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Lecture 4- Dalit Feminist Theory

A report by Sunaina Arya


Professor Wandana Sonalkar touched upon several important aspects of marginalisation of Dalit women in contemporary times. She began her lecture by quoting bell hooks’ idea that individuals at the margins of race and patriarchy suffer most and are “more close to the truth of society” and therefore, are “more committed” to reform the hierarchical system. Then she argued that caste and patriarchy in Indian context functions in such a way that the resources to Healthcare, education, finances do not reach Dalit women. Therefore, as she highlighted an important statistic released by Government of India, Dalit women’s life-span is 20 years less than non-Dalit women. She presented her lecture within the periphery of the Gopal Guru’s conception of “everyday social” from his book The Cracked Mirror.  Sonalkar argued that ‘upper caste’ Hindus no longer need to refer to a religious scripture viz. Manusmriti (also called as Hindu Law Book), because Hindus today have internalised those prescriptions of caste and patriarchy by practicing it generation after generation. She discussed his notion of “becoming and belonging”. To explicate, a Dalit can become a doctor with will power and hard work, but she can never belong to a brahmin caste community (or any other, except where she is born) no matter how hard she strives for it.

Reading List

  1. Sonalkar, W. (2021). Why I am Not a Hindu Woman -A Personal Story. Women Unlimited.

  2. Sonalkar,W. (2004) “Towards a Feminism of Caste”, long review article in Himal South Asia, January 2004.

  3. Kamble, B. (2018). The Prisons We Broke (2nd ed.). Orient Blackswan Pvt Ltd.

  4. B. (2021). Sangati: Events (Oxford India Collection) by Bama (2009–04-15). Oxford University Press (2009–04-15).

  5. Pawar, U., Pandit, M., & Sonalkar, W. (2015). The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs (Illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press.

  6. Arya, S., & Rathore, A. S. (2019). Dalit Feminist Theory: A Reader (1st ed.). Routledge India.

  7. Pawar, U., & Deo, V. (2014). Motherwit. Zubaan Books.

  8. Ambedkar, B. R. (2021). Against the Madness of Manu - B.R Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy. Navayana.

  9. Kamble, S. (1983). Majya Jalmachi Chittarkatha /The Kaleidoscope Story of My Life. Usha Wagh.

  10. Shyamala, G. (2012). Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But. . . NAVAYANA. 

  11. Wandana Sonalkar. (2015, June 5). Economic and Political Weekly. https://www.epw.in/author/wandana-sonalkar.

  12. Arya, S. (2021). Ambedkar as a Feminist Philosopher. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/46861098/Ambedkar_as_a_Feminist_Philosopher

  13. View of Editorial Essay. (2020, October). Editorial Essay. https://journals.library.brandeis.edu/index.php/caste/article/view/235/48

  14. Arya, S. (2020). Dalit or Brahmanical Patriarchy? Rethinking Indian Feminism. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/42134785/Dalit_or_Brahmanical_Patriarchy_Rethinking_Indian_Feminism

  15. Article 3: From Sage Journal of Sociology

  16. Book Review: G. Guru and S. Sarukkai, Experience, Caste and the Everyday Social

  17. Arya, S. (2020b, October). Theorising Gender in South Asia: Dalit Feminist Perspective. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/44525197/Theorising_Gender_in_South_Asia_Dalit_Feminist_Perspective

Lecture 5- Feminist Ethics

A report by Savvi Singhal


Professor Sarah Clark Miller’s main aim for the lecture was to introduce the audience to the intriguing complexity of feminist ethics. She first investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought several elements of feminist ethics to the forefront of public thought. It is mentioned that a subset of Feminist Ethics is Care Ethics and how with regard to Covid there is an extreme shared sense of vulnerability and patterns of vulnerability differ depending on how one is situated. Primary aim of Feminist Ethics she says is to figure out previous historical feminist ethics inadequacies. Ethics as a subject historically has been a male centric endeavour and Philosophers have downplayed women to have a principled educated thought. Feminist Ethicists therefore explore themes which previously have not been thought of as a part of moral philosophy and helps us to pay close attention to domestic violence, sex work or child rearing.

