Mangala Bansode and the Social Life of Tamasha: Caste, Sexuality, and Discrimination in Modern Maharashtra
Abstract

Over the past three decades there has been an increasing academic interest in the field of popular culture and cultural studies. However, in the Indian context there is little study about the popular practices of caste-based cultural forms and sexual labor. Most significantly, scholars have rarely considered the so-called "immoral" and "vulgar" "folk art" of Tamasha (folk theater) and the lives of Tamasgiranchya (Tamasha performers) worthy of systematic analyses. In this essay, I deploy the oral history and life narrative of a Dalit Tamasgir woman, Mangalatai Bansode, to examine the hitherto unexplored potentials and problems of intimate and interlocking technologies of "deviant" sexuality, labor, and struggle for survival; the community's social, cultural, and political battles; private and public patriarchy; and Maharashtra state's politics regarding "folk culture." I provide micro-level details of Tamasgiranchya's historical experiences of poverty, hunger, education or the lack thereof, occupation, and the strategic deployment of khandani business, body politics, and sexual economy of erotic excess. I unravel how ruling elites both in colonial and postcolonial periods constructed Tamasha as a despised form of hereditary performance, and how Tamasgir women have had to struggle constantly to preserve their honor within and without the Dalit community, enhance their social status, and earn their family's livelihood. Ironically, Tamasha continues to be a degraded form of performance that has provided possibilities and power, however limited, to some women.


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