- Liberalization’s Children: Gender, Youth, and Consumer Citizenship in Globalizing India
Kerala, a southern Indian state with a matriarchal society, high literacy rates for both men and women, and progressive social development, has often been touted as a model of development in what used to be considered a developing country. Today, India aggressively pushes back against the label of “developing,” intent to be treated as an equal to other global powers. In the eyes of its growing middle class, India’s rightful place is as a leading figure on the world stage. If achieving this place means that citizens are required to support a consumer culture that promotes international brands, hobbies, and products, the middle class appears to be a willing and ready partner in this quest.
In her book Liberalization’s Children, Ritty Lukose explores how youth in Kerala are navigating their civic and educational identities in a globalized and increasingly consumerist India, especially in relation to youth embracement of fashion and romance. Lukose has a strong understanding of Kerala, its history, the confluence of political parties and ideologies, and the role of caste and religion, and she connects all of these issues to the development of youth identities in the early 1990s. She delves deeply into the influence of the Malayalam—the local language—and the Hindi film industries, both of which have had a significant impact on youth and popular culture and fit into the book’s larger narrative of youth roles and responsibilities vis-à-vis the state and the country. Lukose sets the stage for the contradictions faced by young people as they describe how romance is viewed through the influence of the ubiquitous Mills and Boone romance novels and the influx of 1950s U.S.-style ice cream parlors where both friendship and romance thrived. Locating her analysis in this local context, she clearly articulates that it is not her intent to “nest the region within the nation and then within the world” (25), possibly because Kerala has an unusual status of nearly 100 percent literacy for both men and women and is unique in the “rise of the communist left” in this state (31).
Shifting back and forth between Lukose’s descriptions of the multiple identities and interests of college students, readers become familiar with the types of interactions young adults have with one another. The relationships developed through the use of “public space” highlights the agency students in [End Page 176] Kerala exercise to advocate for their educational, political, and consumer rights. Her extensive interviews unveil the impact that political contestations have over education in Kerala, the influence that political parties have on college campuses, and the varied involvement of men and women in these processes.
Although Lukose explores youth and citizenship, it is explicitly the role of women and their navigation of globalization (namely, Westernization) that is at the heart of this book. The demands of the past and the expectations for the future are critical dimensions of how Lukose positions the temporality of changing gendered roles that are prevalent among college students in Kerala. Especially well-documented are the nuances of how women are expected to walk a fine line between often opposing social and cultural demands: women are expected to be approachable while also modest, independent as well as vulnerable, intelligent and at the same time coy. These multiple identities of individual women nonetheless underscore a larger narrative about national development and nationalism, in that “women bear the burden of authenticity,” which, Lukose argues, “becomes imperative for understanding the dynamics of globalization” (61). The plurality of roles and the struggle between the “modern” (globalized and Western) and “traditional” Indian woman create a narrative that moves beyond the individual into discussions of economic development and national identity as gendered practices. The inextricable involvement of women in multiple and often competing spheres has led to a complex debate over women’s proper role in Indian society, and Lukose has undertaken an ambitious task to articulate it. She does...