Inventing "women's history"

Female valor, martial queens, and right-wing story-tellers in the Bombay slums

in Focaal
Restricted access

This article focuses on oral traditions created by slum women affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena movement in Bombay, and explores the ways in which these invented traditions allowed marginalized women to enter a martial, masculinist "Hindu" history. It shows how poor, rough women used the limited resources available in the slums, especially in the context of rising communal hostilities, to gain a "respectable past." Furthermore, the article analyzes how everyday practices and performances of women's strategic "history-telling" worked to politically mobilize poor women cadres and impacted gender dynamics in contested urban spaces. The invention of traditions of female martiality reflects the potential of right-wing political women to assert a controversial position within the dominantly patriarchal structures of the slums in particular, and the extremist movement in general. The article discusses the mytho-histories told by women to negotiate their present gendered social environment; paradoxically, the martial content of these historical stories also allowed women to nurture a perpetual threat of communal discord and renegotiate their position with male cadres within a violent movement.