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Sex, Sleaze, Slaughter, and Salvation

Phoren Tourists and Slum Tours in Calcutta (India)

Atreyee Sen

This article explores the violence and voyeurism in viewing poverty in urban slums. By uncovering the social, economic, gendered, and racialized politics within a small-scale travel industry, I show how the latter cater to certain personal, sexual, and religious curiosities among a breed of travelers visiting developing countries. I did my ethnography in the slums of Calcutta, where travel entrepreneurs organized a range of discreet tours of ghettoes for white foreigners (primarily from Australia or the United States). These popular expeditions offered “sightings,” such as half-naked women bathing at water tanks, ritualistic animal sacrifice, and neighborhoods for prostitutes. While reinforcing stereotypes of the primitive other (as opposed to the exotic other), these secret tours allowed travelers to indulge in a range of emotions, from real life voyeurism to “showing gratitude to God for being civilized.” By emphasizing the ambivalences and contradictions in viewing and representing the other, this article argues further that the immoral and critical gaze of a small group of foreign tourists can affect the nature of morality and commercialism among large sections of the urban poor in India.

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Inventing "women's history"

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

Atreyee Sen

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.