SAMYUKTA: A Journal of Women ’s Studies

Samyukta: A Journal of Women's Studies is a bi-annual publication of Women's Initiatives . The first issue was released in January 2001 by H.E. Sukh Dev Singh Kang, the Governor of Kerala, at a function held at the Raj Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram. The journal was well received in India and abroad, and was perceived to have fulfilled the need for a journal of women's studies from this part of the world. The journal presents a forum for women to deliberate on their present subaltern status. It gives equal impetus to defining theoretical positions and feminist activism. With its proclaimed motto of organizing women to share knowledge, Samyukta seeks to reach out to women across barriers.

Each issue has a thematic focus:

• January 2001 – Women and Autobiography
• July 2001 – Women and Power
• January 2002 & July 2002 Special Issues – Women and Health
• Jan 2003 – Women and Education
• July 2003 Special Issue – Indian Women's Fiction
• January 2004 – Translation of Parangodi Parinayam
• July 2004 – Women and Demographic Transition

Regular features in the journal:

• Interview with a leading personality
• Autobiographical writing
• Profile of a feminist
• Review of the contributions of a major thinker
• Excerpts from the pages of history
• Book reviews

Profile of a Feminist has already presented five stalwarts of feminist cause: Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Kate Millet and Juliet Mitchell. A review of the contributions of major male thinkers to the cause of women has also been regularly presented in the journal. Sree Narayana Guru, Mahatma Gandhi, B. R. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo have figured in this column so far.

From the Pages of History reproduces valuable historical documents from the past, which have been milestones in the evolution of women's liberation. For instance, the first issue included three edicts of the Madras Government issued in 1829, 1859 and 1865, which sanctioned women of the 'lower' castes in Kerala to cover the upper part of their body, a right hitherto denied to them. Progress of Education in India by J.A. Rechley, Public Health in the 19th century Travancore (1896-First Women's Hospital etc.), and Malabar Marriage Act which detailed marriage and inheritance legislation in Kerala in 1896, have also appeared in this column.

The January 2003 issue carries a document which goes beyond the women's issue—the extracts from Lord Macaulay's Minutes on Education, 1835. These archive materials are hoped to initiate a significant line of historical studies in contemporary research.

Journal Issues

January 2001: The inaugural issue of Samyukta focused on an important mode of women's expression—autobiography. The papers included critical essays on the autobiographical writings of Maya Angelou and Maria Campbell. Lalitha Ramamurthy made a theoretical examination of the collective consciousness of women in autobiographies. An interview with Kamala Das, the quintessential woman autobiographer and excerpts from the autobiography of the septagenarian Lily George balanced the personal narrative with the social. Among the contents was a survey of autobiographies by women in Malayalam, noting the historical background and the evolution of women's status. Critical evaluation of some of the milestones of Kerala history such as the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt, an assessment of the nature of reformation pioneered by Sree Narayana Guru, extracts from the Edicts relating to the sanction to cover the upper part of the body for ‘low caste' Channar women, an appraisal of women's empowerment and political reservation, a discussion on the politics of knowledge and its implications for women, and a critique on the politics of writing the history of women were other highlights. Creative pieces from some of Kerala's most important women writers of the earlier and present generations complemented the academic readings. Balamani Amma, the poetess of Kerala, in the poem The Pen , evokes the touching image of a woman parting ways with domesticity and finding relief in writing. The issue also had two feminist fictional retellings of Ramayana episodes by well-known short story writers of Malayalam, Sara Joseph and K. B. Sridevi.

July 2001: The second issue of Samyukta focused on ‘Women and Power'. Eminent feminist scholar and activist, Prof. K. Saradamoni's theme paper set the tone. There were articles on women and power in the Namboodiri community, male hegemony in the unique matrilineal system of Kerala effected through the karanavar, the eldest male, and the depiction of power relations in Malayalam fiction. This number carried excerpts from the autobiography of the famous revolutionary leader and political activist, K.R. Gowri Amma. The famous short story Suicide by Rajalakshmi, a writer who ended her life when on the brink of literary stardom, The Carpenter's Daughter , a feminist reading of the legend of Perumthachan, the master builder, by Vijayalekshmi, an iconoclastic invocation of the epic heroine Sita by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan in To Sita , along with P. Valsala's short story A World without Dushyanthan and Bheeman completed the theme of feminist de-mythification initiated in the first issue. There were also articles on women and media, a Kerala response to Amartya Sen's development perspective, the Lucknow Baijees of the 19th and early 20th centuries and a semiotic interpretation of women's use of flowers and kumkum.

