Reading India's Bandit Queen : A Trans/national Feminist Perspective on the Discrepancies of Representation

Reading India's Bandit Queen : A Trans/national Feminist Perspective on the Discrepancies of Representation
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  Reading "India's Bandit Queen": A Trans/national Feminist Perspective on theDiscrepancies of Representation Leela Fernandes Signs , Vol. 25, No. 1. (Autumn, 1999), pp. 123-152. Stable URL: Signs  is currently published by The University of Chicago Press.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community takeadvantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact Sep 9 22:30:57 2007  Leela ernandes Reading India's Bandit Queen : Translnational Feminist Perspective on the Discrepancies of Representation n recent years the question of difference has posed a critical dilemma for research that has engaged in cross-cultural or transnational modes of I nalysis. On the one hand, feminist research has interrogated the natural- ized reproduction of a hegemonic unitary Western subject of feminism (Alarc6n 1990; Butler 1990) and has provided an impetus for the inclu- sion of differences of race, class, and nation in arenas such as university curricula, academic anthologies, and research agendas. On the other hand, recent research has begun to question the deployment of difference as the other once again becomes the site for the production and consumption of a modernist authenticity and purity within a decentered, fragmented age of postmodernity (Trinh 1989,1991; hooks 1990; Chow 1993a). This dilemma, which rests on the link between the desire for and the commodi- fication of difference, has been particularly marked in relation to the ques- tion of the representation of the Third World subaltern woman. Feminist scholars within postcolonial studies have analyzed the processes of re/colo- nization, which unfold through the production of a homogenized Third World woman who is depicted either as a silent victim of (Mohanty 1991) or as a speaking subaltern responding to (Spivak 1988) various structures of oppression.' The problematic of the power/representation relationship (Foucault 1980) raises the task of confronting the (un)translatability of differen~e,~ particularly when the boundaries of difference are marked by the figure of the Third World woman. Gayatri Spivak's now classic essay Can the Subaltern Speak? presented feminist scholars with an incisive argument I m grateful to Harriet Davidson, Laura Liu, Leslie McCall, Rupal Oza, S. Shankar, Caridad Souza, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on an earlier version of this article. Thanks go to Richard Baxtrom and Asha Rani for their efforts in helping me track down source materials. For a critical discussion of an overemphasis on the possibilities of resistance, see Abu- Lughod 1991. 1 m referring here to current debates over the problems of representing other groups marked, for instance, by class, cultural, or national difference. [Shw:  ournal o Women  n ulture and ociay 1999, vol. 25 no. 1999 y The University of Chicago. ll rights reserved. 0097-9740/2000/2501-0005 02.00   24 Fernandes that the speaking subaltern subject coheres with the work of imperialist subject-constitution, mingling epistemic violence with the advancement of learning and civilization. And the subaltern woman will be as mute as ever (1988,294). Meanwhile, feminist scholars have attempted to devise partic- ular types of textual strategies that can subvert the power dynamics inher- ent in textual representations of subalternity (Behar 1993; Visweswaran 1994; Fernandes 1997a). Spivak herself, in a more recent essay (1992), has suggested possible methodological strategies that can begin to con- front the politics of translation. Her call for modes of linguistic translation that do not just focus on grammatical rules but surrender to the linguistic rhetoricity of the srcinal text begin to point to a conception of cross- cultural translation that does not simply focus either on a rejection of the real or on getting the reality right through increasingly sophisticated methods of empiricism (1992, 187). Rather, such n approach shifts the task toward both the sense of rhetoricity and the strategies of representa- tion of the cultural context in question. The significance of a shift from grammar to rhetoricity or from empiri- cist methods to strategies of representation is particularly evident in rela- tion to the ways in which the effects of texts are contingent on the ques- tions of audience and the location of the consumption of texts. The shift entails a confrontation not just of multiple audiences but, as Lata Mani has argued, of discrepant audiences, which are constituted through dissonant discursive regimes of power and possibilities for their subversion (1990, 27).3 This dissonance is the product of two intertwined and at times coun- tervailing historical and political forces. At one level, texts, theories, and cultural cornmodties circulate and travel (John 1996; Clifford 1997) across national boundaries. At another level, the consumption, meanings, and power effects of such forms are contingent on the local and national historical and political boundaries of the audience in question. I return to Spivak's formulation in her essay Can the Subaltern Speak? to fore- ground this discrepant nature of audience, context, and consumption. Spivak's formulation provides a critical interruption of a long history of a European sociology of knowledge that has laid claim to a simultaneous discovery, understanding, and production of other peoples and worlds (Said 1978). Within the context of Western academic audiences, Spivak's formulation disrupts trans/national relations of power by locating the de- sire for an autonomous speaking subaltern within a theory of interests See also John 1996 for a discussion of the ways in which theory travels across discrep- ant contexts.    