Professor Miller brings into focus how feminist ethics has both critical and creative aims in their theoretical and practical endeavors. Rationality, Independence, Autonomy are few traits culturally valourised as masculine modes of engagement as opposed to culturally feminine modes which are perceived as Emotionality, Interdependence, and Relationality. It is here that women philosophers have been systematically under-appreciated in approaching the realm of the ethical than male philosophers. Professor Miller then shifts the critical endeavour towards the creative. Sara Ruddick is a key moral feminist philosopher who published a very important piece of work called the ‘Maternal Thinking’.  In this work, she offered a variety of recommendations for both politics and ethics which were developed from women’s experiences of bearing and raising children. She sets three main principles for maternal endeavour- Preservation, Growth and Acceptability and how these work with friction between each other. Professor Miller also notes that a really important part of the text is to understand that even though Ruddick honours women as the source of philosophical insight, she notes the concept of mothering is not only limited to women but open to all genders. 

The lecture also considered some key feminist ethical themes such as Oppression, Vulnerability and Dependency, Relationality and Non-Ideal Theory. Professor Miller mentions three major works of Western Philosophy which are Virtue Ethics found in the works of Aristotle, Deontology by Immanuel Kant and Utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and notes that there are very limited analysis of systems of oppression, Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill’s work on ‘The Subjection of Women’ being an exception. Political Philosopher Iris Marion Young suggests there are five faces of oppression- violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness and cultural imperialism. Professor Miller points out that Oppression is varied and subtle, but always overlapping. She does so by using Marilyn Frye’s analogy of the birdcage to describe its complexity which has influentially characterized the systemic nature of oppression. Equally important are influential works of black feminists Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins who’ve talked about intersectionality and interlocking of repressions respectively. 

Feminist Ethicists go to the core of the matter and ask about the constitutive nature of relationality for morality. Professor Miller mentions some subsets of relationality like Love, Friendship, Partiality and Impartiality, special obligations we hold for others, and the world of moral emotions in our relationships. The lecture ends with the focus on non-ideal theory. Charles Mill worked on the Philosophy of Race and Feminist Philosophy. What he teaches is there are a series of virtues related with a non-ideal theory like non-idealized descriptive mapping concepts. 

Reading List

  1. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of
    Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990. 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 2009.

  2. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist
    Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of
    Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139–167.

  3. Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing
    Press, 1983.

  4. Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.
    Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

  5. Jaggar, Alison M. “‘Saving Amina’: Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue.” Ethics
    & International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2005): 55–75.

  6. Mills, Charles W. “‘Ideal Theory’ as Ideology.” Hypatia 20, no. 3 (2005): 165–183.

  7. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. New York: Ballantine, 1989.

  8. Young, Iris Marion. “Five Faces of Oppression.” In Justice and the Politics of Difference, 39–65.
    Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Lecture 6- Feminism and Bioethics

A report by Naina Bhargava and Gauri S. Kumar

Professor Amrita Banerjee initiated an imperative discussion around assisted reproductive technologies and lent analysis to the practice of surrogacy by emphasising a transnational perspective. Noting the feminist ethical demand for a moral framework that acknowledges the relational nature of individuals, she drew upon the example of surrogacy how it gains renewed importance in the light of transnational surrogacy and the hierarchical world orders which exacerbate the vulnerabilities of gendered bodies. Taking a critical approach to dominant mainstream theories of feminist ethics (such as deontology or care ethics), Dr. Banerjee recommended the feminist pragmatist approach to the three major concepts of agency, empowerment and exploitation. She then proceeded to outline the ongoing debate between reproductive liberalism and exploitation models around matters of choice and control and highlighted the incompatibility of these majorly Western approaches to understanding the morality of surrogacy with the realities of third world countries. The lecture delves into feminist pragmatism as the best possible means for us to realise the relational nature of our existence, to arrive at a more nuanced ethical paradigm that sees an individual as an ever evolving moral agent shaped in relation to their surroundings, and finally, to establish a moral ontology premised on more evolved notions of empowerment, agency, and power that can hopefully shape policy approaches on the matter of assisted reproductive technologies.  

