Seminar:"Prison Narratives of Two Satyagrahi Women" by Prof. Paulomi Chakraborty, Dept of HSS, IIT Bombay
This talk draws from my ongoing work on prison narratives by women political prisoners in mid-twentieth century India. The larger aim of this enquiry is to understand forms of political subjectivities were available to women of particular class-caste backgrounds and of different political affiliations, during the transition from a colony to an independent nation-state. Against this understanding, further, I seek to read how women directed their projects of self-fashioning. Women’s prison narratives, as I hope to demonstrate, is a rich genre for this purpose. While I shall attempt to gesture towards the broader scope of the project, the focus of this talk is on prison narratives by two distinguished nationalist women who went to prison as part of Gandhian satyagraha: Shadows on the Wall(Bombay, 1946 and New York, 1948) by Krishna Hutheesing (née Krishna Nehru; 1907-1967), and Jenana Phatak (‘Women’s Prison’, original in Bengali; Calcutta, 1948) by Rani Chanda (née Rani Dey; 1912-1997).
I examine how the selected texts negotiate with prison as a space, especially in relation to gendered idioms of home and domesticity. This will allow me to sketch a context for reading what imprisonment meant to these authors and how their texts posit and shape their political choice of embracing imprisonment. I then probe the creative processes of writing the authorial self that is staged by these texts. I argue that integral to making of this writing-self is the relationship of this self with the general prisoners, be they ones awaiting trial, under-trial, or convicts. One of the most important dynamics of this relationship is visible in the great compulsion in these texts to record and put to a ‘hearing public’ harm or injury done, much more to the self, to the abject non-political women prisoners, who, to use an enduring metaphor, cannot speak for themselves. I suggest that is the status of the text as a testimonial on behalf of these ‘other’ women that plays a critical role in the political becoming of the texts as well as well their authors.