Creating a locational counterpublic: Manushi and the articulation of human rights and sexuality from Delhi, India

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Abstract

This essay examines the Indian women's journal Manushi's coverage of sexual violence and a concomitant articulation of women's rights to bodily autonomy, albeit one that did not advocate sexual autonomy and choice. However, given the almost exclusive focus on (hetero)sexual violence, the human rights framework used to talk about Indian women in Manushi was not applied to sexual minorities. I begin by situating the publication in Delhi-based women's activism, the metropolitan context of its origin, and use Nancy Fraser's theorization of feminist counterpublics and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's ideas on subalternity to highlight how Manushi's activism is locational rather than subaltern. Examining the journal's publications from the 1980s to 1998, I suggest that its incomplete representation of sexuality is useful as a starting point for a historical inquiry into women's incomplete and ongoing reclamation of geographic, institutional, typographic, and judicial space in contemporary India. I posit that the journal's silence is representative of the reluctance, on the part of a section of the autonomous Indian women's movement, to discuss sexual identity and choice. My main argument is that by placing women's sexuality at the forefront of national concerns through a human rights discourse, Manushi furthered (though it did not initiate) a discussion of nonnormative sexual choices for women, despite a conscious steering away from such issues within the Indian women's movement and its publications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-867
Number of pages23
JournalSigns
Volume41
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

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