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Reimagining sociology: feminist perspectives in memory of Sharmila Rege

By IMPRI Team 

To commemorate the memory of Sharmila Rege, the late distinguished Indian sociologist, author, and feminist scholar, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organised a book discussion on ‘Reimagining Sociology in India: Feminist Perspectives‘. The editors of the book, which focuses on the interconnectedness of sociology and feminism in India, Prof Gita Chadha, and Dr Joseph M. T. are professors for University of Mumbai’s Department of Sociology.
The discussion started with the chair, Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, and Former Professor at TISS, Mumbai, outlining the history of feminist resurgence, leading to an introduction about Sharmila Rege and her contributions to the field, also highlighting the resilient nature of her work. After a brief introduction of the topic at hand, she welcomed the editors to the conference.
Prof Gita Chadha led by explaining the dedication for the book and its purpose of marking the beginning say of feminist sociology within their department, touching upon the issue of the pyramidical nature of sociology, with very few women being represented in higher departments of Sociology, as well as the marginalization and erasure of feminist contributions to the subject. She concluded by outlining how she views the changed in sociology of gender and how she hopes for it to develop: through a lens of intersectionality, by looking into queer movements and queer studies and their contribution, and lastly, integrating masculinity studies more deeply and starting a critical conversation about incorporating it within feminism.
Following was Dr. Joseph M. T’s presentation. He outlined the three sections of the book: reading and writing early women in sociology, pedagogies and mentoring, and substantive transformations: erasures, intersections, insertions. He then proceeded to discuss the content of the third section and the importance of the contributions by various scholars, which include the topics of non-consenting sexual intimacy, the issues of multiple genders, and the construction of masculinity, the sociology of environment in western India, the interface of psychiatry, with the lives of women diagnosed as mentally ill, and the experiences of women scientists in India.
The floor was then opened up to the panellists, starting with Dr Anagha Tambe, HOD and Assistant Professor at Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre. She spoke of relevant pedagogies and its intertwining with theoretical, both of which seem to be distinct to sociological imagination. She highlighted how the examination of practices and pedagogies of sociology has been crucial to the feminist sociology in the Indian context. Moreover, she talked about the second section of the book which has three autobiographical chapters focusing on mentor and mentee, teachers, and students respectively, and outlines the contents within each.
The following panellist was Prof Sanjay Srivastava, British Academy Global Professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, at SOAS University of London, who emphasise upon the attempts to pluralise sociology and feminism, giving the example of shopping malls. He outlined the relationship between women sociologists, sociology, and feminism, mentioning the constraint women sociologists have faced, and inferred the peculiar nature through which feminism comes to be a part of sociology in the Indian context.
He proceeded to highlight the importance of biographical sociology and knowledge, which sets apart the book from others covering similar subjects and expressed his favourable opinion for autobiographical sociology and the unfortunate lack of it. Finally, he spoke of the relationship between men and feminism in India and concludes by highlight how sociology as a subject is relatively more amenable to feminist thinking.
Proceeding this was Dr. Rukmini Sen, Dean and Professor at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi. Her chapter in the book aims to engage with the topic of consent, but also non-consent. It tries to not only look at sexual violence, but also age as important aspect and factor for defining consent. Furthermore, it brings into question the choice of choosing one’s sexual partner in the context of marriage, and the issues of consent surrounding it. The chapter refers to the Indian penal code to elaborate on the notion of consent and contract.
The purpose of the chapter was thus to question how the understanding of consent may be broadened by using feminist sociology in general, and more specifically through rethinking kinship, interrogation of law and its limits, and discussing intimacy and desire. Her contribution forms a continuing timeline of the concept of consent.
Dr Manisha Rao, Assistant Professor for the Department of Sociology, Mumbai University, continued the discussion by sharing her memories of Dr. Sharmila Rege, and the way she is remembered by academics, scholars, students, activists, and everyone who had interacted with her. Dr Rao painted a deeply human picture, speaking of Rege’s encouraging demeanour and warm nature. She spoke of many personal moments and events during their course of working together and her attentive friendship to everyone around her.
She also shared a number of pictures of the esteemed scholar, including those of her on department field trips, during welcome parties, and naturally, her working on her written drafts, amongst others. Dr Rao also shared birthday notes that she had received over the years, highlighting the personal and encouraging nature of their relationship.
Following was Dr Anurekha Chari Wagh, Assistant Professor for Department of Sociology, Savitribai Phule Pune University, began by highlighting her experience as a student with Dr. Rege. She talked about the circuits of knowledge production formed by the hierarchical power structure between students and teachers and how it led to her work on feminist mentoring and power dynamics and her focus on the same, despite its many challenges.
Furthermore, she mentioned how Rege’s intervention taught her that looking into subjectivities of various marginal groups within the classroom brings into concern immense vulnerability. She also spoke of viewing the person as political and the privilege associated with it. She highlighted how Sharmila Rege played a crucial role as an inspiration and an academic for her work.
The final speaker, Dr Pushpesh Kumar, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad began by sharing fond memories of Dr. Sharmila Rege and his plans to carry forward her legacy. His work in the book focuses on Kothi Men in western India. He highlighted the importance of addressing the issues of marginal gender non-conforming people, especially those lower caste/class backgrounds, further drawing upon her work. He talks about the disownment and ostracization faced by Dalit gender queer people and their invisibility within mainstream debates, and the de-authentication they face by the government, as well as the Dalit community.
Feminist sociologists, he explains, hence play an important role for these groups as the former are responsible for question gender binaries and norms responsible for the suffering of the latter. He also explained the reasoning behind the title, reasoning that ‘Pink Money’ eludes to the double life the aforementioned groups are forced to lead.
The discussion ended with the speakers answering questioned put forth by the participants and a vote of thanks. The conference was not just academically intriguing but also inspirational as it took on a deeply humane aspect due to the remembrance of Sharmila Rege, and the fond memories and the feminist collective she has left behind. The discussion between the different panellists was personal, yet intellectually challenging and scholarly, speaking not just to their work and that of Sharmila Rege, but also to the development and importance of feminist sociology and its emerging dimensions and perspectives within the Indian context.
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Acknowledgement: Kashish Gupta, Research intern at IMPRI

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