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Herstory of Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture Series by Prof. Vibhuti Patel

Herstory of Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture

Vibhuti Patel


Research Centre for Women’s Studies (RCWS) instituted of Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture in memory of its founding Director and received generous donations for corpus funds from Neeraben’s friends, fellow travelers in social movements, colleagues and well-wishers in women’s studies and women’s movements.

From the very beginning Department of Economics, Gujarat Research Society and Advocate Mihir Desai have collaborated in making this lecture series a grand success by identifying guest speakers, mobilizing friends and fellow travelers in women’s studies and women’s movement, colleagues and scholars and also in terms of cost sharing. Basic philosophy of women’s studies in India as articulated by Dr. Neera Desai revolved around concepts such as “Theory-as-Practice”, “Trans-disciplinarily”, Feminist critiques of “objectivity,” and “Philosophies of power-knowledge”, and plural perspectives in knowledge production.

1st Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 23-9-2010 Prof. Susie Tharu, Professor Emeritus, Cultural Studies Department, English and Foreign Language Studies, Hyderabad delivered lecture titled, “Once Again, What is literature-Notes from Dalit Literary Movements from Kerala and Tamilnadu”. Prof. Suzie Tharu highlighted the fact that there has been no methodological inventiveness, no passion or drive, leave alone richness in mainstream sociological discourses for long. The non-canonical writers, on the contrary come up with completely different, often shocking, articulation of issues. It is like the elephant telling the story of the blind men.”

2nd Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 23-9-2011: Prof. Jayati Ghosh, senior economist of JNU, Delhi on “Women’s Work in India- Has Anything Really Changed?” Main thrust of her lecture was on accentuated adverse effect of jobless growth on women. She pointed out that 2000s were a decade of unprecedented rapid GDP growth for the Indian economy. In this decade, the number of women aged 15 years or more increased by 86.5 million. But only 8.9 per cent of them joined the labour force, and only 7.5 per cent of them were described as gainfully employed. This relative lack of increase in the number of working women in a period of major economic expansion is not just unusual; it is also hard to explain in terms of most standard economic approaches.

3rd Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 25-9-2012: Prof. Patricia Oberoi on “Androgyny-Is it Relevant for Feminist Theory and Practice?-An Illustrated Lecture”. She showed stunning visuals from calendar art to demonstrate the intersection of sacred and secular feminine iconography. She speculated whether the concept of androgyny, the fusion of male and female, can serve as an emancipatory ideal for feminists.

4th Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 23-9-2013: Prof. Nabneeta Deb Sen on "Ladies Sing the Blues: Women Retelling the Rama Story”. She examined Ramayana with gender lens and said, “Out of the thirty-eight basic things upon which most epic narratives of the world are based, only nine are associated with women. The ideals of the epic world obviously do not have much to share with women, nor do the women enjoy the heroic values. There is little they can do there - other than get abducted or rescued, or pawned, or molested, or humiliated in some way or other. So, what happens when women choose to retell an epic? There are many alternatives.

1) You could tell it like it is, by borrowing the traditional eyes of the male epic poet, as Molla does in her 16th century Telugu Ramayana. Or

2) You could tell it like it is, looking at it with your own women's eyes, as Chandrabati does in her 16th century Bengali Ramayana. Or

3) You could tell it like it is by borrowing an ideological viewpoint as Ranganayakamma does in Ramayana Vishabriksham, rewriting the Rama tale from the Marxist point of view. Or

4) You could tell your own story through the story of Sita, as the village women of India have been doing for hundreds of years.

5th Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 23-9-2014: “Archival Photographs as Memory Banks” by Prof. Malavika Karlekar, Editor, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, CWDS, Delhi. With the help of rare collection of archival photographs accompanied by explanatory captions she depicted women’s lives during the period 1875- 1947. Her lecture also included a comprehensive, well-researched, yet lucid introduction placing in context the photographs which have been gleaned from private collections of families and friends, as well as from archives sections of various institutions, originally presented in an exhibition held by the Centre for Women s Development Studies. Her lecture generated great interest among students and scholars of gender studies, history, sociology, culture and media studies photographers, photo-journalists, archivists, and art historians.

6th Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 24-9-2015: Prof. Maxine Berntsen, Prof. Emerita, Center for Education, Tata Institute of Social Science, Hyderabad on 'Sharda: A Dalit Woman Reconstructs Her Self'. Prof. Maxine lucidly constructed the story of Sharda, a Dalit woman caught in the confusions of change in these words: “Inspired by Ambedkar her father decided to educate his children, including his daughter Sharda. However, when she was in the third standard he suddenly arranged her marriage. Shortly afterwards, he sent her to study in an ashram in Pune. When she came met her husband, she fell completely in love with him. Meanwhile, she was imbibing the ethos of the ashram, that a woman’s husband was her all-in-all. After leaving the ashram she went to live with her husband and his family. For several years she stayed there, but with frequent visits to her maternal home. Finally, however, her husband refused to take her back. For twenty years she struggled to get him to acknowledge her as his wife, but to no avail. Meanwhile she learned tailoring, got a bank loan and set up a shop. The nadir of her life occurred, when she was informed that her husband had remarried; and the same week her shop was burned to the ground in a caste riot. The question Prof. Maxine has tried to answer is how Sharda coped with this crisis – not only immediately but from then on. Borrowing informally from the conceptual framework of Erik Eriksen and Robert Kegan, Prof. Maxine has attempted to trace the process of Sharada defining and redefining her identity in the dialogue with herself, her family, and her social environment.”

An appeal is made to contribute generously for fund raising drive to Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture Series so that RCWS can organize such memorable event year after year in memory of Dr. Neera Desai, mother of women’s studies in India.

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