Feminist Pedagogy and Sociology for Emancipation in India


This paper, titled ‘Feminist Pedagogy and Sociology for Emancipation in India’, by Prof. Sharmila Rege was published in the September 2005 issue of the journal Sociological Bulletin (SAGE Publications). Prof. Rege (1964-2013) was an Indian sociologist, feminist scholar and a proponent of the Dalit feminist standpoint in Indian academia. She was a faculty member at the Department of Sociology, Pune University.

“Feminist pedagogy is a rallying term for educators who believe in a conscious praxis in the classroom” – begins Rege. The roots of such a discourse, she states, can be found in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book by Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, first published in 1968.

Most feminist pedagogies hold the view, Rege writes, that women are better equipped to know the world due to their social experience or nature. Rege says such a standpoint presents contradictions in the Indian context, where women’s experiences differ on the lines of class, caste, religion, region and race.

This paper is an account of the experiences of feminist educators in the Indian context – of how they navigate such contradictions and develop ‘feminist standpoints of interlocking oppressions’ in classroom practices. The first section covers feminist pedagogy and some of these interlocking oppressions, while the second section examines the development of sociological discourse in India with a focus on the construction of gender in this discourse. The concluding section discusses the limitations and possibilities of such feminist standpoints in classroom practices. Scholars argue, Prof. Rege notes, that such classroom practices can revitalise and provide an emancipatory interpretation of sociological concepts.


  1. Drawing on ‘Feminist Pedagogies: From Pedagogic Romanticism to the Success of Authenticity’ (1988) by Angéline Martel (professor of Linguistics and head of the Culture and Societies Department at Teleuniversite, University of Quebec) and Linda Peterat (professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia), the paper states that feminist pedagogy seems like a contradiction – feminism suggests an alternative worldview and pedagogy in its conventional sense is meant to provide education for entry into a patriarchal system. 

  2. Feminist pedagogy explicitly confronts divisions between the public and the private, reason and emotion, and legitimises personal experience as an area of academic scholarship.

  3. Feminist pedagogies raise crucial questions about how knowledge has been/is constituted, by whom, for whom and for what purpose. Answers to these are sought through interrelations between personal experience, the subject area, and its social and political contexts.

  4. In an Indian context, sociologists primarily trained in English, who don’t have a framework of indigenous feminist theoretical discourse, find it difficult to locate themselves amid contestations of castes, classes, patriarchies and communal identities.

  5. Prof. Rege writes that privileges of the dominant class, caste, religion, region, race, and their  specificities by gender, have to be fleshed out in the classroom.  “Such exercises strive towards a dialogue in which the experience of Dalit women students are seen as relevant to understanding not only the situation of Dalit women, but also in grasping the situation of savarna women and indeed that of Dalit and savarna men. Our feminist pedagogies therefore have the complex task of analysing caste from the standpoint of Dalit women and class from the standpoint of working-class women, hindutva from the standpoint of minorities and heterosexuality from the standpoint of lesbians. Recognizing multiple subjects of knowledge and history requires that all our subjectivities be transformed.”

  6. One impact of the 1960 to 1970 period of studies on ‘modernisation’ was that it invariably concentrated on the ‘role-conflict’ of middle-class working women. “In these studies, women remained encapsulated in their roles, while critiques of the family were side-lined as the sexual division of labour was naturalized,” writes Rege.

  7. The sexual division of labour and caste-based division of labour are intermeshed – “there is a definite relationship between the position in caste hierarchy and the control over women’s labour. Any elevation in caste status leads to the withdrawal of women from productive processes outside the private sphere.” This, Professor Rege says, “is linked to the control over the sexuality of upper caste women and the ‘accessibility’ of the bodies of lower caste women…” This, in turn, “is seen as the ‘failure’ of lower caste men to control the sexuality of their women, seen as the root of their impurity.”

  8. Through classroom discussions, the family emerges as a site of contestation, struggle and politics, and this provides a point of entry for deliberations on conceptualising ‘family’ and ‘household’ in state programmes and policies. The politics of family life in India, says Prof Rege, have been overlooked by sociologists.

  9. She notes that in Maharashtra, the undergraduate and postgraduate curricula in Sociology emphasise introductory courses based on popular American textbooks, and courses on Indian society based largely on ‘indological’ writings. The number of students opting for Sociology as a major has declined because the course contents and quality of teaching are unable to sustain the interest of students.

    Focus and Factoids by Vedika Inamdar.


Sharmila Rege


Sociological Bulletin


Sep, 1995