Invisibilizing Women: Globalisation and the Gendered Nation


Abstract : Globalisation and the withdrawal of the nation steered the rise of new forms of economic oppression of women’s labour and economic stability. This leads to fresh forms of economic and social exploitation of women, their lives and their bodies. There are different modes of commodification of women’s bodies in global culture particularly in the way in which global economics affect farmer women’s lives. Despite the insertion of modernity with all the fanfare of reason, progress, productivity and individuality, postcolonial “India” under globalizing capital continues to deploy a rarefied pre-modernity. Global markets which have directly or indirectly caused the agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides are gendered economies that do not account for either women’s agricultural labour or their economic debilitation culminating in suicides. This is owing to the spiral of processes that begin with the denigrating of women’s wisdom in cropping seeding and cultivation and ending in the re-installment of pre-modern social practices such as dowry. Indeed the figure of woman in this era of globalisation and nationalist democracies, continues to collapse into the continuum of masculinist control, now represented by the spectator state. Liberal global cultures revisit traditional patriarchies, merely to revise its forms rather than to dislodge its content. It is this process of an emerging gendered economy, namely the new patriarchies of economic masculinities that is delineated here. The essay evaluates the operation of a transnational gendered economy by pointing to the masculinisation of profit and the feminisation of poverty for political and economic gain globally.

Keywords : gender, globalisation, nation-state, women farmers, global economics, sexual hierarchies, material conditions, invisibilisationfof women


Over the last two decades or so, one has witnessed the fanfare with which Globalisation as an economic and cultural project has been imposed on the ‘Indian’ context. The aggressive votaries of this predominantly exploitative project have promised instant prosperity to its receivers and have claimed that the trickle-down effect of global capital will re-distribute wealth across the masses. But this is absolutely untrue; a programmatic lie with which the globalists have cheated the developing nations into adopting the economics of neo-liberalism. The opponents of globalisation have cautioned against, what a number of sensitive thinkers have called the elitisation of profit, the circulation of income well within the realms of the middle classes, with no real re- distribution of wealth among the masses. In fact, most of these thinkers had warned against possible economic disasters that would hurt livelihoods and wages in the unbridled endeavour to globalise markets, privatise institutions and de-control trade and commerce. It is not until the euphemistically described global meltdown, that the questions regarding uncontrolled globalisation and unbridled competition, the politics of profit and the ethics of prosperity have been articulated. Thus we are but compelled now to raise that all-important question: is the promise of prosperity in the project of globalisation ultimately dependent on the production of economic poverty among the masses?

In all these debates over the inter-relations between prosperity and poverty in globalisation, there has certainly been the development of newer binaries between globalists who desire Keynesian, welfare- based answers to pressing economic losses, and the so-called left-leaning statists who valourise a command economy, despite supporting Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in their own backyards. Somehow neither the creative possibilities of Trotskyite economic policy nor our own version of Nehruvian mixed economics are being discussed and debated in the public domain. Often these debates range between the valourisation of the state and the legitimisation of laissez-faire enterprise. New intellectual acrimonies have been constructed and projected as economists and policy-makers sitting in their board-rooms decide the fates and destinies of the struggling masses. Suddenly now Amartya Sen and Andre Beteille have become relevant to particularly neo- liberalists who hope to stave away the global meltdown and re-install the profit-making businesses in the future. Hence they are consistently depicting the economic disasters of the present as temporary as if to show that the eventual recovery of the economy will lead to new modes of profiteering in the long term.

What has been missing in all these debates is that this devastating scenario has been long a-coming; that it was simply waiting to happen because the signs of the times were being systematically ignored as mere erratic economic anomalies that could be corrected by the so-called instruments of globalisation, namely the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and all its associates, including business lobbies, globalizing nation- states, differing transnational institutions and other politically interested agencies.

As exemplars of this negligence is the grave inattention to and gross neglect of farmers’ suicides recurrently taking place in the rural hinterlands of the Indian context, particularly after the reduction of farm- subsidies, the withdrawal of administered prices, the fiscal constraints in bank-loans, the covert destruction of the public distribution system, the trading in scientifically-developed seed and the import and export of food grain. Indeed this meant the withdrawal of the state from agriculture and the opening up of the markets to agrarian monopolies. Thus while compensation was being worked out by the system to merely stem the rot in the event of suicide, nothing systematic to resolve the agrarian crisis was forthcoming. Despite numerous studies and good advice, the political will to change has been largely lacking as the new economic dispensation of instant prosperity was being valourised. Thus one saw the measure of economic deterioration emerging in the rural heartlands of “India”, while apparent wealth in the form of increased wages for simple services was momentarily obtainable in the urban centres. Yet like the proverbial bubble, even that seemed to manoeuvre away from sustenance as the melt-down slowly began to take shape. But the agricultural sector suffered much more in comparison. There have been famines, malnutrition, death and disease that have emanated from the serious damages wreaked on agriculture, by neo-liberal economics. So have we seen the absence of the state in all these matters? Do we actually see the state as a spectator helplessly watching the steady decline of agricultural growth without intervening to stem its ultimate destruction?

