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Muscular Nationalism

Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004

Sikata Banerjee

Publication Year: 2012

A particular dark triumph of modern nationalism has been its ability to persuade citizens to sacrifice their lives for a political vision forged by emotional ties to a common identity. Both men and women can respond to nationalistic calls to fight that portray muscular warriors defending their nation against an easily recognizable enemy. This “us versus them” mentality can be seen in sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalas, Serbs and Kosovars, and Protestants and Catholics. In Muscular Nationalism, Sikata Banerjee takes a comparative look at India and Ireland and the relationship among gender, violence, and nationalism. Exploring key texts and events from 1914-2004, Banerjee explores how women negotiate “muscular nationalisms” as they seek to be recognized as legitimate nationalists and equal stakeholders in their national struggles.


Banerjee argues that the gendered manner in which dominant nationalism has been imagined in most states in the world has had important implications for women’s lived experiences. Drawing on a specific intersection of gender and nationalism, she discusses the manner in which women negotiate a political and social terrain infused with a masculinized dream of nation-building. India and Ireland—two states shaped by the legacy of British imperialism and forced to deal with modern political/social conflict centering on competing nationalisms—provide two provocative case studies that illuminate the complex interaction between gender and nation.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

Portions of the research for this book were made possible by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as by an internal grant from the University of Victoria. Colleagues and friends listened patiently while I expounded various iterations of the argument presented...

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Introduction: Politicized Femininity and Muscular Nationalism

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pp. 1-19

Although these poems are divided by a time span of almost a hundred years and a geographical distance of several thousand miles, the poetic lament they expressed illustrates the complexity and the historical scope of narratives of gendered nationalisms. The broken body of a Northern Irish woman found...

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1. Under the British Gaze: The Weak Bengali and the Simianized Celt

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pp. 21-44

Published in 1860, John Brookes’s book Manliness: Hints to Young Men drew a link between national progress and manliness, asserting that manly nations are sure to progress, whereas unmanly nations are bound to be conquered: “Nations never remain stationary—they are always either progressing...

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2. “Muscular Gael” and “Warrior Monk”: Muscular Nationalism in Colonial India and Ireland

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pp. 45-74

In both Ireland and India, a dominant response to the twin processes of effeminization and racialization was an emphasis on indigenous virility and martial prowess. Like the idea of Christian manliness, these responses were infused with muted religious overtones that drew on the...

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3. Irish and Indian Women in Muscular Nationalism (1914–1932)

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pp. 75-106

As the previous chapter has argued, the ideas of manhood and nation articulated by Pearse and Vivekananda focused on an athletic, muscular male body poised to sacrifice and kill for the nation as woman. Taking this dynamic as a point of departure, this chapter investigates the manner in which specific groups of...

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4. Politicized Femininity and Muscular Nationalism in the Postcolonial Context: Naxal and Armagh Women

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pp. 107-131

In the late twentieth century—several decades after the woman warriors in Indian and Irish nationalism fought to clear a space for themselves in the anticolonial resistance movement—the suspicion of politicized femininity within muscular nationalism was highlighted by the radical...

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5. Who Is a Proper Woman in the Nation? Femininity in the Roop Kanwar Immolation and the 2004 Irish Citizenship Referendum

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pp. 133-162

On September 4, 1987, in the town of Deorala, Roop Kanwar, an eighteenyear- old widow, burnt to death on the funeral pyre of her husband, Maal Singh. While no pictures or reliable eye witness accounts of her death are available, according to journalistic reports, village lore claims that she walked calmly...

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Conclusion: Women and Muscular Nationalism: Some Final Thoughts

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pp. 163-167

While researching this book, I came across an electronic photo essay profiling female combatants involved in the contemporary Nepali Maoist movement, which draws on the legacy of Naxal politics. This pictorial narrative juxtaposed images of women in army fatigues with those...


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pp. 169-183


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pp. 185-197


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pp. 199-209

About the Author

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pp. 210

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789773
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814789766
Print-ISBN-10: 0814789765

Publication Year: 2012