I N Autumn 999 25 shaped by colonialism and the international division of labor. At another level, however, the transformation of the subaltern into a figure of untrans- latability or, as Mary John has put it, into another name for the economy of undecidability (1996, 46) may have different political implications within the context of Indian audiences. For instance, in India, gender- and class-based representations of the Indian nation have often transformed subaltern women into figures who must be represented by elite nationalist politicians or middle-class representatives of organized social movements (Basu 1992). In this case, the implications of representing the subaltern cannot be contained within the boundaries of a theory of imperial interests and may, in fact, hold important counterhegemonic potentialities. The is crep ncy of such differential power effects lies not just in the potential difference between audiences but in the temporal simultaneity of such effects where consumption practices travel across, even as they are located with, the borders of nations. That is, in this hypothetical exemplar, the representation of the subaltern may simultaneously subvert hegemonic na- tionalist narratives even as it is implicated within the theory of imperial interests that Spivak delineate^ ^ My im in this article is to demonstrate the ways textual forms produce such contradictory effects in order to develop an approach that can address Caren Kaplan's call for feminist analyses of transnational economies of texts and theories (1994, 146). I specifically attempt to interrogate the notion of the (un)translatability of the Third World woman by exploring the discrepant threads of power and resistance that unravel within particu- lar forms of translation and representation. I discuss representations of Phoolan Devi, a legendary lower-caste woman dacoit in India who was known for raiding villages with her gang and redistributing wealth from upper-class, upper-caste landlords to poor landless villagers5 The article I am making two points here. First, in the context of a globalized economy, texts that may be produced for a particular national audience are in fact simultaneously consumed within the context of other national audiences Second, such consumption occurs at the same temporal moment and is not a teleological process in which Third World countries will even- tually consume First World texts. Note also that th~s s not limited to texts that are produced in the postcolonial era or about postcolonial subjects. Shakespeare, for instance, is taught within the Indian academy. Her national notoriety in India grew, in particular, due to one incident commonly known as the Behmai incident?' In the north Indian village of Behmai, Phoolan Devi had been gang-raped by a group of upper-caste landlords after being captured with the help of an upper-caste dacoit who also served as a police informant. In retaliation, she later returned to the village with her gang and killed seventeen upper-caste landowners who had allegedly raped her. The incident caused a particular national outcry because of the political and social   26 Fernandes juxtaposes readings of two forms of representation of her life history, the ilm Bandit Queen and her autobiography, I, Phoolan Devi6 I use an inter- pretive methodology of reading in order to analyze the textual strategies of representation in each case and the ways in which these strategies repro- duce and interrupt relationships of power within international and na- tional realms (Said 1978; Foucault 1980).7 In this endeavor, I want to argue for a trans/national feminist theoretical approach that moves away from a binary choice of either invoking or rejecting the real and focuses instead on multiple narratives of hegemony and resistance that are pro- duced in varying and often contradictory ways in the textual strategies of the ilm and the autobiography8 The transformation of Phoolan Devi into India's bandit queen provides a striking case of the ways in which the power effects of the production and consumption of cultural forms spill over the territorial boundaries of nation-states and cannot be cast into a singular model of meaning. trans/national feminist approach recognizes a dialectical relationship between the intratextual realm (modes of representation within the textual form) and the intertextual realm (social and political contexts that include both national discourses and trans/national relationships of power within which texts circulate). The relationship between the internal and external layers of cultural forms in the contemporary global context disrupts easy oppositions between Third World production and First World consump- tion because texts are manufactured through modes of cccollaborative multinational production. Consider the case of Bandit Queen While the lm was directed by Shekhar Kapur, an Indian filmmaker, it was comrnis- sioned and funded by a British public television channel. Meanwhile, Phoolan Devi's autobiography was written based on oral interviews implications of a lower-caste outlawn woman attacking landed thakurs Following the inci- dent the state government of Uttar Pradesh launched a full-scale attempt to capture her and ultimately forced her to surrender to the government. Note that prior to the production of the ilm and the autobiography, Mala Sen's biogra- phy, India s BanditQueen 1991), was the key text that claimed to represent Phoolan Devi's life. The film was based on this text. I am drawing here on a Foucauldian analysis of the linkages between power and repre- sentation. By using the term strategies of representation, my aim is to call attention to the performative and constructed nature of textual forms that claim to embody, represent, or speak for realn experiences of particular individuals or social groups. See Foucault 1980. Note that my point is not to advocate a singular universal globaln feminist approach. Rather, by a trans/national feminist approach, I am referring to the need for a feminist analysis of the ways in which the power effects of texts are both contained within and transgress national borders. In this article, my use of a slash the term trans/naW attempts to signal the simultaneity of power effects within and across nations.
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