In all these debates and questions that have been raised much of which is genuinely productive, there has hardly been any clarified reference to the place of women in the emerging crisis. In fact women have only been represented as largely second-hand receivers of the violence of the agrarian crisis; that they only endure the loss of their husbands/fathers/brothers and hence their loss of income wages and profit. These women are farmers too; they constitute a large chunk of farm labour; they are direct participants in seeding, planting and harvesting, and they own farms and are affected by the fiscal crises male farmers face—none of these has ever been questioned or raised as serious issues for debate. Hence what then is the place of women in the larger inter-relations between prosperity, poverty and state? Is there a cruel process of gendering at work?

This analysis therefore is occasioned by the rise of new forms of economic oppression of women’s labour and economic stability and fresh forms of economic and social exploitation of women, their lives and their bodies. I argue here that there are different modes of commodification of the women’s bodies in global culture particularly in the way in which global economics affect farmer women’s lives. Despite the insertion of modernity with all the fanfare of reason, progress, productivity and individuality, postcolonial “India” under globalizing capital continues to deploy a rarefied pre-modernity. I argue here that global markets which have directly or indirectly caused the agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides are gendered economies that do not account for either women’s agricultural labour or their economic debilitation culminating in suicides. This is owing to the spiral of processes that begin with the denigrating of women’s wisdom in cropping, seeding and cultivation and ending in the re-installment of pre-modern social practices such as dowry. Indeed the figure of the woman in this era of globalisation and nationalist democracies, I argue, continues to collapse into the continuum of masculinist control, now represented by the spectator state. Liberal global cultures, I argue, revisit traditional patriarchies, merely to revise its forms rather than to dislodge its content. It is this process of an emerging gendered economy, namely the new patriarchies of economic masculinities that I wish to track and delineate here. I also wish to round of my evaluation of the project of a transnational gendered economy by pointing to the masculinisation of profit and the feminisation of poverty for political and economic gain globally.

Globalisation /Globalism: Some Preliminary Remarks

Today, globalisation as an economic process of capital formation has been developed into a dominating ideology, called globalism1. In this new discourse of power2 the individual disengaged from the ritual moralism of his/her context is re-figured as a liberal subject who makes “choices” that could re-define productively the social and economic fabric of his/her nation. This new imaginary, it is argued, would transform marginalised segments of society, particularly the doubly burdened women, to develop autonomous agencies for self- empowerment. Globalists write this partial, yet deeply attractive discourse of equality in order to legitimise neo-liberal market ideologies in the public realm.

Hoping beyond hope, one hesitantly had imagined the development of a democratised social sphere in which women would re-arrange their socio-economic interests unburdened by patriarchal sexual-politics in order to radically transform their location and their lives productively. The imagined free global market was expected to create opportunity, sustain difference but disrupt sexual hierarchies yielding social transformation as promised by the discourse of global capital. Women becoming producers of their own destinies, becoming small entrepreneurs; choosing their own employment and economic well-being; exploring and asserting their desire: such was the duplicitous imagery of globalism.

These imagined possibilities soon turned out to be empty mystifications as the contrary unfolded in the ‘everyday’; that space where the experience of the ordinary, given to the prevarications of survival is enacted. These promises remained elusive as they simply did not translate into a productive dynamic in the current society of “India”. Instead what was endured was the destruction of subsistence farming and as consequence, farmer husband suicides; the politics of caste, class and gender in education; sexual assault/harassment, rape and murder; regulation and prevention of social mixing; brutal upper- caste self-pride: all these have punctuated the everyday. There was a rise in crimes against women either based on masculinist regulation over women’s bodies or the object-use of the female body for capitalist control and unashamed profiteering. Thus the embattled position of the woman has continued to remain unchanged.

Deconstruction and the Public Sphere

When deconstruction3 arrived with the onset of post-modernism, that assumedly progressive move, which chooses to defer and ambiguate, many expected the opening up of markets to disaggregate the complex social hierarchies and more specifically sexual hierarchies to yield a freer civil society space that would actively democratise into an equally free public sphere4. Women could appropriate this fluid space for self-empowerment. In collaborating with capital, the post-modern posited and visualised that conservative cultural-sexual mores would be re-visioned in an alternative ethic of justice, because of the free play of initiative, creativity and innovation. But that too was not to be. Instead the markets restored a triumphalist moralism5 through a differentiated regulatory order that re-deployed gender as the normative of the everyday. Thus modernist cultural protocols only reshaped conservative forms of the male order, while their cultural and economic substantives remained intact. Therefore a deeply gendered hegemony dominated and controlled women and their local strategies for achievement were subjugated by the discourse of globalism, while the nation-state withdrew from the economic theatre where the failures of globalism were staged. This then became the conjuncture of economic complexes that wrote gender duplicitously as the high watermark of global capital and the democratised public domain.

