“Well-behaved women seldom make history”, said Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Agree, but the supposedly ill-behaved ones (those who defy or challenge norms) seldom get included in histories. Such as feminists. In fact, the feminist voice has often been ignored, muffled, silenced or forgotten. Besides, feminist historical materials and collective memories have also been lost to moisture, dust and, at times, and their own neglect.
Hence the need for a feminist archive. A space that values, gathers, records, preserves and shares our voices. This site is intended to be one such public home for feminist archives. Its name – Living Feminisms – comes from our first attempt, in 2004, to create an archive in the form of a booklet.
Hosted by the New Delhi-based feminist organisation Jagori (Hindi/Hindustani for “awaken woman”), Living Feminisms tries to preserve thirty years of its history including that of its affiliates: Jagori Grameen, a rural organisation based in Himachal Pradesh, and Jagori-Sangat, a feminist network. It is a history that lies scattered across minds, songs, books, plays, photographs, slogans and so on. So while at one level it is Jagori looking back at its origins and histories through its eyes, yet at another, the archives do not speak only of or to Jagori, nor do they belong solely to it.
This is so because Jagori itself was born from the political fervent of the 1980s to an amorphous collective comprising friends and comrades. At its inception, it had no name, porous contours and feminists who were linked with many overlapping agendas, groups and formations. So these archives reflect the landscape of the movement and document its doubts, questions, differences and celebrations.Along the way, over time, as the work, scope, agendas and constituency of this collective expanded, so did the need for more people, structures, systems and of course funds. Organisations sprung up with their respective focus, strategy etc. Jagori too got a distinct (organisational) identity. Beginnings that were initially fluid but later became disaggregated.
Yet, throughout this trajectory, its narratives and praxis have organically drawn from and responded to not just the autonomous women’s movement but also other allied social movements it has been intertwined with. Its legacy includes the fraught dynamics between women’s organisations and the women’s movement, ideology and practice or debates about inter-generational feminisms. Therefore, even as this archive traces the roots of a name-less, loose collective which formed Jagori the organisation, it is best seen as a node embedded in the collective terrain of political networks and personal friendships.
Like any historical account, this archive too emerges from certain locations. Yet, it is neither a history of the autonomous women’s movement in India, nor that of Jagori. It does not seek to write histories but is a window into some experiences of some individuals and their subjectivities. During its creation we were acutely aware of the politics of knowledge, of how some stories have been told repeatedly and some never told, of who gets to tell their stories and who don’t. We are trying to make this a collective effort of women from across the country.
Living Feminisms is like other attempts to recall history through a specific prism of context and time, of stories that have not yet been told, or those that were told but not remembered, of individuals who may never have been written about or anecdotes that are worth repeating. It is a work-in-progress record of multiple and divergent subjectivities, of our doubts, convictions, efforts, creativity, differences, attempts and contingent solidarities. It is our modest contribution to the larger archiving of the women’s movement, of feminists and feminisms as also of the city and its character, its public spaces and so on. We also see this as our attempt to build a culture of remembering the past, a necessity for the present and the future.
We welcome online and offline connections and collaborations with other feminist archives.
What does this archive contain?
There is much knowledge and art that has been produced and created in alternative feminist spaces. It includes both published and unpublished material that conventional libraries may not have access to.
The range of this archive, starting from the 1980s to the present, includes personal and organisational documentary archives such books, journals, songs, posters, poems, photographs, conference papers, parchis (leaflets), women’s memoirs and so on.
It reflects the ideas, work and projects of some feminists on a wide array of themes. These widely used themes have been classified for ease of search (such as single women, sex workers rights, violence against women, sexuality and so on). Even though our work recognises that categories can be irrelevant because of the intertwined overlaps between them. Yet the classification also reflects our position on the subject.
As we work to build this repository over time, we hope to keep unfolding the archive and thereby keep it alive.