She mentions the powerlessness of third world surrogates and power  dichotomy that exists within the language of agency and the tangible implications this can have for those pursuing more feminist ends, as well as your explanation about the need for a restructured moral ontology that prioritises that relational view of agents and take up their autonomy.


Reading List

 1. Banerjee, Amrita (2014). Race and a Transnational Reproductive Caste System: Indian Transnational     Surrogacy. Hypatia 29 (1):113-128.

 2. Banerjee, Amrita (2010). Reorienting the Ethics of Transnational Surrogacy as a Feminist Pragmatist. The   Pluralist 5 (3):107-127.

 3. The Introduction of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in the “Developing World”: A Test Case for   Evolving  Methodologies in Feminist Bioethics

 Maura A. Ryan


 Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer 2009), pp. 805-825 (21 pages)

 Published By: The University of Chicago Press

 4. Søbirk Petersen, T. A Woman's Choice? — On Women, Assisted Reproduction and Social Coercion. Ethical     Theory and Moral Practice 7, 81–90 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ETTA.0000019974.63427.ea

 5. Tong, Rosemarie. (2007). Surrogate Motherhood. 10.1002/9780470996621.ch27. 

 6. Tong R. Feminist bioethics: toward developing a "feminist" answer to the surrogate motherhood question.   Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1996 Mar;6(1):37-52. doi: 10.1353/ken.1996.0004. PMID: 11645320

 7. Feminist Approaches To Bioethics

 Theoretical Reflections And Practical Applications

 By Rosemarie Putnam Tong

 Copyright Year 1997

 ISBN 9780813319551

 Published December 27, 1996 by Routledge

 292 Pages

 8. Feminist Bioethics  

 Jackie Leach Scully

 The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Philosophy

 Edited by Kim Q. Hall and Ásta

 Print Publication Date: Jun 2021Subject: Philosophy, Feminist PhilosophyOnline

 Publication Date: May 2021DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190628925.013.21

 9. Ragoné, Helena & Twine, France Winddance. (2000). Ideologies and technologies of motherhood : race,   class, sexuality, nationalism. 

 10. Klausen, S. M. (2004). Race, Maternity, and the Politics of Birth Control in South Africa, 1910-39 (p. 12).   Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

 11. Lykke, N., & Lie, M. (2017). Assisted Reproduction Across Borders. Feminist  Perspectives on   Normalizations, Disruptions and Transmissions,Routledge Advances in Feminist Studies and Intersectionality,   2017, 315 pp, ISBN 678-1-138-67464-6

Lecture 7- Feminist Jurisprudence

A report by Naina Bhargava 


Professor Rukmini Sen initiated the lecture by explaining the four important concepts of equality, difference, consent and care through the different legal lense and the principle of difference. Then Bringing the topic of formal and substantive equality further explaining the notion of hierarchy coexisting in the Indian constitution and the principle of difference and different roots of injustice and how this system has evolved from the socio, economic and legal aspects. She talked about the legacy of judgements and atrocities committed on marginalised communities  and how imperative it is  to understand the caste based violence in the society. Further putting forward the definition of constent from different social-legal dynamics and stating the trajectories of rape and cutodial rape from the view point of feminist jurispudence. She highlighted that it is extremely important to understand this  whole spectrum of power hierarchy dominating the choices, consent and decisions of women. She mentioned the upcoming concept of care jurisprudence that is very paramount through ages but recently in the light of pandemic people started noticing and emphasized that it is important to continue this discussion on the idea of establishing a care jurisprudence from the legal aspects not only from community lens.

Reading List

  1. Amita Dhanda, Archana Parashar (Ed) Engendering Law Essays in honour of Lotika Sarkar (1999). Eastern Book Depot.

  2. Carol Pateman, Feminist Critique Of The Public And Private, Phillips Ed. Feminism And Equality.(Stanford U. Press, 1988)

  3. Catherine Rottenberg, The Rise Of Neoliberal Feminism” In Cultural Studies, Nov. 18, 2013. ( Page:1-20)

  4. Catharine A. Mackinnon, Are Women Human And Other International Dialogues (Harvard University Press 2007). 

  5.  Catharine A. Mackinnon, Gender In Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar Publishing 2018).

  6. Carol Smart, Feminism and the Power of Law,(Routledge, 1989)

  7. Carol Smart , Women, Crime, and Criminology : A Feminist Critique,(Routledge, 1978)

  8. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity Through Anticapitalist Struggles, 28 Signs 499-535 (2003).

