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Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India

Reshma Ansari
Richa Singh
Shashi Vaish
Vibha Bajpayee
Richa Nagar
Foreword by Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Playing with Fire
    Book Description:

    Playing with Fire is written in the collective voice of women employed by a large NGO as activists in their communities and is based on diaries, interviews, and conversations among them. Together their personal stories reveal larger themes and questions of sexism, casteism, and communalism, and a startling picture emerges of how NGOs both nourish and stifle local struggles for solidarity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9827-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Chandra Talpade Mohanty

    It is a gift to be asked to write this foreword toPlaying with Fire.The book makes two major contributions to feminist thought: it enacts and theorizes experience, storytelling, and memory work as central in the production of knowledges of resistance, and it offers a much-needed critique of colonialist discourses of development linked to donor-driven non-governmental organization (NGO) projects of empowerment in the Third World/South. Thus, it is a book that engages questions of feminist methodology and epistemology, as well as questions of community-and institutional-level struggles for women’s emancipation. In searching for a way to write that is accountable...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Playing with Fire: A Collective Journey across Borders
    (pp. xxi-xlviii)
    Richa Nagar

    How does one tell the story of a journey undertaken by nine women? And how does one try to capture the meanings of such a journey when it is continuously evolving and unfolding, sometimes in the face of intense backlash?Playing with Fireseeks to tell that story as a chorus in which nine travelers from varied sociopolitical locations self-reflexively merge their voices to seek answers to a set of shared concerns. Although these travelers inhabit different and unequal worlds in many ways, we are bound together by a shared intellectual and political agenda—and by a passion to envision...

  6. A Journey of Sangtins

    • CHAPTER 1 The Beginnings of a Collective Journey
      (pp. 3-14)

      Seven women, seven lives, countless aspirations, worlds, dreams, and struggles. Sometimes, the threads of our lives get entangled with one another, and at others, they isolate themselves and scatter. Sometimes, they grab us so tightly that it is impossible for us to contain waves of tears, and at others we cannot begin to fathom how breathing in the same world, our pauses, our turns, and our encounters could be so different from one another’s.¹ Before we traveled together, there were so many gulfs we had not experienced, so many wounds we had not known. The walls, absences, and oppressions that...

    • CHAPTER 2 A Very Short Childhood
      (pp. 15-30)

      Since we became associated with women’s NGOs, we cannot recount the number of times we have asked other women to share their personal stories with us or all the workshops in which we have narrated our own anecdotes and experiences before them. But when we began writing our own stories, we suddenly realized that no one had ever asked us about our childhood! A lifetime seems to have passed since we revisited our lives as children. When we sat down to recollect that forgotten past, such a flood of tears inundated us that we couldn’t begin to understand how, when...

    • CHAPTER 3 From the Streets of Babul to the Wetness of Aanchal
      (pp. 31-67)

      Ever since our work has connected us to women’s lives, it has almost become a daily routine for us to confront incidents of domestic and social violence. From the time we first become aware of our youth until all our hair turns gray, it seems that all poor women go through the same kind of pain. First, we all become burdens in ourmayakas(natal homes); then, we suffer humiliations in oursasurals,get beaten, stay hungry; and our bodies become someone else’s property. So thoroughly do we get wrapped in these sorrows that sometimes it is hard for us...

    • CHAPTER 4 Prisons within Prisons: Battles Stretching from the Courtyard to the Mind
      (pp. 68-90)

      Leaping across the boundaries of our homes was not easy for any of us. Our different circumstances and home environments translated into different kinds of risks and battles for each of us as we stepped into our work field. And once we entered it, so completely were we consumed by our work that the current of our life changed forever. There was a time when we did not even have the confidence that we could get an ordinary job in a government-run women’s program. But very soon, immersed in our work, we had traveled so far that the significance of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Cracking Cages, New Skies
      (pp. 91-109)

      Since our childhood we had been told that women just gossip aimlessly, that we do not possess anything resembling a brain. And there were countless other statements that sounded like these! But as our work with NSY increased our capabilities, our deep-seated fears and inferiority complexes began to vanish. No one could tell us now that we did not have the ability to accomplish anything. We knew well that we were no less than anyone else; the only thing one needs is the right chance and the right environment. This does not mean that we did not struggle; we fought...

    • CHAPTER 6 Challenges of NGOization and Dreams of Sangtin
      (pp. 110-131)

      Hasn’t it been only six years since we first learned to ride our bikes and stormed the neighborhoods, streets, and villages of Sitapur? Who among us had imagined that we would so confidently rebel and march out of the same households that caged us, where our work had met with so much disrespect and disgust?

      When we prepared to write this book, we again felt a sense of adventure creeping into our bones. Would this world be able to see us formerly uneducated women as writers? Would it give us the same respect and wisdom that it accords to all...

  7. POSTSCRIPT: NGOs, Global Feminisms, and Collaborative Border Crossings
    (pp. 132-156)
    Richa Nagar

    The release ofSangtin Yatraprovoked a furious public response from the NSY, Uttar Pradesh, in the form of verbal attacks, letters, transfer orders, and threats to take disciplinary action against the authors.¹ This backlash was countered by letters, articles, and book reviews in the Hindi media and a petition sent from Minnesota that created political pressure to stop NSY from issuing further threats to the authors.² Here I present two documents that highlight the arguments and stakes of this controversy.

    June 2, 2004


    This is to bring to your notice a research conducted by Dr. Richa Nagar, a...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 157-168)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 169-176)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 177-182)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-183)