January & July 2002: The third and fourth issues of Samyukta dealt with a significant topic yet to receive the attention it deserves—problems confronted by women in healthcare. The third issue (en)gendered women's health by tracing the history of women's involvement in health from the 1850s to the present, focusing on the problematic areas in the field. The eight articles in the issue included discussions on the importance given to women's health in women's studies by Lakshmi Lingam, discriminatory acts against women in healthcare by Dr. B. Ekbal, analysis of mental health in adolescents, reproductive and child health issues in Kerala, legal and social implications of the right to abortion, women's perspectives on HIV/AIDS and a health agenda for sex workers. The other highlights of the issue were a comprehensive survey of Indo Anglian women poets by Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta, and an insightful article on the poetry of Prabha Ganorkar by Shalmalee Palekar. The issue also included the wide-ranging discussion that Gita Hiranyan had with the noted feminist scholar and activist, Prof. Sara Joseph, touching on religion, family, language and a host of other issues that have a bearing on the lives of women. An excerpt from the autobiography of the Sri Lankan writer, Jean Arasanayagom was another major feature. In the creative writing section, the stories, Remani , by K. Saraswathyamma and Tales of the Vetal by B. Chandrika were noteworthy contributions. In addition to other regular features, the issue also presented Identity Formations in Intercultural Encounters by Eleonore Wildburger and a theoretical examination of Reservation and Social mobility by J. Prabhash.

The fourth issue of Samyukta deliberated on the thoughts and suggestions on health introduced in the previous issue. A sociological examination of the issues relating to women's health and health care in India by the reputed women's rights activist and scholar Vibhuti Patel placed the issue in perspective. A poignant account by a distinguished academician of her survival from breast cancer, articles on women and mental health, a critical study of the depiction of lunacy as a female malady in literature, essays on women and violence addressing the social, legal and psychological dimensions of the disastrous link between the two, well-researched article on the role of women in the plural medical system in Kerala comprising the biomedical, Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic and the marginal yet powerful Kani mode of traditional healing provided interesting as well as informative reading. The profile on Dr. Mary Punnen Lukose (1886-1976), the first lady doctor of Kerala who pioneered medical services to women, steering clear of all the gender biases that impeded her, made an inspiring tale. However, what brought critical attention to this particular number was the autobiography of the Adivasi leader, C.K. Janu, narrating her rise from an illiterate woman to one who commanded the respect of millions. Another highlighting feature of this number of Samyukta was the explorations into the realms of women's spirituality. The article by Dianne E. Janett on the sigificance of the pongala at the Attukal temple, and that by M.S. Hema on Bhakti as a movement of liberation, gave a totally new dimension to discussions on women's liberation. An array of creative writers, including those who had won international acclaim, like Sujata Sankranti and Leela Mayor lend charm to this number. Another notable inclusion was the translation of the famous play, Lanka Lakshmi , by C.N. Sreekantan Nair.

In its fourth issue, Samyukta launched a forum for discussion. The first in this series, “Possibilities in Eco-Feminist Politics for Contemporary Kerala” by Devika, raised a serious issue that prompts a critique of the Kerala model of development. Devika calls our attention to the need of an eco-feminist demystification of the development rhetoric and tourism literature of Kerala. This necessitates a feminist review of (1) the commodification of the female body by way of powerful anti-consumerist campaign, (2) medicalisation of the female body in Kerala, the inevitable consequence of the technological suppression of the natural process of child birth, (3) the ideology of womanly domesticity promoted by the modernization project that exploits the ‘ingrained' feminine qualities of maternity, nurturing and peaceful management, not only within the realm of home but in the workplace and public spheres of activity like politics and anti-liquor movement as well. The second essay in the Discussion Forum was on “Fisheries in Turmoil: A Feminist Perspective” by Nalini Nayak, an extension of the first essay in this series. Modern development as a male project built on the logic of destruction is reflected in the area of fisheries too, leading to the annihilation of nature and the feminization of poverty. The article critiques the anti-nature, anti-life measures implemented under the development project in order to increase fish production. Sustainability of sea resources through life nurture processes and a selective technology that respects the cycles of fish production necessitate and validate respect for life on land too.

