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

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Retrieving the Role and Contribution of Women in State Formation

An Empire of Touch: Women’s Political Labor and the Fabrication of East Bengal by Poulomi Saha, New York: Columbia Asia Press, 2019; pp 319, `699, (paperback).

Poulomi Saha proffers a scholarly treatise which eloquently pens an account of the political labour of the women of East Bengal. An Empire of Touch: Women’s Political Labor and the Fabrication of East Bengal asserts that women have manifested their desires in their own terms through writing, in political acti­ons, and also in stitching. Through her arguments, Saha tried to explain not just what a body is capable of doing or creating, but the host of social relations and somatic practices that communicate by the way of touch. The author drifts from the familiar trend of historical nati­onalist iconography of Bango/Bha­rat Mata and focuses on “unconventional” feminine subjects like virgins, spinsters, childless, widows, unwed mothers and factory workers. The voices of these women have been relegated to the peri­phery, which Saha tried to emancipate through her commendable scholarly ende­avour. The author also attempts to showcase the role of women’s labour in the journey of the state-building endeavours of three countries, namely India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. However, she explains a methodological dilemma of postcolonial studies where, despite the centrality of women’s labour in the anti-colonial protest and postcolonial state building, there is a conspicuous silence about the role of women in this framework. Resulting to the stern demarcation between the outer masculine worlds of politics in general and veiled feminine world of culture, the domestic life of kinship, feminised East Bengal and women’s participation in political labour are virtually omitted. The book intervenes in this sphere and tries to retrieve the role and contribution of women in state formation.

Unearthing the narratives of literary texts, archival documents, and other historical and contemporary sources, Saha brought to light the history of East Bengal that later transitioned to Pakistan and finally became the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Postcolonial studies exerted substantial influence on Saha’s work. However, she contemplated the aspect of postcolonial studies, such as the absence of the depiction of the Muslim experience and the domineering use of development. Saha’s work asserts the limitations of archives, and in order to do justice to her research work, she borrowed facts extensively from autobio­graphies, historians, literatures, songs, performances, religious tracts, and other historical as well as cultural artefacts. In order to justify that women’s desire is “potent, legible, political force in East Bengal” (Saha 2019), the author has amalgamated objects, bodies which manifests a holistic history of the women’s struggle, in the aforementioned place.

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Updated On : 19th Jun, 2022
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