Discussion Topic

Exploration of gender relations, power dynamics, and class differences in Sidhwa's Cracking India

Summary:

Sidhwa's Cracking India explores gender relations, power dynamics, and class differences through the lens of Partition-era Lahore. The novel highlights the patriarchal control over women, the shifting power structures during political upheaval, and the stark class divisions that influence characters' interactions and fates. These themes are intricately woven into the narrative to portray the complex social fabric of the time.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Sidhwa's Cracking India reveal about gender relations and class differences in colonial India?

In Cracking India, female gender relations appear to lead to a sense of solidarity and obligation. When it comes to the women in the novel, they generally look after one another regardless of class or social standing. When women are kidnapped and banished from their family, the women in Lenny’s family take them in and care for them.

When Hamida is abducted by the Sikhs, her husband won’t take her back. They consider her a “fallen woman.” It falls on the women to take care of those who have been assigned the sexist “fallen woman” label.

The close bond between women is further evinced in Lenny’s relationship with her nanny. The two share many intimate, affectionate moments together. They cuddle in the grass and run all kinds of errands together. Lenny also learns several things from her nanny, including how to use male admires to her advantage.

As for the relationship between men and women, this gender dynamic comes off as predatory in Cracking India. While Ayah appears to enjoy manipulating her male admirers at first, eventually, one of her admirers—Ice-candy-man—uses her in horrible ways. Again, it’s up to the women to come to the defense of other women in trouble due to India’s gender standards.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Sidhwa's Cracking India reveal about gender relations and class differences in colonial India?

Sidhwa's work seems to suggest that gender relations in Colonial India took a secondary role to the issue of Independence and national identity.  While the issue of gender inequality in terms of power and agency was always present, Sidhwa makes the argument that it never received traction or galvanized people into action because the focus was on national identity.  Gender relations in Colonial India took a secondary role to the nationalist movement of being free from England.  Sidhwa shows this as the case even in the supposedly "advance" Parsi home, Lenny lives in a world of women and the domain of men is a unknown realm.  The women in the home can only sit by to watch what happens to India.  Sidhwa seems to be suggesting that it might have been intentional that the power brokers of the time were men that advocated a nationalist construction in order to consolidate their own power.  This became evident in the violence that accompanied Partition, where men were the primary aggressors and women were intended and deliberate targets.  In Sidhwa's construction, women experienced a silencing of voice in all realms of culture and class.  It looked different in different settings, but women were denied agency and autonomy.  Those who made the decision to "crack India" were men.  The actions of Ice- Candy Man and the mob were as much as a reflection of gender imbalance as much as anything else.  For Sidhwa, gender relations in Colonial India consisted of imbalance, but were sublimated into the larger cause of national independence.  The true nature of this inequity was evident in the violence that accompanied Partition.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are gender and power portrayed in Sidhwa's Cracking India?

Issues of gender and power permeate Cracking India. Through choosing a female protagonist and having much of the action presented through her memories, Sidhwa provides insights into the ways power operates in the adult Lenny’s contemporary Pakistani society and into the limited ways she understood it as a child. Part of the nature of power, Sidhwa suggests, is that it functions at every level of society and is so thoroughly embedded in people’s understanding that they accept it without thinking (this is the concept of hegemony). Gendered inequalities structure both the personal experiences of Lenny and her Ayah (caregiver) and the much larger political processes that constituted Partition.

Lenny’s combined perspectives of past and present are particularly important in conveying the gendered dynamics of power. Sidhwa’s overall approach comes from postcolonialist feminist perspectives. The colonized people of Indian were all part of the “subaltern,” as discussed by Gayatri Spivak. Under colonialism, the colonized territory and its inhabitants are generally associated with childlike status, and part of the justification that the colonizers bring to colonial rule is the need to guide them. Similarly, delays in agreeing to end colonial rule are said to be based in the colonized needing more time to mature. Nonwhite people, especially women, are also associated with that immature, emotional status.

In creating a protagonist who is both female and a child, Sidhwa emphasizes the hegemony of colonial control. Although Lenny comes from an upper-class family, she is not white or British. In subaltern theory, class is an aspect of self-delusion among the colonized, who cannot have true power while remaining under colonial rule, and class dominance is largely negated by race. While the native people clearly identify positions on class and race hierarchies, the dominant colonizers view them through a single lens as nonwhite and non-European.

Ayah, although an adult while Lenny was a child, is from the working class; her job is to care for the wealthy child. Lenny understands the woman’s involvement with multiple men as seductive charm or attractiveness, and this reflects her childish misinterpretation of female lower status. Lenny mistakenly identifies Ayah’s limited maneuvering within highly restrictive class and race boundaries as freedom. Ayah’s situation is another metaphor for the overall colonial situation of pre-independence India.

It seems that unwittingly, Lenny becomes the instrument of Ayah’s downfall. By betraying a confidence and misplacing trust in the Ice-Candy Man, Lenny exposes Ayah to a situation in which men brutally rape her. As Sidhwa shows Lenny protected in a largely female sphere, her understanding of male roles is curtailed. The protection of her cloistered state proves illusory, just as the benevolence of colonialism masks the hegemonic domination that keeps the colonial government in place. While the single character of the Ice-Candy Man can be taken as an individual who acts outside the parameters set by law, he is one of the only male characters in the novel. As such, he represents the complicity of male actors who dominated the political and diplomatic arrangements of Partition, as well as those who joined in mobs and perpetrated violence.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are gender and power portrayed in Sidhwa's Cracking India?

Bapsi Sidhwa discusses gender and power against the backdrop of the Partition of India. The story presents women at the center of the conflict.

In a patriarchal society, women are symbols of honor and culture. In times of conflict, sexual objectification and exploitation become tools that men use to seek vengeance from each other. The tragic events that befall the Ayah also reflect the plight of millions of other women who suffered violence and cruelty during one of the worst political phases of Indian history.

While the narrative highlights the fact that women were the greatest victims of religious and social persecution, it also provides a diverse view. Sidhwa creates female characters that are empowered, resilient, and dare to challenge the pervasive presence of sexual violence in society.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are gender and power portrayed in Sidhwa's Cracking India?

The primary vehicle for discussing gender and power in Cracking India is the eight-year-old girl narrator called Lenny. She brings an unusual perspective of a sheltered feminine naive view point that can conclude that women are personally strong and solve problems while men are physically strong and throw violence at problems. As an eight-year-old, Lenny learns that men in powerful make decisions and then nearby implement the decisions with violence, which encompasses both power and gender. She also learns that women are often the victims of the power violence of decision-making and -implementing men. On the reverse side, Lenny sees the quiet, unofficial of her grandmother and mother as they stand up to a gang threatening their home and smuggle gasoline to Hindu friends who are escaping Lahore.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on