Kannada Feminism: Literary Traditions & Research Discourses

The Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) hosted Feminism: Theory and Praxis, a Three-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course. Throughout the program, participants had the invaluable opportunity to explore the rich tapestry of feminist thought, spanning from its historical origins to contemporary manifestations. Topics encompassed various feminist movements, intersectionality, the pivotal role of feminism in addressing global challenges, and strategies for gender-inclusive policymaking. 

The first speaker of the day was Prof. Indira Ramarao who presented on “Discourses on feminism in gender research in the mother tongue with special reference to Kannada.” Her presentation offered profound insights into the current state of gender research in Kannada language. With more than four decades of teaching experience at the University of Mysore, Prof. Ramarao shared nuanced observations and raised critical concerns about the integration of feminist traditions into research practices in Kannada. 

Despite acknowledging the scarcity of written material specifically on feminism in Kannada, she highlighted the language’s rich feminist traditions in writing. Prof. Ramarao shed light on the increasing focus on gender-related themes in research studies, particularly in the field of sociology at the University of Mysore. 

She highlighted that in the past five years, 40% of the research studies in her department focused on gender-related themes. However, she expressed her reservations about the predominantly descriptive nature of these studies, emphasizing the need to move beyond mere descriptions and ask critical questions that delve into the root causes of gender inequalities. 

Advancing Feminist Research in Kannada Literature

One of the intriguing aspects Prof. Ramarao addressed from the outset was whether it is imperative to always present research findings within the confines of a feminist theory. While recognizing the importance of understanding narratives and lived experiences, she argued that feminism is not confined to a specific theoretical framework but emerges organically from the diverse lived experiences of individuals. Drawing from the rich literary tradition in Kannada, she pointed out the existence of feminist undertones across various genres, ranging from autobiographies to novels. 

Delving into historical perspectives, Prof. Ramarao referenced Akkamahadevi, a Sharana poetess from the twelfth century, who questioned patriarchy, caste hegemony, and gender stereotypes in her Kannada writings. Prof. Ramarao posited that even though feminist terminology may not have been explicitly used in the past, feminist ideas were deeply embedded in the narratives and experiences expressed by writers in a simple language accessible to all. 

A crucial point raised by Prof. Ramarao was the acknowledgment of the diversity within feminisms. She argued that there isn’t a singular feminism but multiple strands, each emerging

from unique lived experiences and contexts. Contrary to the notion that feminist theory is an isolated block of thoughts, she emphasized that it is born out of the complex tapestry of people’s lives, continually asking critical questions about societal norms and structures. 

To counter the misconception that feminism is a Western concept incompatible with Kannada literature, Prof. Ramarao highlighted instances of feminist leanings in the writings of Akkamahadevi and other Kannada authors. She advocated for a translingual approach, emphasizing the need to transcend linguistic boundaries to fully comprehend feminist thought within the Kannada literary tradition. 

The professor expanded on the concept of gender research, clarifying that it encompasses studies focusing on gender and related themes. She expressed her concern about the prevalence of descriptive research and advocated for researchers to ask focused questions that go beyond raw data, delving into the root causes of observed gender disparities. Prof. Ramarao stressed the importance of understanding the “why” behind these disparities, encouraging researchers to adopt a more critical approach. 

In addition, Prof. Ramarao highlighted the need for a transdisciplinary and translingual approach to gender research in Kannada. She suggested that scholars should go beyond their discipline boundaries, explore various literary forms, and incorporate a broader cultural perspective. She encouraged researchers to study cross-cultures, folk literary traditions, and engage in rich translation practices to capture the nuances of feminism in Kannada language. 

The presentation concluded with Prof. Ramarao asserting that feminism is not merely a theoretical concept but a way of life. She urged researchers to open their minds to different forms of literature where feminism is embedded, fostering an inclusive and expansive approach to gender research in Kannada. 

With these valuable perspectives, Prof. Ramarao contributes significantly to the ongoing discourse on gender research in Kannada, offering a roadmap for researchers to move beyond descriptive studies and truly integrate feminism into their work.

Acknowledgment: Reet Lath is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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