To Whom Does Ameena Belong?’ Towards a Feminist Analysis of Childhood and Nationhood in Contemporary India


Mankekar, Purnima. 1997. “‘To Whom Does Ameena Belong?’ Towards a Feminist Analysis of Childhood and Nationhood in Contemporary India.” Feminist Review, no. 56, Debating Discourses, Practising Feminisms: 26-60.

Author: Purnima Mankekar


This article examines the discourses of the Indian state and of community élites during battles for the custody of a young Muslim girl, Ameena, who was 'rescued' from a marriage with an elderly Arab. The battles for Ameena's custody were fought as much in news reports, opinion columns, and letters to the editor of metropolitan and vernacular newspapers, as in courts. Questions were raised about Ameena's age, the viability of her marriage, the applicability of secular laws to Muslim communities, and the political economy of the sexuality of girl-children. In these representations, Ameena became a symbol of minority identity, and was transformed into an unwilling and unwitting object of protection. Why did Ammena's story attract so much attention? What were the different positions underlying the arguments made for Ameena's 'protection'? Without dismissing the protection of children and the advocacy of their rights, this article analyses the agendas shaping the discourses of the Indian state and national and community élites during the battles for Ameena's custody. The article situates the controversies surrounding Ameena in the wider context of the increasing polarization between Hindu and Muslim communities in India in the early 1990s, and focuses on the relationship between notions of childhood and discourses of community, gender and nation. The article argues that there was a synecdochic relationship between the purity of girl-children and the purity of the Indian nation: far from being 'pre-cultural' or apolitical, discourses of childhood were profoundly implicated in the politics of gender, sexuality, community and nation. What are the implications of Ameena's predicament for feminist epistemology and praxis? In pointing to the ways in which feminist critiques of modernist regimes of power and knowledge can enable us to understand the multiple positionalities of children in the contemporary world, the article explores the spaces available for feminist theorists and activists to engage in a politics of vigilance and intervention with regard to the state's positions towards children.

Keywords: childhood, gender, nationalism, modernity, feminist analysis

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Girls, Nationalism, Religion, Sexual Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 1997

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