In this presentation I will first briefly introduce my recently completed manuscript “Self, Sect and Society in Punjab: Gendered Imaginaries of Religion and Caste from the Nineteenth Century.” The study revolves around the life and writings of the mid nineteenth century Muslim prostitute Piro, who went on to join the Gulabdasi dera of Gulabdas, an advaitin guru, who may be said to belong to a broad Hindu-Sikh affiliation. I will then go on to discuss Piro’s “conversion narrative,” as presented in her autobiographical Ik Sau Sath Kafian (160 Kafis), and her Siharfis (acrostic verses), the latter a hybrid of spiritual, metaphysical and autobiographical verses. The particular construction of agonistic religiosity and the theatre of public conversion in her writing will be discussed and its meanings sought in the context of the idea and history of conversion in Punjab. How Piro understands bhakti devotion and uses its imaginaries to speak of her gendered self and carve her autonomy will be brought out.
Dr. Anshu Malhotra is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Delhi. She is the author of Gender, Caste and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002) (paperbacks 2004, 2009). She has co-edited with Farina Mir Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture and Practice (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012) and with Siobhan Lambert-Hurley Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance and Autobiography in South Asia (Duke University Press, 2015). Her forthcoming monograph is titled Self, Sect and Society in Punjab: Gendered Imaginaries of Religion and Caste from the Nineteenth Century. She has published many papers in international journals including in the Journal of Women’s History, Modern Asian Studies, Journal of Punjab Studies, and the Indian Economic and Social History Review. She is currently co-editing a volume on Texts and Traditions in Early Modern North India with J.S. Hawley and Tyler Williams.
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