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In this talk, I shall present 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 available to women of particular class-caste-religion backgrounds, how they directed their projects of self-fashioning, and how they articulated their imagination concerning the polity, especially in the context of organised politics. I take women’s prison narratives as a particularly rich genre for this purpose. While I will attempt to gesture to the broader scope of the project, the focus of this talk will be on memoirs of two distinguished women who went to prison in response to Mohandas Gandhi’s call for mass participation during the Quit India movement. These are Shadows on the Wall (Bombay, Kutub, 1946) by Krishna Hutheesing, née Krishna Nehru, and Jenana Phatak (‘Women’s Prison’, original in Bengali; Calcutta, Ananda Publishers, 1983) by Rani Chanda, née Rani Dey. In spite of the late publication date of Chanda’s memoir, both the texts are based on the authors’ stay in colonial prisons in 1942-43. I shall also consider sections from Hutheesing’s autobiography, With No Regrets: An Autobiography (New York, 1944), that reflect on her time in prison and what prison meant to the Nehru family.

The talk will discuss in particular how the authorial-I in each text negotiates with prison as a space. As it will annotate, a gendered experiences of domesticity, the formidable and abiding institution that frames the selfhood of middle-class women generally, played a crucial role here too. This will provide us a context for reading what imprisonment signified to the writers and how their texts posit and shape their political choice of embracing imprisonment. It will then probe the creative processes of writing the authorial self that is staged by these texts.


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Speaker's Bio: Dr. Paulomi Chakraborty

Paulomi Chakraborty is Associate Professor of English at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in IIT Bombay. She did her BA and MA in English at Jadavpur University and a PhD at the Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta. Before joining IIT Bombay as a faculty member, she held a Shastri postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University. She is the author of a monograph, The Refugee Woman: Partition of Bengal, Gender, and the Political, essays in journals such as Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies and English Studies in Canada, book chapters in edited volumes such as Handbook on Gender in South Asia and Partitioned Lives: Narratives of Home, Displacement, and Resettlement. Her gender-focussed research interests are in the ‘turbulent 40s’ in Bengal, especially the Famine and the Partition, and in cultures of the political left and women in organized politics in the context of mid-twentieth century India.

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