Urban Utopias pp 227-246 | Cite as

Utopia Interrupted: Indian Sex/Gender Dissident Activism and the Everyday Search for a Life Worth Living

  • Caroline Osella
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Urban Anthropology book series (PSUA)


‘Revealing myths as simplistic or unrealistic does not help (…) we cultivate them even when we know better’, as Tereza Kuldova argued. Sex/gender activists in India are simultaneously well aware of problems with globalized liberal mythologies of ‘liberation’ and ‘gender freedom’ but are also caught up in them. While trying to maintain a sense of caution and realism about what might be possible in India’s capital, Delhi, or in small-town south India, still it proves impossible not to become drawn into imaginings of a different future. My ethnography reveals that utopias rise and are viciously shredded, and can carry us into urgent danger zones, in contexts of gendered violence.


Sexual Violence Public Sphere Class Angle Gender Violence Trans People 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anandhi, S., J. Jeyaranjan, and Rajan Krishnan. 2002. Work, Caste and Competing Masculinities: Notes from a Tamil Village. Economic and Political Weekly: 4397–4406.Google Scholar
  2. Berlant, Lauren Gail. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Borneman, John. 2005. Marriage Today. American Ethnologist 32(1): 30–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brosius, C. 2011. Love in the Age of Valentine and Pink Underwear: Media and Politics of Intimacy in South Asia. In Transcultural Turbulences, 27–66. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.Google Scholar
  5. Chakrabarty, D. 2001. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chant, Sylvia. 2013. Cities Through a “Gender Lens”: A Golden “Urban Age” for Women in the Global South?. Environment and Urbanization: 0956247813477809.Google Scholar
  7. Chatterji, Angana, and Lubna Nazir Chaudhry, ed. 2014. Contesting Nation: Gendered Violence in South Asia: Notes on the Postcolonial Present. New Delhi: Zubaan.Google Scholar
  8. Chua, Jocelyn Lim. 2014. In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India. Berkeley, CA: Univ of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ciotti, Manuela. 2011. After Subversion: Intimate Encounters, the Agency in and of Representation, and the Unfinished Project of Gender Without Sexuality in India. Cultural Dynamics 23(2): 107–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Conrad, Ryan. 2014. Damn Right We’re Here to Destroy Marriage. In The Gay Agenda: Claiming Space, Identity, and Justice, ed. Gerald Walton, 105–120. Peter Lang Publishing: New York.Google Scholar
  11. Dasgupta, Rohit K. 2015. Articulating Dissident Citizenship, Belonging, and Queerness on Cyberspace. South Asian Review 35(3): 203–223.Google Scholar
  12. Dasgupta, Rohit K & Debanuj Dasgupta. (2016). Intimate Subjects and Virtual Spaces: Rethinking Sexuality as a category for intimate ethnographies. Sexualities, in press.Google Scholar
  13. Desai, Sonalde, and Lester Andrist. 2010. Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India. Demography 47(3): 667–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Devika, J. 2009. Bodies Gone Awry The Abjection of Sexuality in Development Discourse in Contemporary Kerala. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 16(1): 21–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dinshaw, Carolyn, Edelman Lee, Roderick A. Ferguson, Carla Freccero, Elizabeth Freeman, Judith Halberstam, Annamarie Jagose, Christopher S. Nealon, and Tan Hoang Nguyen. 2007. Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13(2): 177–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Donner, H. 2008. Domestic Goddesses: Maternity. Globalization and Middle-Class Identity in Contemporary India. Hampshire and Burlington Vermont: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  17. Dwyer, Rachel. 2004. Yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti!(“This wedding cannot happen!”): Romance and Marriage in Contemporary Hindi Cinema. In Untying the Knot: Ideal and Reality in Asian Marriage, ed. G.W. Jones and K. Ramdas, 59–90. Singapore: Asia Research Institute.Google Scholar
  18. El-Tayeb, Fatima. 2012. ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. European Journal of Women’s Studies 19(1): 79–95.Google Scholar