January 2003: The fifth issue of Samyukta addressed a significant domain of women's empowerment—education. Prof. Sudha Rao, eminent educationalist, was the guest editor. There were ten articles by prominent educationalists on the historical evolution of women's education in India , its problems and possibilities. Articles on pertinent issues such as women's education in Kerala and North India during the colonial period, the education of the girl child, women's empowerment through technical education, women's performance in the field of management, and role of women's studies centers, opened up significant areas of gender research. The interview Ritu Menon and Zoya Hassan had with Uruz Fatima, pioneer in women's education among Muslims, was especially interesting. Carla Petievich in her article threw light on gender politics and the urdu ghazal with a rare critical insight. Dhanya Menon's examination of the highly sophisticated theories of Indian Aesthetics, in her article, "Transforming Nature in Art", attracted a lot of critical attention. The discussion on women and devotional literature continued in this issue, with the article by V.T. Usha on “Invisible Bodies: Andal, Bhakti and the Language of Poetic Discourse”. The moving account of a psychiatrist's journey into the mysteries of a patient's unconscious was indeed the centrepiece. The long poem Santa , by Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, rendered in English with great felicity by Vasanti Sankaranarayanan, set the tone for the creative content of this issue. The translation of C.N. Sreekantan Nair's Malayalam play Lanka Lakshmi continued in this number. The Malayalam short story Onion Curry and the Table of Nine by Priya A.S., and short poems by Ashita, were also included. Perhaps a fitting comment on this issue was the story, The Provenance of the Literary Editor by the renowned Malayalam writer, V.P. Shivakumar.

July 2003: The sixth issue of Samyukta was a special number, focusing on Indian short fiction by women writers. Thirty-four stories from fourteen languages, including English, were selected. The regional editors were Dr. Malashri Lal (English), Dr. Alladi Uma (Southern region), Dr. Anamika (Northern region), Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta (Eastern region), and Dr. Shirin Kudchedkar (Western region). The issue has a detailed introduction followed by shorter briefings by the contributing editors on the rationale of their choices. By choosing to translate from the regional languages into English, that enjoys a hegemonic status as a world language, we were addressing issues of power, and writing from the periphery to the centre. The translations retained the cultural nuances of the original as far as possible. On occasions when English did not provide an equivalent, the original was retained. These were not highlighted through italics, in order to facilitate the entry of these expressions into the cultural landscape of the English language. The stories represented the variations and polyphony of Indian women's writing. The best of Indian women writers such as Amrita Pritam, Kamala Suraiyya, Sashi Deshpande, Indira Goswami, Ajeet Caur, Dhiruben Patel and Sara Joseph were included.

January 2004: The seventh issue of Samyukta had articles by Dr. Ayyappa Paniker and Krishna Rayan which together explored the theory of interiorisation, and responses to it. The issue also carried the entire text of Kizhakkeppattu Ramankutty Menon's Parangodi Parinayam , one of the earliest Malayalam novels. General articles included those by Beena Gopinath on The God of Small Things , Sara Joseph on the disparity between artistic and actual truths in the lives of women, and Veena Pooncha on the changing policies of education in the era of globalisation. Translations included the concluding part of Lanka Lakshmi , the first part of Devaki Nilayangode's autobiography, and the short stories of K.R. Meera, Bama and C.S. Chandrika. The poems of Shanta Acharya, Soudamini, Bini B.S., Rosary Royar and Kutty Revathy were also featured. Other highlights were the interview of Gita Hiranyan by Sreedevi K. Nair, and regular features such as the study of the feminist (Julia Kristeva), the thinker (Raja Ram Mohun Roy) the topic of discussion by M. Kunhaman, Pages from History and review of books.