A short reflection on Partha Chaterjee’s “Nation and its Fragments”

The purpose of Chatterjee’s book “The Nation and Its Fragments” seems to explore the idea of “community” nationalism Bengal, apart from political nationalism of India, especially in terms of India’s diverse history. This reflection just touches on a chapter of the women of Bengal and their struggle in the shift of a new era and new thinking of preserving the traditional Identity from colonialism and British takeover.

“The outer and the inner world – Women as keepers of Identity”


When dealing with cultures unknown to the self, an imaginary third eye would be useful to keep an open mind on the things we might not be able to see fully. It would raise the possibility of understanding the differences from another point of view instead of insisting on our terms of beliefs and its definitions. Pratha Chatterjee’s Nation and It’s Women touches upon the western systems of dichotomies of separating Bengal’s nationalism for preserving its identity as communities versus the political nationalism of India and how these definitions by both parties- fighting for and against colonialism- positioned women in the central party of preserving the house in her “spiritual” feminine self which carries the traditions of Bengals before Western modernization took place, all without her consent.

While the traditionalists were surrendering to the notion of modernization in the “outer” world, they were confident in preserving their identity through the “inner” world which embraced the home as being the true keepers of Bengal’s identity. Chatterjee argues that due to this resistance, women’s position in the modern world was compromised by prioritizing the national identity of their community which worked to enforce women to be keepers of the identity. This was soon defined through “the spiritual signs of her femininity”… “Clearly marked – in her dress, her eating habits, her social demeanor, her religiosity” pg 130. While all at the same time, men were able to camouflage into both the inner and the outer worlds and maintain their prideful identity in the modern world with their wives and daughters by their side. This is similar to the United State’s political structure upon which the private and public sphere is divided and the patriarchy system has allowed men to be privileged in walking amongst both the private and public sphere will full rights to their lives while women play catch up in history’s disparity. Though the comparison of the private and public sphere can be relative to this story, the underlining matter is not the similarity amongst the two, rather, the difference upon which the two systems were created and why their origins took place.

The anti-colonial nationalism that arose in an attempt to defy the western modernization taking place in Bengal at that time defended their traditional identity through social construction of two spheres defined as the “material” versus the “spiritual”. In the material outer world, they would adapt to the modernization colonialism has brought over through learning the structure upon which western society ran its “market place of ideas” type of theory which made the economy run, however in the spiritual inner world, they would maintain their traditional identity which was represented by women and family life composed of religion and the old caste systems.

“Fundamental elements of social conservatism such as the maintenance of caste distinctions and patriarchal forms of authority in the family, acceptance of sanctity of sastra (scriptures), preferences for symbolic rather than substantive changes in social practices- all these were conspicuous in the reform movement of the early and mid-nineteenth century” pg117.

The statement above clarifies our understanding of what type of system was created and the value for this particular system bent upon the prideful self identity wanting to prioritize the perception of the self rather than the actual self; community resistance. This becomes another example of how most patriarchy systems are built on the standard of pride in resisting and exterior force only to burden the women of their society to be inferior to themselves, by force or negligence, in either case, the result ends in the same way. Although women were presented to be safe keepers of the traditional identity at home, they were also chastised if they did not fit or meet the standards of the particular femininity which represented their whole community, thus leading to excluding women the chance to modernize with the rest of the world.

There will always be fights over power and beliefs around the world, history is apparent in repeating itself again and again, lets get “Herstory” along with it, shall we? However, it seems that women will always end up in the ladder because we are gifted with being the safe keepers of our traditional identity by baring, nurturing and preserving it, while fighting for our own identity and modernizing all with the national identity. It becomes a burden when we vigorously try to achieve all or are forced to choose one above the other.

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