  19. Engebretsen, E.L. 2012. On Urban Anthropology in Contemporary China. In Anthropology in the City: Methodology and Theory, ed. I. Pardo and G.B. Prato. Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Franke, Richard W., and Barbara H. Chasin. 1992. Kerala State, India: Radical Reform as Development. International Journal of Health Services 22(1): 139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gavey, Nicola. 2013. Just Sex?: The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Goel, Urmila. 2015. The Delhi Gang Rape Case and International Attention: An Interview with Urvashi Batalia. In Studying Youth, Media and Gender in Post-Liberalisation India: Focus on and beyond the ‘Delhi Gang Rape’, ed. Nadja-Christina Schneider and Fritzi-Marie Titzmann, Vol. 6. Berlin: Frank & Timme GmbH.Google Scholar
  23. Govindan, Padma, and Aniruddhan Vasudevan. 2011. The Razor’s Edge of Oppositionality: Exploring the Politics of Rights-Based Activism by Transgender Women in Tamil Nadu. In Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives on Law, 84–112. New Delhi, India: Yoda Press.Google Scholar
  24. Griffin, Christine, Isabelle Szmigin, Andrew Bengry-Howell, Chris Hackley, and Willm Mistral. 2012. Inhabiting the Contradictions: Hypersexual Femininity and the Culture of Intoxication Among Young wOmen in the UK. Feminism & Psychology.Google Scholar
  25. Gugler, Thomas. 2015. New Media, Neo-Sexual Activism and Diversifying Sex Worlds in Post-Liberalization India. In Studying Youth, Media and Gender in Post-Liberalisation India: Focus on and beyond the ‘Delhi Gang Rape’. Vol. 6, ed. Nadja-Christina Schneider and Fritzi-Marie Titzmann. Berlin.Frank & Timme GmbHGoogle Scholar
  26. Halliburton, Murphy. 1998. Suicide: A Paradox of Development in Kerala. Economic and Political Weekly: 2341–2345.Google Scholar
  27. Haritaworn, Jin, Adi Kuntsman, and Silvia Posocco. 2014. Queer Necropolitics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Ingraham, Chrys. 2009. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Jayasree, A.K. 2015. Measuring Health of the “Home Makers” in Kerala. Occupational Medical Health Affairs 3: 210.Google Scholar
  30. Jeffrey, Robin. 2001. Politics, Women and Well-being: How Kerala Became’a Model’. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jensen, Robert. 2012. Do Labor Market Opportunities Affect Young Women’s Work and Family Decisions? Experimental Evidence from India. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 127(2): 753–792.Google Scholar
  32. Khanna, Akshay. 2013. Three Hundred and Seventy Seven Ways of Being–Sexualness of the Citizen in India. Journal of Historical Sociology 26(1): 120–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kipnis, Laura. 2003. Against Love. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  34. Krishnaji, N. 2007. Kerala Milestones: On the Parliamentary Road to Socialism. Economic and Political Weekly: 2169–2176.Google Scholar
  35. Kuldova, Tereza. 2014. Designing an Illusion of India’s Future Superpowerdom. Unfamiliar: An Anthropological Journal 4(1): 15–22.Google Scholar
  36. Kumar, Preeti. 2016. Hegemonic Masculinities in Two Comic Films in Malayalam: Meesa Madhavan e Rajamanikyam. Artcultura 17. no. 30Google Scholar
  37. Lenon, Suzanne. 2013. White as Milk: Proposition 8 and the Cultural Politics of Gay Rights. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice 36(1): 44–54.Google Scholar
  38. Lipset, David. 2015. On The Bridge: Class and the Chronotope of Modern Romance in an American Love Story. Anthropological Quarterly 88(1): 163–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Maureemootoo, K. 2013. The Nation as Mimicry. Masculinity and Its Challenges in India: Essays on Changing Perceptions, 106.Google Scholar
  40. Mazzarella, William. 2001. “Citizens Have Sex, Consumers Make Love.” Asian Media Productions, Edited Brian Moeran: 168. Hawai, University of Hawai Press.Google Scholar
  41. Mohanty, Chandra Talpe. 1988. Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Feminist Review 30: 61–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia. The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Orsini, F. 2006. Love in South Asia: A Cultural History. Vol. 62. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Osella, Caroline. 2012. Desires Under Reform: Contemporary Reconfigurations of Family, Marriage, Love and Gendering in a Transnational South Indian Matrilineal Muslim Community. Culture and Religion 13(2): 241–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Osella, Filippo. 2012. Malabar Secrets: South Indian Muslim Men’s (homo) Sociality Across the Indian Ocean. Asian Studies Review 36(4): 531–549.Google Scholar
