Faculty of Philosophy Religion, Society, and World Relations

Hidden Histories: Frauen in ländlichen Entwicklungsprogrammen in Indien, c. 1920–1966

The project is dedicated to contributions of Indian women to rural development programmes from about 1920 to 1966, following the call to include gender as a category of analysis in the history of development. The aim of the project is to examine the role of women in the design and implementation of governmental and non-governmental rural development projects in India in the key areas of health, education and livelihoods, and in this way to re-capture the processes of development and citizenship.

08/2021 - 07/2024

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) :
335 000 Euro

Project management

Maria Framke
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Forschungsprojekt „Hidden histories: Frauen in ländlichen Entwicklungsprogrammen in Indien, c. 1920–1966“ (Historisches Seminar)

Cooperation partners:

Echoing recent calls for a ‘gendering’ of development history, this project examines Indian women’s contributions to rural reconstruction programmes between the 1920s and 1960s. The project’s main objective is to explore the uncharted history of female actors’ roles in designing and implementing rural development schemes in India in three key areas, namely health, education, and sustainable livelihood. These initiatives were partly state-led, and partly carried out by voluntary organisations. Their analysis provides novel insights into international entanglements across North America, Europe, and South Asia that shaped the processes of Indian nation state building. Moving beyond the existing scholarship, which mainly focusses on male actors, the overarching goal is to produce an account of the twin processes of development and expansive citizenship by shifting the focus to elite women working with subaltern rural women. To achieve this, the fundamental questions the project raises are: did these schemes, influenced by contemporary social feminism, re-iterate the conventional dual model of male and female divided work sphere? Did this type of female work and participation re-inscribe a secondary feminised role? Or, on the contrary, did all this activity elevate women as ‘equal citizens’? The project encompasses both the late colonial and the early postcolonial periods. Such an approach, still rarely practiced in South Asian history, allows to put continuities and ruptures into stark relief. Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous quote that dams are ‘temples of the new age’ stressed the importance of large-scale investments in the state-run modernization of the industrial sector. A closer look nevertheless reveals that the rural, besides being the locus of agrarian production guaranteeing food security, was also an equally important site of ‘gendered’ development. Programmes to improve maternal and child health, to develop handicraft and cottage industries to support livelihood, and to widen the literacy base were specifically targeted towards women in rural areas. Both local participation as well as support from international organisations such as the WHO shaped the knowledge, expertise and networks of Indian activists that were key to the success of these schemes. The proposed research combines an actor-centred biographical approach with the investigation of institutional history that takes both organisations and networks into account. While retaining the focus on women’s contributions, one guiding hypothesis, based upon preliminary work, is that the ‘zone of encounter’ between elite imaginations and rural realities will tell us about the contestations that accompanied the implementation of these schemes. In this way, the project will provide an in-depth account of how women conceptualised ‘development’ for themselves, and what these contestations meant for the historical genesis and graded nature of citizenry in the world’s largest democracy.

To the Project Website "Hidden Histories: Frauen in ländlichen Entwicklungsprogrammen in Indien, c. 1920–1966" at the pages of the Faculty of Philosophy