste Hindu Young Wife written by Shevantibai Nikambe and Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life written by Krupabai Satthianadhan. The novel by Shevantibai projects the social reform issue of the oppression of high-caste Hindu widows, which had become by the second half of the nineteenth century a widely discussed subject. Colonial India in the late nineteenth century saw the gradual emergence of the first generation of western-educated Indian women. Satthianadhan's Saguna takes a radical stand in its critique of patriarchal practices prevalent in Hindu society. Saguna suggests that Christianity provides a 'modernising' and liberating solution to gender oppression, while at the same time raising questions about the Indian Christian's identity.

in Gendered transactions
Indrani Sen

This chapter focuses on Flora Annie Steel's fictional representations of gendered problems in both rural as well as small-town Punjab. It discusses her representations of the devaluation of women among the agricultural community and examines her representations of girls' schooling in small-town Punjab, including the role played by European female evangelicals. Through these, the chapter explores the ambivalences in Steel's perspective on social reform. As an education officer, Steel felt that the provincial Punjab government needed to systematise female education, control expenditure and increase enrolment. Female education formed an important plank of colonial gender reform in Punjab in the nineteenth century. By focusing upon her critique of missionaries and their methods, the chapter draw outs the complexities within the 'civilising mission'. The chapter reveals how far from being a unified enterprise, it was undercut by internal tensions, divisions and contradictions within the white community in India.

in Gendered transactions
Memsahibs, ayahs and wet-nurses
Indrani Sen

Colonial writings in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries projected the colonial home as a microcosm of the empire. The memsahibs at the head of a large retinue of household servants reproduced the power relations characteristic of imperial administration. In particular, it was the complex location of two female servants inside this household, namely, the ayah and the wet-nurse, which frequently evoked colonial anxieties. Most memsahibs' preoccupations were quite cut off from any concern with issues such as gendered social reform. An important aspect of memsahibs' experience of colonial India was the setting up of an English-style home in India. For European infants, 'native' ayahs were considered the best option, and in many colonial households the ayah virtually played the role of a surrogate mother. The dynamics of the memsahib-ayah relationship was a complicated one. The greatest sense of colonial insecurity for the memsahib, however, came from 'native' wet-nurses.

in Gendered transactions
Abstract only
Indrani Sen

The book explores diverse aspects related to the white woman's experience of colonialism in India during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. One of its central concerns and areas of inquiry was the sphere of gendered transactions across the race divide. In the colonial imaginary, the 'native' woman tended to be simplified into the monolithic figure of the 'oppressed zenana woman', but our readings of various encounters brought out instead the complexities among 'native' women from various regions. The book demonstrates how the colonial 'medical gaze' served to reinforce colonial patriarchies. It also explores the white woman's race, class and gender interactions in colonial India. The book discusses a range of inter-related issues which emanate from the central locus of the European woman's contradictory position/location in the colony.

in Gendered transactions
European women’s mental health and addiction in the late nineteenth century
Indrani Sen

Colonial discourse, including colonial medical writings, sought to project the white woman's vulnerability to specific mental health problems. This chapter explores some aspects of European female mental disorder in colonial India, with a focus on neurasthenia. It examines some of the medical approaches to female mental health in nineteenth-century Britain, in order to situate the contemporary gendering of madness in the metropole. The chapter also examines the issue of gendered mental health problems, exploring their perceived linkages with diverse factors such as hot climates, cultural alienation, loneliness and a hectic social life. It explores the condition called 'delirium tremens' among barrack wives which was related to alcohol addiction and could be life-threatening. The chapter concludes with a brief examination of the histories of a few white soldiers' wives, who were admitted to lunatic asylums in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

in Gendered transactions