The Nation and Global Economics

The nation-state as early as in the 1970’s had initiated its withdrawal from the economic theatre of national life attempting to enhance creative methods of producing income. The State, meanwhile had actively disengaged itself from providing social entitlements6 like education and health, constitutionally guaranteed for its masses. In ceasing to intervene in the economic process, the nation-state fielded exploitation as creativity, guarding transnational profit as investment and sustaining capitalist power as international trade. This principle of non-intervention and its attendant hands-off approach was displayed time and again in numerous economic and political actions of the nation- state as it remained menacingly mute to the violent religious fundamentalism that dismembered the secular fabric of the national ethos7. As a postcolonial nation, the State as guarantor of people’s rights and freedom was severely compromised and the democratisation of the public sphere never happened. But the State remained a spectator and adopted the neo-liberal view that ‘things will sort themselves out’, so popular in democracies today. And women in their silences became the sites on which fundamentalist belief and global economics were played out.

The Cultural: Some Formulations

Much of this neo-liberal attitude to the economic process comes from an understanding of culture as represented and deployed in the public realm of the “Indian” context. “Culture” in much of our public discourse has been depicted as a universal norm of the human. It has been defined and re-defined to imply a universal and uniform civilisation. Somehow such definitions dislodge the multi-cultural nature of our present and the polyphonic nature of our past and simplistically produce a static description of this ambiguous and changing terrain called culture. Therefore what are imposed are the esoteric singularity of past ambiguities and the silencing of present pluralities. In the bargain not only do new inequalities and injustices emerge but also old orthodoxies and tyrannies are re-installed. Thus, the hegemonies of sexual politics especially of a medieval nature reconstitute the rigidities of the vanishing present and the reformulation of the hierarchies of the cultural past. Thus as a given, culture re-institutes the politics of sexual hierarchies with its rather naïve conception of a wistful history of past glory that needs to be re-visited for the legitimisation of what is cultural. This complexity is what guarantees the male order of culture which is necessarily dependent on the subjugation of women, their bodies and their lives. Therefore it seems impossible to conceptualise culture without being implicated in the sexual politics and the patriarchal hierarchies, they produce. In other words, a static notion of culture is highly gendered to say the least.

As a result, we can only juxtapose these orthodox representations of culture with the name of the cultural as a relational system of thinking and practice, a proposition far more fluid and constitutive than other conceptions of it. The cultural—unlike cultureas a critical category defies all fixity of meaning and coherence and is inescapably provisional depending on its interpretative systems and agencies. Hence notions that hegemonise both context and its people, while being cultural include within its possibilities the ambiguation of possibilities. Thus the normative and the fluctuating are both aspects of the culture and therefore may either be lined in binary opposition or in eternal syncreticism.

That the cultural as a category mediated by a set of practices dialectically arranged to posit norms and prohibitions, totems and taboos for the stability of a living community of people8; that in its specific contexts, the cultural is a battle between self and other, between ideas of one and the practices of the other and that it is about relational power between people on the inside of a context and those on the outside9; and that as a concept and practice, the cultural is an ever-changing “symbolic system”10, the grammar of the language of real life, that constitutes the “social” inevitably connected to the processes of meaning- formation—none of the above has been adequately represented as the inter-textual site on which “ the cultural” rather than culture is located, mediated and recognised. Thus the cultural in its nature and performance justifies/discredits ideas and practices that either manufacture consensus or mobilise resistance.

Levi Strauss, the anthropologist, perceives the cultural as a set of dialectical practices which shapes a consciousness for productive human activity11. This implies that people who live in communities are rooted in their material conditions than in their belief systems. In other words, going beyond ‘real’ life entails being rooted in it. The English critic, Terry Eagleton re-articulates it differently claiming that transcending into culture consists in being rooted in the “base-structure” of material history in order to break into the “superstructure” of “culture”12. For Lacan, culture manufactures the subjectification of the self to the objectification of the other.13 This relational process transacts a politics of language producing imperial or nationalist vocabularies defining a discursive dynamic of oppression and control. To be free subjects, sexed or otherwise, the others in the nation or in the imperium must recover/ discover counter-vocabularies as alternative epistemologies of otherness. Raymond Williams’ exegesis is perhaps extremely crucial here as his nuanced argument combines discursive power in Foucault with hegemony theory in Gramsci, to posit cultural-materialism14. Emergent culture would employ the symbolic to frame differently its ideological and linguistic foundations in the social sphere. Thus in the procedures of the “language of real life”, the Marxist framework of the dialectics between “the material being” constructing “the social being”15 become resonant as the politics of culture and its evocative vocabularies maintain the structure of material conditions, as they are in order to guarantee profit and wealth. What it merely develops is the value addition that constructs social and sexual hierarchies as economic instruments which maintain this structure by reshaping its outer framework while encrusting its content. Within the context of the cultural, sexual hierarchies, while being entrenched in content, also reformulate their strategies of deployment. In terms of language then, and the sexing of subjects and objects in its grammar, there appears the masculinisation of the self and the feminisation of the other. In this respect, there develops what Lacan might call the gendered social.16