  46. Osella, Caroline, and Filippo Osella. 1998. Friendship and Flirting: Micro-Politics in Kerala, South India. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute: 189–206.Google Scholar
  47. Parayil, Govindan. 1996. The ‘Kerala Model’ of Development: Development and Sustainability in the Third World. Third World Quarterly 17(5): 941–958.Google Scholar
  48. Phadke, Shilpa, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade. 2011. Why Loiter?: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets. Delhi: Penguin Books India.Google Scholar
  49. Puar, Jasbir K. 2006. Mapping US Homonormativities. Gender, Place and Culture 13(1): 67–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Raman, K. Ravi, ed. 2010. Development, Democracy and the State: Critiquing the Kerala Model of Development. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Rao, Rahul. 2014. Queer Questions. International Feminist Journal of Politics 16(2): 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Retzloff, Tim. 2007. Eliding trans Latino/a Queer Experience in US LGBT History: José Sarria and Sylvia Rivera reexamined. CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 19(1): 140–162.Google Scholar
  53. Ritchie, Jason. 2015. Pinkwashing, Homonationalism, and Israel–Palestine: The Conceits of Queer Theory and the Politics of the Ordinary. Antipode 47(3): 616–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rogers, Martyn. 2008. Modernity, ‘Authenticity’, and Ambivalence: Subaltern Masculinities on a South Indian College Campus. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14(1): 79–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rudisill, Kristen. 2015. Pritham Chakravarthy: Performing Aravanis’ Life Stories. Asian Theatre Journal 32(2): 536–555.Google Scholar
  56. Siddhartha. 2001. Saris, Men and Non-violence. In A Man’s World?: Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World, ed. Bob Pease and Keith Pringle, 219–231. London: ZED books.Google Scholar
  57. Singh, Pawan. 2016. Between Legal Recognition and Moral Policing: Mapping the Queer Subject in India. Journal of Homosexuality 63(3): 416–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Srivastava, Sanjay. 2012. Masculinity and its Role in Gender-Based Violence in Public Spaces. In The Fear that Stalks: Gender Based Violence in Public Spaces, ed. Sara Pilot and Laura Prabhu. Delhi: Zubaan Books.Google Scholar
  59. ———. 2007. Passionate Modernity. New Delhi: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Stotzer, Rebecca L. 2009. Violence against transgender people: A review of United States data. Aggression and Violent Behavior 14(3): 170–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Thapan, Meenakshi. 2004. Embodiment and Identity in Contemporary Society: Femina and the ‘New’ Indian Woman. Contributions to Indian Sociology 38(3): 411–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tharamangalam, Joseph. 1999. The socIal Roots of Kerala’s Development Debacle. In Rethinking Development: Kerala’s Development Experience, Vol 1, ed. M.A. Oommen, 75–198. Institute of Social Sciences: Delhi.Google Scholar
  63. Uberoi, P. 2009. Freedom and Destiny: Gender, Family, and Popular Culture in India. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Vanita, Ruth, and Saleem Kidwai, ed. 2008. Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History. Penguin Books: Delhi.Google Scholar
  65. Wade, Lisa, Brian Sweeney, Amelia Seraphia Derr, Michael A. Messner, and Carol Burke. 2014. Ruling Out Rape. Contexts 13(2): 16–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wilger, Maren. 2015. The Delhi Gang Rape Case: Dynamics of the Online Debate on Social News Aggregator In Studying Youth, Media and Gender in Post-Liberalisation India: Focus on and beyond the ‘Delhi Gang Rape’, Vol. 6, ed. Nadja-Christina Schneider and Fritzi-Marie Titzmann. Berlin: Frank & Timme GmbH.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Osella
    • 1
  1. 1.SOAS, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations