The Nation and its Fragments by Partha Chatterjee

Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton: Princeton University Press

I found Chatterjee’s discussion on the spiritual section of anti-colonialist nationalism of particular interest, especially in regards to women. The spiritual is the essential mark of cultural identity- the more that the people, in this case the middle class are successful in imitating the West in the material ways, the more that they will need to preserve the spiritual.

With his discussion of the “modern” woman, it seems that women play an important role in maintaining the “inner space of community” in the life of a nation (147). Colonial power, specifically the British in this case has used the figure of an Indian woman as a symbol of the “inherently oppressive” nature of the entire culture of India (118). The irony is that the British were never able to enter the spiritual section of their colony, and this eventually led to their leave (30). This very prevention from entering the spiritual is attributed to many factors including women, the very figure used by the colonial power to represent the region’s backwardness.

In his discussion of women, I believe it is important to note two things: First, the smooth acceptance of women getting education and becoming “modern” took place in the middle class, therefore still isolating many groups. Secondly, the issue of internal social classes still mattered in the movement for women. For example, the main reason that women were allowed to be educated lied in the fact that it gave them superiority over poor, lower class women, and also increased their value as part of the social ladder, not necessarily because they could then participate in the political arena (129). Therefore, we can observe that the issue of social class has changed very little in the region’s culture even with dramatic political and economic changes taking place over the years.

From these observations, I am left with some questions-

– Chatterjee states that women’s emancipation in India came with little noise because it was a political strategy- anti- colonial nationalist refused to make it an issue of “political negotiation” with the British (132). Has this worked to help women’s movement of today in India or hurt it?

– Nationalism used to be a factor in India’s move for independence. Is it still important in battling domestic issues like poverty or the wealth gap in India, or has globalization made this kind of unity impossible?