Crossing the Threshold: Women in Colonial City Space

Sanchayita Paul Chakraborty


Women’s negotiation with the city in the late nineteenth century began with the advent of the reformist agendas by the urban middle class elites and the white colonizers. The relationship of women with this colonial city space in the nineteenth century Calcutta was two-fold. On the one hand the city witnessed the gradual exodus of men and women of the lower class and castes under the impact of rapid industrialization and urbanization who gave birth to and nurtured Calcutta’s rich repertoire of popular cultural forms, the Battala literature. On the other hand, the colonial administrative and culture set-up introduced the social category of the middle class urban elites, popularly known as Bhadralok. Under the social reformist agenda of female emancipation, these middle class urban elites cultivated the “new woman”, the bhadramahila who, through the strategic compliance and contestations to the modes of new patriarchy, curved a space of her own in the colonial city. The present paper looks into the processes of crossing the thresholds by these women, who, being situated within the structure of dual colonization of tradition and modernity, attempted to redefine the city space from a new perspective.

Key Words: New Woman, colonial city, middle class urban elites, tradition, modernity.

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