21H.575J | Fall 2006 | Undergraduate

Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description and Goals

This course is designed to introduce and help students understand the changes and continuities in the lives of women in South Asia from a historical perspective. Using gender as a lens of examining the past, we will examine how politics of race, class, caste and religion affected and continue to impact women in South Asian countries, primarily in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We will reflect upon current debates within South Asian women’s history in order to examine some of the issues and problems that arise in re-writing the past from a gendered perspective.

The chronological focus of this course is on the condition of women in the subcontinent from the 1800s till the present day. Students are required to have some knowledge about South Asia. However it is not a necessary pre-requisite and I will suggest some basic texts to provide those with no previous courses on South Asia. To help us evaluate the different historical and temporal experiences of South Asian women, this course will extensively use primary documents, secondary readings, films, and contemporary newspaper and Internet articles. Students will be required to actively engage and participate in class discussions and group debates, which will form a substantial part of individual evaluations.

Course Requirements and Grading

Two short essays (20% each) 40%
Research paper and presentation 30%
Internet assignment 10%
Class participation 20%

Please see assignments for more detailed descriptions of the above.

Class Participation and Preparation

Attendance in class is mandatory. Only legitimate excuses supported by evidence will be entertained.

The two classes per week will involve lectures and scheduled and unscheduled discussions and debates. You are required to read the assigned pages of the textbook and the primary and secondary readings before you come to class. Students are required to participate in discussions. There are no wrong answers as long as you support your dialogue with evidence from your readings or general knowledge on the topic.

Late Submission Policy

Students are required to submit papers on time. Late submission will result in lowering of grades. This will be calculated in the following way:

  • One-day late means 1 grade lower. E.g. An A- paper will become a B+ paper.
  • Two days late means 2 grades lower. E.g. An A- paper becomes a B paper.
  • A paper, which is four or more days late, will be given an instant F.

Academic Dishonesty

Students should familiarize themselves with the Student Code of the University and its sections on academic dishonesty, especially on plagiarism. Plagiarism, which is the unacknowledged use of the ideas or works of another on a paper, will result in an F grade for the paper. Cheating on an examination will result in an F grade for the course and the notification of the Dean of the student’s college.


1. Introduction: Studying women in cross cultural perspective
1 Writing South Asian women’s history  
2 India: The historical and social context  
3 Library tour  
2. Prescriptive literature and gendered roles
4 Women as mothers, daughters, and daughters in law  
5 Wives, courtesans and concubines Sign up for individual meetings
6 Divinities and devotees  
3. Defining Indian women in the 19th century
7 Defining women: Social reforms  
8 Comparison between men and women in the 19th century

Class discussion on Comparison Between Men and Women

Individual meetings to report on research progress due one day after Ses #8

9 Reforms in education and religion Critical essay on Comparison Between Men and Women due
10 Gender and law in colonial India  
4. Becoming “mothers” of the nation
11 The good wife and mother  
12 Inside out: Andarmahal, harem and political participation  
13 Women’s work and working women  
5. Empowering women: Gandhi, birth control and the franchise
14 Gandhi and women  
15 Birth control and public health  
16 Organizations and activism in colonial India Individual meetings to report on research progress due two days after Ses #16
6. Identities and social realities in post-1947 South Asia
17 Partitioned nations, partitioned bodies Class discussion on The River Churning
18 Campaigns against dowry, rape and sati  
19 Personal law vs. uniform civil code Critical essay on The River Churning due
7. Women and their nations
20 Era of women leader  
21 Dangerous liaisons: Religious fundamentalisms Internet assignment due
22 Iconic representations: Sexuality and gender in popular culture  
8. Tracking progress: South Asian women in the 21st century
23 Student presentations  
24 Contemporary debates on feminism  
25 Globalization and South Asian women  
26 Conclusions Final research paper due one day after Ses #26

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006