What makes this procedure of gendering significant in the “Indian” context is that it frames the cyclical logic by which social stratification formulates gendering; and that in turn reshapes the always already social inequalities that are obtainable in the current cultural and social sphere of the nation-state. By and large, the terms of caste and particularly its birth and reinforcement in “Sanskritisation” constitute ideologies of patriarchy as masculinities re-define the normativeness of caste. In relation to M.N. Srinivas’ perspective, the politics of purity/impurity of caste17 and its relevance for the cultural is an inescapable conceptual bind which proposes and develops sexual hierarchies that India cannot escape but must redress in order to progress as a modern society. Often we are led to ask: Can we talk about India without addressing questions of caste? But do we ever ask: Do we write gender, when we discuss caste? That perhaps may well be central to any analysis of society, culture and economics in the Indian context. However one cannot yet see any systematic theorisations undertaken to explain how the caste-gender relations are integrally a cultural and economic inter-site, where when we conceptualise the one, we constantly write the other. By implication then the language of representations of both caste and gender are inter-related because it forges the discourse of material conditions (economics of caste) with the discursivity of power (culture of patriarchy). In the “Indian” context, the politics of identity within the symbolic realm is rooted in the structures of material conditions. By a politics of inversion in India, the base structure of capital produces the social condition of caste, while the superstructure of caste is written on the base-structure of the woman’s body. Thus the ideological cycle of capital is deeply underwritten by the inter-relations between caste and the woman’s body and between gender and the social in order to sustain itself. Thus capital formation uses caste in order to develop concepts of gender and vice-versa in order to sustain social stratification and produce capital.

This exegesis of the cultural and its interpretation of caste and gender attempts to frame the following analysis of cultural formation in the “Indian context”. It becomes relevant as the questions feminists raise place the representation of denial, marginalisation, minimalisation and exclusion of women in perspective.

Gender and Culture

Feminist thinkers have systematically faulted cultural discourse for its discursive regulation, violation and exclusion of women from cultural histories of emerging nations. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, in their “Introduction” to Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History (1989), argue for a feminist historiography that would include gender questions in history-writing. They interrogate presumptuous “gender–neutral” cultural histories as subsuming women’s stories, invisibilizing them from their historiography. There seems really no option but to refigure women as integral to history, which then will redefine the principles of history-writing itself. To silence gender and invisibilise women in history would only produce partial histories of the masculine18.

Contradictorily, Sangari and Vaid disclose that women’s bodies are constituted as the pivotal “site” that inscribes “culture” as the authentic self of the emerging Indian nation. In the debates over Sati in colonial India, women are embodied as visible repositories of Indianness, preserving the integrity and the difference of the homeland distinct from the modernist intrusions of western culture. Burdened symbolically on behalf of Indian morality, they also become the name of the cultural. This contradictory process of culture-formation normalises gender in the cultural-material discourse of Indian subjectivity and identity19.

Illuminating this perspective, Gayatri Spivak represents the model of asceticism in the feminisation of the national struggle as symbolically regulating female desire and domesticating women in the public/private spheres in order to mark cultural differences. Gandhian non-violence refigures the Vedantic wife/widow as metaphor of national liberation, masculinizing colonial rule, feminizing the nation and gendering the cultural. Restoring female sexualities to their appropriate spaces and articulating a feminine national geography performs a hegemonic function that restricts the self-exploration of female subjectivities20.

The exegesis above attempts to explain how gender is constituted:

  1. the invisibilisation of women from self-empowering discursivity,
  2. the refiguring of women as bearers of culture, and (3) the regulation of female desire in the public sphere. I also deliberately focus pre-colonial and post-independent cultural histories as a symbolic displacement of gender in highly fundamentalised social discourse today, the relevance of which will be visible to the nature and practice of the contemporary political economy of the nation state.
The Agrarian Crisis and the State

To put the agrarian problem in perspective let me divert attention momentarily to the actual history and origin of the agrarian crisis experienced between 1999 and 2002, also the period when farmer- suicides became endemic to the agricultural context of India.

With the arrival of liberalisation input costs in agriculture spiralled beyond recognition. New market economics set out the principle of competition so aggressively that it destroyed the growing sense of self-sufficiency that came with the agrarian revolution. With international private players appearing with the opening of the markets, the local farmers were faced with increase in costs on all fronts— seeds, chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides. With government subsidies withdrawn, the peasant farmers and their labour came directly in confrontation with the volatile nature of international costs. Often it seemed easier to leave the land fallow rather than till it because the costs of production would bankrupt livelihood/subsistence farmers.

That apart trading in seeds became complicated with lending for production. This meant that cartels of traders would lend at high interests and buy at low rates as the titration of market economies would place the farmer at the losing end of the economic cycle. Thus farmers sold cheap while they cultivated at higher costs. The spiral of debt and credit hit the subsistence farmers, hard enough to make him/her commit suicide.

Besides, government in attempting to provide the opportunity for innovation withdrew its regulations to administer prices of farm inputs such as fertilisers, chemicals and seeds. The agrarian sector was systematically privatised with trade in seeds becoming more and more unmanageable for the local farmer. The international players then began to offer seeds at lower prices by comparison with indigenously manufactured seeds for local agriculture21.

Gender, the State and Globalisation

To further my analysis I wish to travel through media reports of gender violence to disclose how the post-colonial State and post- independent globalists invisibilise women for the sake of economic profit and social gain.

