WMU News

Historic 'meeting of East and West' examined

March 17, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Two pioneering women who left their homes in India in the 1880s to explore life in the United States are the focal points of an upcoming lecture at Western Michigan University.

Dr. Meera Kosambi, a women's studies scholar from Pune, India, will discuss the experiences of activist Pandita Ramabi and Dr. Anandibai Joshi, India's first woman doctor, at a 6 p.m. lecture Thursday, March 25 in Room 2301 Sangren Hall.

"At a time when East and West were never supposed to meet, and when Indian women of the upper castes were strictly confined to the domestic sphere, these two women traveled to the United States," says Kosambi, whose lecture is titled "Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabi and Anandibai Joshi in the U.S.A."

"The two friends shared an intense pride in their Indian culture," says Kosame, "but their responses to the United States were significantly mediated by their differential approach to nationalism and social reform, and importantly, by their different religious beliefs."

Until her recent retirement, Kosambi directed the Research Centre for Women's Studies at S.N.D.T. Women's University, India's oldest and most famed institution of higher education for women. She has taught at several colleges and universities, including the University of Pune, Stockholm University and Rutgers University. She also has presented lectures and papers in 14 countries, from North America to Australia, and is the author of nine books.

Three of her works focus on Pandita Ramabi, the first female social reformer to gain the country's attention in the 19th century. The trained Sanskrit scholar and teacher shocked other members of her high-caste community by converting to Christianity and seeking support from the West to continue her social reform efforts.

Kosambi's writings also explore such issues as urban development, impoverished children, violence against women, and the intersection of gender reform and religious belief in India.

Her research on Dr. Anandibai Joshi also reflects her ongoing interest in writing about historical female figures who forged new options for women in India.

The lecture is free and the general public is welcome to attend, says Dr. Nancy Falk, a WMU professor of comparative religion and women's studies, who is coordinating the event. The talk is sponsored jointly by the WMU and Kalamazoo College religion departments, the WMU Program in Global and International Studies and the WMU Center for Women's Studies.

"This is an excellent opportunity for us to learn how people from the opposite end of the world perceived and responded to their experience in the United States," says Falk. "These are fascinating women who were very famous and very controversial. Their actions challenge all the stereotypes of Indian women being downtrodden and oppressed."

For more information, contact Falk at (269) 387-4393 or <nancy.falk@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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