Doctor of Philosophy
An analysis of histories and treatises on modern Punjabi theatre indicates a conspicuous absence of women as playwrights, directors, and performers. Countering the claims of critics and historians that women did not participate in theatre until 1941, this thesis shows that Indian and British women have been fostering and nourishing folk and modern theatre in Punjab. Pursuing the scholarship of Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, who impress upon the need to interrogate the historicity of constructing women’s subordinate position, this thesis examines the contributions of elite and working-class British women such as Emily Eden, Flora Annie Steel, and Norah Richards, and courtesans, kanjari, and ordinary women from Punjab whose social “respectability” was and continues to be defined by kinship and social lenses.
Through an “agnotological” approach, I examine the patriarchal framework of theatre historiography that silences and erases women’s contributions, and simultaneously retrieves women’s participation and production of multiple forms of theatre. In this regard, I analyze the works of Norah Richards, the “grand matriarch” of modern Punjabi theatre, who founded the tradition of dramatic competitions in colleges, wrote and directed drama, and formulated the naturalistic rural Punjabi theatre theory. Additionally, I examine reformist, colonialist, and nationalist imaginings that shaped social attitudes and perceptions about female performers, such as courtesans, as morally debasing the social fabric of Punjab. This is evaluated through the scrutiny of colonial caste-based stratifications of performers and notions of social respectability that women in private and public spaces experience and negotiate. As well, I analyze travel writing to understand how British women’s amateur theatre activities in Shimla and Dalhousie, Parsi travelling companies, and dramatic and theatrical activities of missionaries and Temperance Associations in the late nineteenth century shaped the public sphere of theatre in Punjab. Finally, I analyze Giddha as a form of folk theatre that provides women with an alternative space where they can express themselves freely through hybrid performances and engage in political and social activism alongside enriching theatre in Punjab.
Summary for Lay Audience
I analyze Indian and British women’s participation in and contributions to modern theatre in Punjab from the 1830s to the 1940s. Additionally, I retrieve women’s participation and production of multiple forms of theatre by studying plays, historical documents, autobiographies, travel writings of British men and women, and religious and reformist writings. Moreover, I interrogate the attitudes that resulted in the erasure and silencing of women in the histories of Punjabi theatre.
To elaborate on why women’s contributions are ignored or relegated to the margins or footnotes, I study how theatre scholars have written the histories of a theatre—that is written in the Punjabi language and that is performed in the Punjab region. The writers of these treatises are predominantly cis-gender male writers who unequivocally maintain that women did not participate in the Punjabi theatre as actors, playwrights, or directors until 1941. However, their writings reference incidents and discussions that contradict their claims. An example in this context is the ousting of courtesan actors from the stage of Parsi traveling theatre.
I examine the contributions of elite and working-class British women such as Emily Eden, Flora Annie Steel, Norah Richards, and courtesans (Moran and Piro), kanjari, and ordinary women from Punjab by applying approaches of critical feminist scholarship. I study how gender- and caste-based social and cultural hierarchies impact the lives of women, both Indian and British. Additionally, an analysis of the notions of social respectability that women experience and negotiate is essential to evaluate the colonial caste-based stratifications of performers. I examine reformist, colonialist, and nationalist imaginings that shaped social attitudes and perceptions about female performers, such as courtesans.
Lastly, I study Giddha as a form of women’s folk theatre that provides women with an alternative space where they can express themselves freely through performances and engage in political and social activism. I conclude my thesis by focusing on women’s theatrical activities and performances in post-independence and postcolonial India. In conclusion, this thesis contributes to understanding how women continued to cultivate, experiment with, and nourish theatrical activities despite being circumscribed by patriarchal parameters.
Kaur, Ramanpreet, "Indian and British Women’s Contributions to Modern Theatre in Punjab: 1830s -1940s" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9424.
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