Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present >> Content Detail



Topics covered in this course are available in the calendar below.

Course Description and Goals

This course is designed to introduce and help students understand the changes and continuities in the lives of women in South Asia from a historical perspective. Using gender as a lens of examining the past, we will examine how politics of race, class, caste and religion affected and continue to impact women in South Asian countries, primarily in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We will reflect upon current debates within South Asian women's history in order to examine some of the issues and problems that arise in re-writing the past from a gendered perspective.

The chronological focus of this course is on the condition of women in the subcontinent from the 1800s till the present day. Students are required to have some knowledge about South Asia. However it is not a necessary pre-requisite and I will suggest some basic texts to provide those with no previous courses on South Asia. To help us evaluate the different historical and temporal experiences of South Asian women, this course will extensively use primary documents, secondary readings, films, and contemporary newspaper and Internet articles. Students will be required to actively engage and participate in class discussions and group debates, which will form a substantial part of individual evaluations.

Course Requirements and Grading

Two short essays (20% each)40%
Research paper and presentation30%
Internet assignment10%
Class participation20%

Please see assignments for more detailed descriptions of the above.

Class Participation and Preparation

Attendance in class is mandatory. Only legitimate excuses supported by evidence will be entertained.

The two classes per week will involve lectures and scheduled and unscheduled discussions and debates. You are required to read the assigned pages of the textbook and the primary and secondary readings before you come to class. Students are required to participate in discussions. There are no wrong answers as long as you support your dialogue with evidence from your readings or general knowledge on the topic.

Late Submission Policy

Students are required to submit papers on time. Late submission will result in lowering of grades. This will be calculated in the following way:

  • One-day late means 1 grade lower. E.g. An A- paper will become a B+ paper.
  • Two days late means 2 grades lower. E.g. An A- paper becomes a B paper.
  • A paper, which is four or more days late, will be given an instant F.

Academic Dishonesty

Students should familiarize themselves with the Student Code of the University and its sections on academic dishonesty, especially on plagiarism. Plagiarism, which is the unacknowledged use of the ideas or works of another on a paper, will result in an F grade for the paper. Cheating on an examination will result in an F grade for the course and the notification of the Dean of the student's college.

Recommended Citation

For any use or distribution of these materials, please cite as follows:

Haimanti Roy, course materials for 21H.575J/SP.459J Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present, Fall 2006. MIT OpenCourseWare (, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Downloaded on [DD Month YYYY].


1. Introduction: Studying women in cross cultural perspective
1Writing South Asian women's history
2India: The historical and social context
3Library tour
2. Prescriptive literature and gendered roles
4Women as mothers, daughters, and daughters in law
5Wives, courtesans and concubinesSign up for individual meetings
6Divinities and devotees
3. Defining Indian women in the 19th century
7Defining women: Social reforms
8Comparison between men and women in the 19th century

Class discussion on Comparison Between Men and Women

Individual meetings to report on research progress due one day after Ses #8

9Reforms in education and religionCritical essay on Comparison Between Men and Women due
10Gender and law in colonial India
4. Becoming "mothers" of the nation
11The good wife and mother
12Inside out: Andarmahal, harem and political participation
13Women's work and working women
5. Empowering women: Gandhi, birth control and the franchise
14Gandhi and women
15Birth control and public health
16Organizations and activism in colonial IndiaIndividual meetings to report on research progress due two days after Ses #16
6. Identities and social realities in post-1947 South Asia
17Partitioned nations, partitioned bodiesClass discussion on The River Churning
18Campaigns against dowry, rape and sati
19Personal law vs. uniform civil codeCritical essay on The River Churning due
7. Women and their nations
20Era of women leader
21Dangerous liaisons: Religious fundamentalismsInternet assignment due
22Iconic representations: Sexuality and gender in popular culture
8. Tracking progress: South Asian women in the 21st century
23Student presentations
24Contemporary debates on feminism
25Globalization and South Asian women
26ConclusionsFinal research paper due one day after Ses #26


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