Pedda Narsamma is a dalit woman-farmer from Andhra Pradesh who single-handedly farmed her family’s small patch of land, simultaneously working as a farm-labourer in neighbouring fields. She worked the fields tirelessly, and cared for her children and grand- children. The crops failed and unable to pay off her debts, Narsamma, committed suicide. The State failed to recognise her death as farmer- suicide, because legally the farmer is a landed male and she failed to fit in that category and denied her family any compensation. Though women constitute nearly 90% of the productive agrarian farm-labour and/or are subsistence farmers, the State reifies farming as male enterprise officially legitimizing maleness by gendered erasure22.

P.A. Sainath’s reports published between July and August 2005 cite the confusion among Human Rights groups that fail to document such episodes even as the State remains absent for the gendered subaltern. Concurrently women encounter so-called responsibilities23 as farmers’ suicides bring on the violence of masculinity in the crude logic of land-grabbing, urban migrations and dowry-demanding, reinforcing sexual violence on women in the domestic space. As one informant claims: “the worse the farm crisis got the more the dowry problems grew”24.

Analyzing the Issues

In their own indigenous endeavours, women-farmers had carried forward the innovation of grafting seeds for better crop yields. They had worked systematically to advance crops and enhance their income. For others who were big farmers, usually in male zamindari systems, both indigenous seeds and public sector produced seeds were regularly used. But for the poor peasant farmer usually women, only the indigenous was accessible; and the neo-liberal discourse of technology- driven agriculture, scientifically-coded seeds and industrialised farming techniques made marginal, if no sense at all, because of the nature of agriculture itself which was perceived as livelihood rather than as trade. With the arrival of the much-hyped new seeds, the indigenous methods of seed-development took a rather large beating, because of its inability to meet the credibility requirements of the farming process. The State, in its view to liberalise fostered the replacement of indigenous seeds with “foreign” seeds that promised better yields and more fortune in the bargain. While hyping the idea of productivity, the state liberalised other trade laws and regulations in order to permit the free play of easily available seeds in the open market. The discourse of science further inferiorised the indigenous techniques of the local community. One visited unconsciously the imperial pattern of incriminating locally developed economic habits and replacing homegrown methods of income-generation with modernist ones. Added to this silencing of indigenous wisdom is the gendering that such incriminations enhance.

For most women, the insertion of new agrarian technologies— genetically coded seeds, import of scientifically-enhanced planting systems—have replaced their innovative expertise in seeding and planting25. With the reduction in farm subsidies and formal institutional credit severely restricted, feudal money-lending processes have grown into a complex spiral of harassments including bonded labour and dowry deaths. As the media reports show, the farming losses were attempted to be made up by way of demanding higher dowry and forced and protracted bonded labour.26

The loss and denial confronted by women appears unanalyzable for the sheer enormity of its human costs. But if we are to advocate social alternatives, we have to explain crucial social processes that refer to my earlier remarks on gender and culture. The gendered erasure, earlier cited, is perhaps best represented in the gendering processes that develop into the invisibilisation and peripherilisation of women. Let me unpack each one of them by identifying specific gendering processes that this case-study suggests. The first concerns the procedures of omission experienced by women in a patriarchal nation-state. The State in its circulars simply does not account for the presence of women as farmers. Only men have pattas and therefore only men can be farmers. Farmers’ suicides do not merely propose an economic crisis then but masculinises it, as if men alone endure it. The visibility of male bodies is grounded on the invisibilisation of women. That apart, most human rights groups have been left quite confused on how to document this assumed new phenomenon such as women farmer suicides. This inability to mobilise adequate instruments of documentation is a failure of ethnography that performs an epistemological violence of exclusion on the gendered subaltern. The State watches as a spectator sometimes helpless because of the patriarchal laws and the global economics that it cannot reformulate or change ; at other times, it colludes in the effort to ignore the immensity of the crisis itself with the belief that ‘things will sort themselves out’. Women like Narsamma endure an unjust system of oppression and economic production, formed and sustained by global economics and local patriarchy. Despite claims to modernity, the nation-state permits by its absence the menacing spectacle of pre- modern systems of capital-formation like land-grabbing, money lending, and bonded labour. Thus there is both operational and discursive violence performed on women farmers in this context. This then is gendering by omission.

Secondly, the nation state constitutes another kind of absence in the process of economic life; sometimes it diverts attention using the rhetoric of choices. In other words, it claims that innovation and creativity would change the scene radically to provide profit. Hence the expectation of state is for women farmers to find other means of tidy over the crisis. This is omission by diversion. Since women are absent in the state’s legal-social discourse it can justify female invisibilisation suggesting that women are immaterial to the crisis as they do not own “patta” and are unlike “a landed male with a patta”27. This reification of the male-body to the discounting of women’s labour legitimises the state’s category of private ownership but de-legitimises women as farmers28. This combination of direct omission and legalist diversion constitutes what I call the invisibilisation of women.

