About the Book
In 1999, the West Bengal Commission for Women was entrusted by the state government to explore the social and human problem of destitute Bengali women, mostly widows, eking out a fragile existence in the ancient pilgrim-town of Brindaban in Uttar Pradesh. The Report prepared by the Committee set up for this purpose, of which the author was a member, forms the core of this book. However, the author has added to it important historical and analytical material that throws new light not only on the identities of the women who have migrated to Brindaban, but also on the reasons for and factors governing their migration. The book traces the origins of religious pilgrimage from Nabadwip of medieval Bengal to Brindaban, propelled by the popularity of the Vaishnava cult, as well as charts its metamorphosis into the NRI-sponsored pilgrim tourism of today, in the context of globalization. It describes the social vulnerabilities affecting women in different circumstances that led them to seek a life of piety such that the devotional ambience of the women of Brindaban, in their collectivity as ‘mais’, is forever ruptured and individual faces with specific histories show up within the uniform narrative of faith. The author argues that by participating in temple rituals, the women not only enhanced their own piety or fulfilled their material needs but contributed to the reproduction of faith, in fact to keeping the whole system of institutionalized worship in operation. With globalization, however, the position of the women in the temple economy has perforce become uncertain. The image of women devotees carrying the banner of the supreme glory of Hindu nationalists not only for promoting faith as the traditional way of life, but also for demanding that religion be defended by muscle power creating ground for communal violence. But this iconic representation completely masks the actual struggles of the women to formulate their own subjectivity in the face of heavy odds.
About the Author
Malini Bhattacharya was a Professor of English and Director of the School of Women’s Studies at Jadavpur University till her retirement in 2003. She was a Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, from 1989 to 1996. She was also Member, West Bengal Commission for Women (WBCW) from 1998 to 2004 and Member, National Commission for Women (NCW) from 2005 to 2008. She is currently Chairperson of the WBCW. She has written and published plays and songs on women’s issues in Bengali, and has editedanthologies of short stories of Manik Bandyopadhyay and Somen Chanda in English translation, apart from editing a collection of articles Globalisation: Perspectives in Women’s Studies. Her other areas of interest and research include the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), folk culture, women and media.