Men and Women in the Subaltern Literatures of India: An Observation

By Krishna Priya

"Subaltern Studies" acquired popularity in the latter half of the 20th century. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist scholar, coined the term "subaltern" in the meaning of "inferior rank, defining those members of the working class in the Soviet Union who were subject to the hegemony of the ruling class. The term "gender subalternity" was used by the "subaltern study group" to refer to the pervasive gender inequality in society which is a modern research that depicts women as being suppressed by both social and gender domination. With Gayatri Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" the term "Subaltern" became increasingly well-known and widespread (1985). Gayatri Spivak, an Indian literary critic and practical Marxist feminist, focuses on some of the issues facing women in the developing world in her essay. According to her, the Subaltern as a female is even more thoroughly shrouded in shadow because they lack a history and are unable to communicate in the framework of colonial production. According to Spivak, subaltern women experience more oppression than subaltern men; they lack adequate representation and cannot express their opinions. The history of women's struggle and oppression in third-world nations is reflected in Spivak's writings. The third world nations have never spoken about or explored these issues. Female subalterns have vanished from society, as Spivak laments in agony. In his essay on Spivak, Robert J. C. Young notes that the patriarchal and imperial discourse is where the subaltern woman finds her identity.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Regardless of the time period to which they belong, the orthodox, conservative, tradition-bound, and bigoted Indian culture has always viewed women as inferior and incapable of any meaningful thinking or action. Through language and literature, perception and sex stereotyping are presented in largely the same way. Women have frequently been portrayed in literary works as the "Subaltern," the "Other," and consequently as the ostracised, the hushed, and the downtrodden. The depiction of female characters such as Draupadi, Kunthi, and Sita in the Indian epics sheds light on the patriarchal system and indicates how society views women. Early works by Babani Bhattacharya, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, and others show the significance of this portrayal. As De Beauvoir observes “…She is not regarded as an autonomous being. She is defined and differentiated with reference to men…. She is called the sex…He is the subject. He is the absolute, She is the other.”

Particularly in Premchand's works like "Two Graves," "The Farce of Brahm," "A Winter Night," "The Co-wife," "Newly Weds," and "The Shroud," we can see the disparity. The oppression of women in these stories is rooted in socioeconomic, political, religious, and cultural prejudice. In the short story "Two Graves," the author metaphorically depicts the grave of Zuhra and Sulochana, a mother and daughter who battled throughout life to maintain their social identity. Similar to this, the primary female character in the novel, Vrinda, discusses the Hindu patriarchal socioeconomic and religious background in the short story "Farce of Brahm." It is important to look at the subjugation of women in Indian society from the socio-religious context. The predicament of Bhangi women, who are thought to have the lowest social rank in Bengal, is depicted in the story "The Price of Milk." In a similar vein, "The Shroud" is a story that focuses on the oppression of women from low socioeconomic origins due to patriarchal attitudes. The main female protagonists in each of these tales have been critically analysed from the standpoint of gendered subalternity, demonstrating that they are the victims of deprivation, patriarchal dominance, dominance, and other social and cultural institutions. These are testimonies of the triple marginalisation of gender, economic status, and race as well as the vicious loop of marginalisation from which they are unable to escape. The patriarchal mindset frequently strengthens an existing exploitation structure. Within the framework of patriarchal dominance, gender equations take on dangerous dimensions. According to Juliet Michell, ideology is used to perpetuate patriarchy, which she regards as a dominant characteristic with cultural roots. It is sustained via a process that involves the cultural construction of subjectivity. It is possible to view gendered subjectivity as being ideologically formed, ensuring the perpetuation of dominated femininity and dominating masculinity. A collection of organised power structures, with the man or his supporting mechanism occupying the primary positions, is known as patriarchy and is more than just an ideology.

Mahasweta Devi

In her satirical commentary, "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern: Mahasweta Devi's Stanadyini," Spivak discusses the idea of gender subaltern and gave examples. She claims that women's subjectivity and voice are suppressed due to men's desires. A woman is reduced to the object of the male's desire whether she is viewed from above just as the sexual object or from below as the goddess. She draws attention to the similarities between Jashoda the subaltern and Jashoda the divine in the essay. In reality, the exploitation of Jashoda the subaltern is dissimulated by the image of Jashoda the divine. The male perception is that a woman should constantly be willing to sacrifice herself so that she can fulfil his expectations. In reality, males merely use the stare from below as a cover for the oppression they inflict on their female counterparts through the gaze from above. Spivak states: “Through a programmed confounding of the two kinds of gaze, the goddess can be used to dissimulate women’s oppression” (129).

Even now, "local" women are seen as the quietest and most subservient. Partha Chatterjee drew attention to the fact that casteism, which is firmly ingrained in Hindu religious doctrine, is the primary force driving relationships between men and women among the underclass. The gendered subalterns are destined to lead terribly unpleasant lives as a result of their naïve faith in religious dogmas and their false pride in possessing higher rank based on their religious convictions. Women in communities where gender is oppressed are forced to take the brunt of male violence in the home and society. Within their families and society at large, they are compelled to suffer as victims of male dominance, suppression, oppression, and exploitation.

In the same way as indigenous elite class members and bourgeois nationalists did, the underclass participated in the anti-imperialist uprising. However, the imperialist and bourgeois nationalism historiography simply ignored their contribution. Like subaltern rebels who actively participated in anti-imperialist insurgencies, subaltern women too went unnoticed despite their potential and contributions. There is a complicit self-representation of Western women as educated, contemporary, in charge of their bodies and sexualities, and free to make their own decisions in Premchand's short story "Two Graves." They obviously differ significantly from the other subaltern women in the narrative and embody the educated modern woman who is capable of exercising control over her body, sexuality, and freedom. They are forced to stand in for the normal woman who leads a life that is effectively shortened due to her femininity and the third-world woman; the uninformed, impoverished, domesticated, family-oriented, and victimised woman.

In the narrative "Newly Weds" In the subaltern community, gender discrimination is one of the main reasons why women suffer, according to Premchand. Lala Dangamal, the protagonist of the tale, is the archetype of masculine superiority, while his two wives, Leela and Asha, stand for feminine inferiority. Lala's merchant heart becomes a commodity that can be easily controlled, sold with worldly items and physical attractiveness, while a sense of male supremacy consumes him to his own agony. Instead of being guided by his logical ideals of humanity and morality, Lala is only motivated by his intuitive sensations and emotions.

Feminist critics object to identity-based groups using essentialist techniques when they lead to the naturalisation of essential categories or when they describe a group as an undivided whole. These opponents contend that the gaps between patriarchal, economic, and racial oppression have never been easy to close and that Indian women's divergent political interests still exist today. They contend that 'subaltern' operated quite differently for men and women and that any understanding of an oppressed subaltern must take into account the double suppression that happened when women were subject to both general discrimination as subaltern subjects and special discrimination. Even now, "local" women are seen as the quietest and most subservient. The majority of the female characters in the aforementioned stories were found to be gender subalterns through an overall textual analysis of the stories. These stories explore the problems of superstition, ignorance, poverty, and deprivation in patriarchy and orthodox religion as the defining traits of gendered subaltern that are frequently concealed by the palimpsest of backward communities.

Other works by Krishna Priya