The other aspect relates to peripheralisation and concerns the failure of civil and political society to address social issues including dowry. Farmers’ suicides, male or female, integrate social conditioning with state processes into a pan-national patriarchal regulation that transacts social intersections between women’s absence in economic activity, (no women are farmers) the glamourisation of the male body, (men own pattas) and the commodification of sexuality in dowry transactions (women are bodies). Despite women being economic producers, they still encounter a social system where kinship institutions concern economic power invested in male authority. What began in history as streedhan, a method, which guaranteed women property rights is now deployed differently. Dowry configures women’s bodies as the preferred site for capital accumulation. Erasing women from productive process, economic domination by the male zamindari and the socially depraved system of dowry minimalise women as mere bodies in the gendered state. Thus we perceive gendering in terms of reductiveness which is the minimalisation of women in their bodies.

Observed from another end, women farmers’ suicides relate to the structural violence of globalizing economies. Global economics denies and excludes women’s economic productivity and cultural wisdom from global trade and commerce.

This agrarian crisis forces us to recognise globalisation’s attack on sustainable women’s subsistence farming. Gabriele Dietrich’s analysis of globalisation (1997) and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF/WB) delineate the nature of hegemonic control financial institutions enforce on poor nations29. The debt-trap, she claims, diverts 30% of all government spending to debt-servicing, which forces nations to return to such institutions in order to spruce up reserves and service debts further. This vicious spiral is further complicated via the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), much later constituted as an international legal system, in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which developed an anti-farmer regime for the rural sector. The big farmers confront economic disruptions without doubt but their strategies only produce greater exploitation of women farm-workers. Dietrich further argues that the system of privatisation/liberalisation which curbs public spending under SAP calls education, health and distribution as “wasteful expenditure”. In the rural sector, Dietrich claims, the impact of such discourse is “disastrous”. Subsidies are reduced; food trade monopolised; and farming handed down to the powerful few30 who can afford imported seeds, elaborate irrigation systems and cheap labour.31 Multinational monopolies, large farming cartels and the markets exploit natural resources, including water denying the struggling farm-labourers and small farmers survival. Above all, women’s economic productivity, their skilled labour as farm seed- producers, is displaced by mechanised farming and imported seeds. Dietrich points out:

This (the new regime) is a direct onslaught on women peasants. While women agricultural labourers will face more competition from men losing land, the traditional knowledge systems of women about seeds, live-stock as well as soil-regeneration and water management will be discredited and destroyed. Their methods of seed preservation will be deemed illegal32.

Written in 1997, this analysis appears prophetic; it explains the unscrupulous nature of the new economic regime engaged in the protection and production of profit as capital. Women bear the manipulations in fair-price procurement too. This warning appearing almost a decade ago, unpacks the state’s intentions. The nation-state however proudly enhances its hands-off approach, remaining a mute spectator to this growing crisis. For Dietrich, the protocols of globalism are an ideological framework based on profit for the few and poverty for the many. Further the ecological shifts in climate patterns restrict the natural benefits farmers need33.

For Dietrich, the programmatic silencing of indigenous farming competencies displaces women’s wisdom to the periphery and inserts imported seeds into the emerging markets. In permitting the sale of goods and services, good, bad or ugly, the nation directly mutes women’s livelihoods and creative energies. In this silence, markets feminise so- called unprofitable productivity and women’s subsistence farming and masculinise profit and wealth. The marketisation of agriculture expects women to bear the social costs as self-sacrifice in order to service corporations, all in the name of economic development. Thus the gender- neutral subject of the public sphere is a masculinised subject othering the woman as economic producer and censoring her subjectivity. In effect, the market, not the state, control women’s lives and their livelihoods, as it genders global economy and emasculates the social. Gazing immobile, the Indian nation colludes with the global market to assert a masculinist global order to fashion its vulgarised claim, to encouraging unbridled creativity in economic enterprise gazing immobile at the destruction of modes of production, women innovate for the benefit of humane/human societies.

Thus we can claim without much hesitation that the women do bear a double burden in the context of the spectator state and global economics. The first of these relate to the conjuncture of invisibilisation of women in the gendered state constituted by omission and diversion; and the other relates to the peripheralisation of women structured by the forms of minimalisation in their bodies and the denial and exclusion of their competencies and wisdom in the conjuncture between the state and global economics. In short, once again we witness women being subjugated because of their sexuality on the one hand and the nature of global economics on the other. In short, they are our others because they are poor and because they are women as well.

Conclusion: Globalism, Gender and the Nation-State

I return here by way of conclusion to the question concerning the inter-relation of prosperity and poverty. The first serious fault-line in this relation is material. The arrangement of capitalist material conditions cannot but bring together the bourgeois economics of capital and the repressive apparatus of gender now supported and fostered by a vulnerable state. This then describes globalisation because its discourses and its dynamics foreground and operationalises this economic process of imperialism. On the one hand the postcolonial state represents an absence as in Narsamma’s case where it abrogates its ameliorative34 function that Ambedhkar visualised for the emerging “Indian” nation. On the other hand global economics masks this subtle but real politics of indirect conquest by the fanfare of freedom, creativity, trickle-down effects and wealth-creation. Thus we have a failed nation-state that fosters masculinity at the cost of femaleness; a nation that denies that women are capable of productive economic activity. We also have global forces that divert attention from real issues in order to masculinise profit and feminise poverty by its subtle rhetoric of “choices”.

