Edited by a notable feminist scholar and political theorist, Nivedita Menon, Sexualities is the fifth volume belonging to a series Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism—archives of writing relating to gender issues in India—founded on the need for an overview of the considerable feminist writing available on a variety of issues.
Though feminism has addressed various issues about sexuality in terms of domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment at work place, sexual assaults of police and army, honour-killing, trafficking and many other quotidian forms of violence that women suffer by virtue of being a woman, this book focuses on transgressive and marginalised sexualities. Here one should not think of ‘sexuality’ as signifying a mere biological genitality but as connoting "a way of addressing sexual relations, their spheres of legitimacy and illegitimacy, through the institutions and practices, as well as the discourses and forms of representation, that have long been producing, framing, distributing and controlling the subject of ‘sex.’"
Addressing and charting complex and litigious issues in the arena of feminism and the shifts in the direction various feminist debates have gone, the writings are a major contribution to the global feminist theory. These selected writings—that have wielded a lot of influence on subsequent thought or denote a major trend contributing to a specific line of reasoning—cover a broad area characterised as ‘transgressive,’ whether in terms of normative sexual practices or in terms of scholastic disciplinary precincts. They highlight the transgression of norms of heterosexuality—of feminine and masculine behavior, gendered bodies—that declare unbridled desire to be illegitimate.
The first section, Counter-hegemonies, brings together papers on the politics of counter-heteronormativity in the context of feminist politics. Outing Heteronormativity:
Nation, Citizen, Feminist Disruptions by Nivedita Menon raises very apt and topical questions—Who can be said today to be the subject of something called feminist politics, if the identity of woman is no longer unproblematically available? Is the heterosexual patriarchal family the main source of political identities in the modern nation state? — exploring the alarming possibility of evolving a politics around lesbian, gay, trans and bisexual identities that seek accommodation within the nation. Arvind Narrain in Queer
Feminist Disruptions Struggles Around the Law: The Contemporary Context documents the struggle of the so-called queer groups against the law. The fraught relationship between transsexuals and feminist politics is explored in Complicating Gender: Rights of
Transsexuals in India by Ashwini Sukthankar. Lesbian ‘positionalities’ in Delhi in the 1980s is the focus of a study by Paola Bacchetta , while Heteronormativity in Educational Institutions by Tarun exposes how in the National Law School, Bangalore, heteronormativity was effectively dealt with by both students and staff.
The second section, Caste and Sexuality, contains a chapter from a book that discusses the specificity of the ways in which Vankar, Bhangi and Koli-Patel women of the Bhal region of Gujarat experience sexuality and motherhood (Marriage, Sexuality and Motherhood by Fernando Franco, Jyotsna Macwan and Suguna Ramanathan).
In the third section on Masculinities, Radhika Chopra’s Invisible Men: Masculinity, Sexuality and Male Domestic Labour discusses male domestic servants in South Asia who ‘work as women for women,’ often earning the title of ‘incomplete men’. Holi in Banaras and the Mahaland of Modernity is a study by Lawrence Cohen of the ‘secret literature’ that circulates in Banaras during Holi.
The fourth section, Pleasure and Desire, focuses on sexuality as desire, with articles on pleasure (Pleasure Me Safely, Can you? by Radhika Chandiramani), and a study of desire in a Malayali feminist writer, Lalitambika Antarjanam, On the Far Side of Memory with a translation of one of her short stories in Lust for Life: Desire in Lalitambika Antarjanam’s Writings by J. Devika. Female lust is exposed through a reading of songs in Lustful Women, Elusive Lovers: Identifying Males as Objects of Female Desire by Prem Chowdhry and the joys of drag in Drag King/Queen by Georgina Maddox.
The final section brings together a selection of campaign documents around issues of transgressive sexuality from feminist and counter-heteronormative movements in India. It contains a report on lesbian meeting, talks on issues like AIDS and sexuality, sexuality minorities’ fight against police atrocities, etc.
Raising seminal questions ranging from the viability of the ban on dance-bars—highlighting the contradictory stand of the society that on one hand talks of the ‘sexual exploitation’ of women working in bars and on the other accuses them of ‘morally corrupting’ the youth and society at large—to convincingly demanding the ‘reading down’ of Section 377 of the IPC; illustrating the necessity to prevent discrimination, abuse and criminalisation of sexuality minorities and the violation of human rights, and various other issues that demand immediate attention, makes reading this volume to be one of the most enriching and captivating experience.
It is indeed a spectacular feat of bringing together under one cover, invaluable feminist writings chosen from a bulk of scattered journals, documents, books, pamphlets, manifestoes, speeches, and official documents. These would definitely serve the need of research scholars, sociologists, teachers and students in women studies and activists.