Uma Narayan and colonial concepts of tradition.
Narayan uses an analysis of Mary Daly's critic of the practice of sati to show that Western feminism often is influenced by colonial views of the third world. These views include the tendency for foreign onlookers to assume that cultures within a country, even one as big and as religiously and culturally diverse as India, can be applied to all its inhabitants. This is obviously not so as shown by the practice of Sati and its relationship to the Hindu religion which excludes non-Hindu Indians and also the fact that even within the Hindu community, the practice was generally only common amongst certain castes and in certain parts of the country. Another colonialist assumption that Daly takes up is the belief that Third World nations are culturally stagnant unlike the progressive West which leads her to ignore the history of cultural practices in India. Narayan shows how the popularity of Sati has been at differing levels at different points in history and how the acknowledgement of its practice as 'Indian tradition' may have predominantly arisen from the British colonialist attempt to understand the practice in the 17th century. Also she points to the fact that many new cases of sati in recent times and the phenomenon of 'dowry deaths' are actually indicators of the modernization of India and the effects of India's increased dependence on money as it relates to the new bride and her dowry receiving in-laws. Daly's inability to take issues other than feminism and the global existence of a patriarchy into account leads to her over simplification of the experiences of women who have a history, culture and nationality that is different from hers. Finally, Narayan analyses the views of Indian feminists on the practice of sati and their criticism of the assumption that the practice is historically sanctioned by religion and show that the support for the practice may actually be more economic and political. They also question the idea that women who observed sati do it out of devotion for their husbands, which gives the practice its sacred air, based on the fact that many Indian women have little independence and rights to make decision for themselves. The more complex analysis of Indian feminists over Western feminists shows that increased proximity to a culture often provides more knowledge and therefore facilitates more effective criticism.
My question about the chapter mostly centers on the government's treatment of the issues of sati and dowry death because though they are technically regarded as illegal, I wonder if the fact that most of the perpetrators get away with their crimes is based on a hesitance on the government's part to get involved in tradition and incur the people's wrath or if the constraints on the abilities of the police and legal system based on financial concerns etc. is the main reason for the low rates of conviction.