Gendering then from whichever end, is at the centre of global economics and national vulnerabilities. It is the process that guarantees the vastly distant ideological and economic gap that prevail between the rich and the poor. In its spread it employs always already gendered mores and sexual hierarchies in order to produce profit based on the sexed nature of material conditions. Gendering in global economics is re-defined in the cultural, as the superstructure, that restores unequal sexual hierarchies in the base-structure of material conditions.

The state’s inaction deprives underprivileged women farmers, pre- dominantly dalit of their opportunities for survival and enhances gendering processes premised on the caste/class axis. The deliberately weak nation-state with a parallel global economy owned by global industrial houses that are anti-people and pro-profit constricts the productive innovativeness of women and their craft. These processes write the silencing of women, their wisdom and their presence, in the social sphere. Thus the state besides being bourgeois is also patriarchal because it silences, omits and marginalises women reducing them to mere bodies.

It is this reduction to mere bodies with no other identity that marks the conjuncture between globalism and the nation-state. The political economy of globalism and the politics of an absent (nation-state) build a transnational sexual economy. While I am aware that sexual economies have specific roles and functions and are often defined by the performance of specific forms of sexual labour usually in sex-work, it still holds that they are premised on questions of the social reductiveness of women as mere bodies; the peripheralisation of such work in the larger economy; and the insufficiency of laws to preserve a right to dignity against rape, molestation and harassment, all of which are visible in globalism. Moreover sexual economies erase their objects, their women, from any potential for self-identity and subject-formation. For all practical purposes then globalisation and its cohort, the nation, premise their dynamic and their discourse on the woman’s body, re- inscribing the gendered subaltern as an erasable object of indigenous farming economies, enhancing the possibilities of domestic violence in dowry and the inescapable cycle of denial, silence and exclusion on the one hand and the violence of poverty, death and suicide on the other. The sexual exploitation and the gendered deprivation are silenced in the prolixity of the universalisation of poverty and the elitisation of transnational profit.

What globalism choreographs is the contradictory logic of capital, between the promise of profit and staging a sexual economy, reminiscent of colonial desire. Thus it is clear that the production of prosperity is based on the creation of poverty; and is enforced by the feminisation of poverty and the masculinisation of wealth.


1 The term has come to stand for an understanding of not just an economic practice but for a systematic discourse that breeds a new ideology of economic and social power. For further details see, Steger, Manfred. Globalisation: The New Market Ideology. New Delhi : Rawat Publications, 2004.

2 I have used ideas from Foucault’s interviews and writings on Truth and Knowledge to explain how consent is won both by subtle force and subtle argument. For further details see, Foucault, Michel. Power/ Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

3 I’m using here Derrida’s rather sustained notion of an alternative standard of “calculation” which he claims will put pressure on repressive regimes to democratise. Derrida was responding to the Campaigns against Apartheid in both Africa and the United States in the 1980’s when anti- racism was deployed as a call for democratisation of a racialised polity. I have extended the proposition of discrimination to implicate questions of sexual hierarchies. For further details see, Derrida, Jacques. “Racism’s Last Word” trans Kamuf, Peggy. “Critical Inquiry Autumn 1985”. Vol.12.No.1 .

4 I refer here to Partha Chatterjee’s deployment of civil society spaces as being “the sphere of social production”(228). Also I refer to what he claims to be “the rise of the public sphere”(235) in Europe as being constituted by how culture and the state are united in the process of the production of the public sphere. For further details see Chatterjee, Partha. “Communities and the Nation”. The Nation and Its Fragments :Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1993/ 2001.

5 The West faulting the Asian communities particularly for not espousing the ethics of modernity, namely rationality and democracy is what I read as the restoration of an enlightenment ethic that I call a ‘moralism’. I use here Bilgrami’s recent analysis in EPW. See, Bilgrami,Akeel. “Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on the Enlightenment and Enchantment”. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol.XLI No:33. Aug 19-25, 2006.

6 I refer here to Aijaz Ahmad’s analysis of redistributing “income upwards” while denying the already poor and disadvantaged social entitlements such as food, health and education. See Ahmad, Aijaz. Communalism and Globalisation: Offensives of the Far Right. New Delhi : Three Essays Press, 2002.

7 Baxi, Upendra.” The Second Gujarat Catastrophe”. Economic and Political Weekly .24-03-02 ,2002.

8 For a fuller analysis , see Strauss, Claude Levi. The Savage Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966.

9 I gesture here Lacanain theories of primal repression used ever so often as terrains of exploration of feminisation. For details see Moi, Toril. Sexual Textual Politics : Feminist Literary Theory. London/ New York: Methuen &Co. Ltd, 1985 : 99-101.

10 Williams, Raymond. “Culture”. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. London : Fontana Press, 1976.

11 Strauss, Claude Levi. The Savage Mind .Chicago : Chicago University Press, 1966.

  1. Eagleton, Terry. “Base and Superstructure Revisited”. New Literary History 31. University of Exeter ,2000 : 231-240.

13 See Moi, Toril. Sexual Textual Politics : Feminist Literary Theory. London/ New York: Methuen &Co. Ltd, 1985 : 99-101.

