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GENDER IN THE CONTEXT OF CULTURE OF INDIA

Shri Navin Patnaik at the Valedictory of the conference

The cross-cultural interdisciplinary International Seminar "Shaktika on the Ascent : Reframing Gender in the context of Culture of India" organized in collaboration with the Department of Sociology Utkal University, Bubaneshwar took place between 19th to 22nd of March 2003.  The conference brought together an eminent galaxy of participants from India dn abroad: Dr. Vasudha Narayanan, past President, American Academy of Religion, USA; Dr. Elinor Gadon, Brandies University, USA, Dr. Kathleen M. Erndl, Florida State University; Dr. Julia Thompson, Mount Holyoke College Massachusetts, USA; Dr. Dianne Jenett Sonoma State University, California; Dr. Brenda Dobia University of Western Sydney, Australia, Presentations by Dr. Fredrique Marglin,  Smith College, Cambridge Mass.  USA Dr. Priya Kapoor, Portland State University were read in absentia.  prof. Durre Ahmed, Lahore University, was a special invitee.  The Indian scholars included Dr. Ratna Basu, Jadavpur University, Dr. Minati Kar, Vishva Bharati Univesity, Shantiniketan; Dr. Rita Ray, Utkal University; Dr. Nilima Chitgopekar, Delhi University; Dr. Deepti Priya Mahrotra, Director, Sampurana, Janet Chawla, Director, Matrika and Dr. Madhu Khanna from the IGNCA.
 

A dance presentation on Shakti at the Conference

 

The seminar was graced by the participation of tribal activist Tulsi Munda from Orissa and two renowned writers Dr. Indira Goswami and Dr. Pratibha Ray, both recipients of the Bharitya Janapith Awards.

The seminar was inaugurated on 20th March, 2003 at the PG Council Conference Hall, Utkal University by Shri M.M. Rajendran, Honorable Governor of Orissa.  The welcome address was given by the acting Vice Chancellor Shri Mahapatra, Dr. Madhu Khanna, seminar Director and Co-convener gave her inaugural introducing stating that the purpose of the seminar was to question the current ideologies on the interpretation of gender in India. In recent years most studies have viewed the gender question from a Marxist - or socio-economic stance.  Little attention has been paid to the understanding of gender issues from a religious and/or cultural point of view.  While the hegemony of patriarchy in all aspects of women's lives has been accepted, recent research has suggested that despite the constraints imposed by the male dominated society, there are areas where a woman can negotiate the social construct of her gendered role and is thereby empowered.  The goal of this seminar was to consider culture as power, and as a critical resource for women's empowerment.  Contemporary feminists in India locate their research within the paradigm of Western perspective that is rooted in the hegemonic materialistic discourse of the West.  Most Indian feminist writers have consigned cultural resources - such as ancient religious scriptures, texts and powerful feminine symbols, myths and legends, grassroots traditions - into the trash heap of history.  All too often these resources have been looked at from an alien perspective and have suffered from the onslaught of the reductive theoretical positions that modernity adopts to view ancient and traditional cultures and societies.  The objective was to challenge this narrow approach and to enlarge the discourse on gender issues, to go beyond its negative approach to traditional Indian culture, and revalidate those symbols and values that will empower women and rebalance society.  The Seminar sessions included: (i) Scriptural Texts and Oral History, (ii) Symbol, image and Ritual, (iii) Creative Expressions, (iv) Deconstructing and Reconstructing Social Contexts, and an Inter-cultural Dialogue.

The valedictory function took place on the 23rd of March at Utkal University.  The function was presided over by Shree Navin Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa.

All the participants were of the view that if cultural resources are taken seriously a new wave of feminism can sweep India.  Further, it was proposed that IGNCA should be the nodal body for initiating a cell on Gender, Culture and Civilization as part of their future programmes.

 

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