The Politicized Indian Woman: India's Agendas on Women's Education

Sabeena Mathayas, University of St. Thomas

Abstract

As development and humanitarian agencies frame the education and empowerment of women and girls as the cornerstone of sustainable development; the rise of a new generation of transnational feminist scholarship and advocacy, is consolidating attention and policy commitments toward critical perspectives on education and democracy. In India this movement is crystalizing through youth activism, social medias, rapid urbanization, and multinational economic partnerships: prompting raucous debates about gender roles, communal positions, and the function of political leadership and global identity. Multinational collaboration and global market shifts continually influence national policy structures as they are practiced today; while public intellectuals and academics dissect how the frameworks of key strategic policy documents respond to the dialogue and resource interface of international aid, and center to state transfer mechanisms. This economic context – an eddy of inter- and intra-relationships formed under the long shadow of colonialism – requires the exploration of educational governance through a critical examination of policy leadership, language, ideas, and knowledge formation, to ensure that unequal gender relations do not alienate and propagate violence, silence, and discrimination.

This study concentrates on national policy articulations of women’s educational opportunity and the historical development of women as political objects and subjects. Tracing the meta-narratives of masculinity and femininity that fed into educational initiatives, this historical narrative charts the exercise of post-colonial nationhood and the institution of education aiding this cause. The questions guiding this endeavor do not take for granted terms or analytic categories, but seek the orchestrations of political commitments and their consequent creation of the Indian Woman as a political agent. I study primary policy articulations like the Report on the Commission on Women’s Education (1959), Report on the Differentiation of Curricula for Boys and Girls (1964), the Education Commission Report (1966), Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1974), the National Policy on Education (1968; 1986), and Right to Education (2005); as well as other key primary accounts by policy actors. Since my study takes a gendered perspective on the performance of political leadership, the historical narrative is organized based on the Government of India’s incumbent Prime Minister and Union Council of Ministers.

Through rich narrative, the catachrestic tensions that distance policy constructions from sociopolitical realities are critically analyzed through feminist theory’s gendered analysis and public policy frameworks. Since the goal was to identify the socio-political construction of women’s positions in educational policy, the historical narrative of Indian policymaking is followed by a deconstructive analysis of the structures, symbols, and mechanisms for systemic gendered heteronormativity. The test of legitimacy for any given practice should be embedded in the capacity to respond to the needs for whom the practice exists. Unless policy design mimics the diversity within its target populations and is punctured by the inclusion of more data points, policy making for education will remain an exercise in abstraction, a solipsism bound by socio-political singularities.