14 Williams, Raymond. “Culture”. Keywords: A Vocabulary Of Culture and Society. London : Fontana Press, 1976.

15 Marx, Karl. “ The German Ideology “. In Adams (ed), Critical Theory Since Plato .New York : Random House, 1947/1971.

16 For details see Moi, Toril. Sexual Textual Politics : Feminist Literary Theory. London/New York: Methuen &Co. Ltd., 1985 : 99-101.

17 I have used the distinctions between Louis Dumont over the issues of caste here. For further details, see Srinivas, MN. “A Note On Sanskritisation and Westernisation”. Collected Essays. New Delhi: OUP, 2002.

18 Sangari, Kumkum and Vaid, Sudesh. Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History. New Delhi : Kali For Women, 1989.

19 Ibid., 1989.

20 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “A Critique Of Postcolonial Reason: Towards History Of the Vanishing Present”. Calcutta : Seagull Books, 1999.

21 I wish to acknowledge Dr. Vijoo Krishnan, Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, St Joseph’s College, Bangalore for his inputs on this section. I have drawn these inputs and much support in understanding the problem from numerous conversations and from his doctoral thesis.For further reference, see Krishnan, Vijoo. Impact of Neo- Liberal Economic Policies : A Comparative Study of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala 1999-2002. Unpublished Doctoral thesis submitted to the Group of Comparative Politics and Political Theory, JNU, New Delhi, July 2002.

22 Sainath, P. A. “ How The Better Half Dies” .The Hindu July 31 2005.

23 Ibid. The Hindu July 31 2005.

24 Sainath, P. A. “ How The Better Half Dies”. The Hindu July 31 2005.

25 Sainath, P. A. “ How The Better Half Dies”. The Hindu July 31 2005.

26 Ibid. The Hindu July 31 2005.

27 Sainath, P. A. “ How The Better Half Dies”. The Hindu July 31 2005.

28 Dietrich, Gabriele. “Effects of IMF/WB Policies on Women In India”. In Muricken, Ajit (ed), Globalisation And SAP Trends and Impact: An Overview. Mumbai: Vikas Adyayan Kendra, 1997.

29 Dietrich, Gabriele. “ Effects Of IMF/WB Policies On Women In India”

.In Muricken, Ajit (ed), Globalisation And SAP Trends and Impact: An Overview. Mumbai: Vikas Adyayan Kendra, 1997.

30 Ibid 1997.

31 Ibid 1997.

32 Ibid 1997.

33 Ibid 1997.

34 See further references in Rao, Anupama. (ed) Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari (Ed.Series). Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism: Gender and Caste. New Delhi : Kali For Women/ Women Unlimited, 2003/2006.


Ahmad, Aijaz. Communalism and Globalisation: Offensives of the Far Right. New Delhi: Three Essays Press, 2002.

Baxi ,Upendra. “The Second Gujarat Catastrophe”. Economic and Political Weekly. 24-03-02, 2002.

Bilgrami, Akeel. “Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on the Enlightenment and Enchantment”. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol.XLI No:33 Aug. 19-25 2006.

Chatterjee, Partha. “Communities and the Nation”. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993/2001.

Derrida, Jacques. Racism’s Last Word. (Trans) Kamuf, Peggy. Critical Inquiry Autumn 1985 Vol.12. No.1 1985.

Dietrich, Gabriele. “Effects Of IMF/WB Policies On Women In India”. In Muricken, Ajit (ed.), Globalisation And SAP Trends and Impact: An Overview. Mumbai: Vikas Adyayan Kendra, 1997.

Dumont, Loius. Homo Hierarchius. (Trans.) Mark Sainsbury. London: Paladin, 1970.

Eagleton, Terry. “Base and Superstructure Revisited”. New Literary History 31.

University of Exeter, 2000 : 231-240.

Foucault, Michel. Power /Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972- 1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology”. In Adams (Ed), Critical Theory Since Plato.

New York: Random House, 1947 /1971.

Moi, Toril . Sexual Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London/ New York; Methuen &Co. Ltd, 1985: 99-101.

Rao, Anupama. (Ed) Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari (Ed.Series), Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism: Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali For Women/ Women Unlimited ,2003/2006.

Sangari, Kumkum and Sudesh Vaid. Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History.

New Delhi: Kali For Women, 1989.

Sainath, P A. “How The Better Half Dies”. The Hindu July 31 2005.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards History of the Vanishing Present”. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1999.

Srinivas, M. N. “A Note on Sanskritisation and Westernisation”. Collected Essays. New Delhi: OUP, 2002.

Steger, Manfred. Globalisation: The New Market Ideology. New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2004.

Strauss, Claude Levi. The Savage Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966.

Wa Thiongo, Ngugi. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Curry/ Heinmann, 1986.

Williams, Raymond. “Culture”. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.

London: Fontana Press, 1976.


ETIENNE RASSENDREN. Teaches at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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Teaches at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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