  9.  Flavia Agnes, Conjugality, Property, Morality And Maintenance, 32-58 In Kalapana Kannabhiran (Ed), Women and Law Critical Feminist Perspectives (Sage Publications India 2014)

  10. Flavia Agnes, Law, Justice And Gender: Family Law And Constitutional Provisions In India, (Oxford University Press 2011), Chapter 2: Constitutional Claims And Gender Justice.

  11. Flavia Agnes, Protecting Women Against Violence – Review Of A Decade Of Legislation 1980-89, Economic And Political Weekly, Vol. 27, Issue No. 17, Apr. 25, 1992.

  12.   Gita Sen & Avanti Mukherjee, ‘No Empowerment Without Rights, No Rights Without Politics: Gender-Equality, Mdgs And The Post-2015 Development Agenda’, Journal Of Human Development And Capabilities, Vol. 15, 2014, Issue 2-3: Special Issue On Millennium Development Goals, 188-202

  13. .Indira Jaisingh, Bringing Rights Home: Review Of The Campaign For A Law On Domestic Violence, Kalapana Kannabhiran (Ed), Women and Law Critical Feminist Perspectives (Sage Publications India 2014)

  14. Kalapana Kannabhiran ,Women And Law Critical Feminist Perspectives (Sage Publications India 2014)

  15.  Kalpana Kannabiran, Judicial Meanderings In Patriarchal Thickets: Litigating Sex Discrimination In India, In Women And Law: Critical Feminist Perspectives 172-204 (Kalpana Kannabiran Ed., 2014).

  16.  Moira Gatens, A Critique Of The Sex/Gender Distinction, Phillips Ed. Feminism And Subjectivity, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987.)

  17. Mrinal Satish, Discretion, Discrimination and the Rule of Law: Reforming Rape Sentencing in India ,(Cambridge University Press,2016)

  18. Nivedita Menon ,Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond The Law,(University of Illinois Press, 2004)

  19.  Prabha Kotiswaran, Á Bittersweet Moment’: Indian Governance Feminism And The 2013 Rape Law Reforms’ ,Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue 25-26, 24 June, 2017.

  20.  Prabha Kotiswaran, Sex Work Hardcover,(Women Unlimited, 2011)

  21.  Pratiksha Baxi, Çarceral Feminism As Judicial Bias: The Discontents Around State Vs. Mahmood Farooqui, Interdisciplinary Law, Issue 3, October 2016

  22. Pratiksha Baxi,Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India,(Oxford University Press,2014)

  23. Ratna Kapur And Brendia Cossman, Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements With Law In India (1996).

  24. Ratna Kapur & Brenda Cossman, ‘On Women, Equality And The Constitution: Through The Looking Glass Of Feminism’ Gender And Politics In India 117-261(Nivedita Menon Ed., Oxford University Press  1999)

  25.  Rukmini Sen, Law Commissions Report On Rape, Economic & Political Weekly ,Vol. 45, Issue No. 44-45, 30 Oct, 2010

  26. Rukmini Sen, Sexual Harassment And The Limits Of Speech, Economic & Political Weekly , Vol. 52, Issue No. 50, 16 Dec, 2017

  27. Sarla Gopalan, Towards Equality – The Unfinished Agenda – Status of Women In India 2001. National Commission For Women. 

  28. Selected Speeches Of Women Members Of The Constituent Assembly, Rajya Sabha Secretariat 2012,

  29. Shefali Jha, Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates, 1946-1950,Economic &Political Weekly (2002)

  30. Srimati Basu,The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India, (University of California Press ,2015

  31. Usha Tandon, Gender Justice: A Reality Or Fragile Myth (Regal Publications, 2015) 

  32. Ved Kumari, Gender Analyses Of Indian Penal Code, Amita Dhanda, Archana Parashar (Ed) Engendering Law Essays In Honour Of Lotika Sarkar, Pp.139-160 (1999). Eastern Book Company.