ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Histories of Love and Revolution

Revolutionary Desires: Women, Communism, and Feminism in India by Ania Loomba, Routledge, Special Indian Edition, 2019; pp 321 + ix, ₹ 555.


How far we have travelled from 1984, the year when the Indian Association for Women’s Studies met in Thiruvananthapuram! The members of the Stree Shakti Sanghatana from Hyderabad first unveiled what would become their path-breaking oral history of women who had participated in the Telangana movement, between 1946 and 1951. At least one ardent supporter of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) publicly dismissed the effort of the collective in speaking of “that magic time,” which offered women in the (then undivided) party a vision of a new tomorrow—only to betray them when the movement was crushed. It was then too disturbing to admit that the personal, the sexual, or the domestic, were as crucial to a feminist political subjecthood as structures of economic exploitation. It was too risky to admit that the party too was ­patriarchal, that those very rebels who had taught women defiance of feudal and capitalist structures (as well as familial ones) would fail them, dashing all hopes of resetting private/personal relations, either within or beyond the party. One might say that most party cardholders or sympathisers (including women) were wary of, if not hostile towards, the term “feminist.”

Since that groundbreaking volume of life stories of women in the Telangana movement, ‘We Were Making History’: Women and the Telangana Uprising (WWMH) we have had other feminist writers uncovering the “public secrets” of revolutionary movements. Srila Roy’s (2012) Remembering Revolution: Gender, Violence, and Subjectivity in India’s Naxalbari Movement revisited both the exhilarating and dark moments of the Naxalbari movement for its women. Then Kavita Panjabi’s (2016) Unclaimed Harvest: An Oral History of the Tebhaga Women’s Movement in fact claimed Tebhaga as a feminist historical legacy, embracing its contradictory fullness, with women building political solidarities and comradeship, but also ties of affect, love, and desire across class, caste and ethnic divides, in startlingly new ways. Both these works continued what the WWMH had begun—and emphasised that a political history is also a history of affect. Unlike the historical works that had long acknowledged women’s participation in the defining moments of revolutionary activism, a feminist recovery of these legacies involved tracking the complex and often contradictory intersections at which women came of political age, to reveal their heroic femininity (since not all women political activists were feminists).

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