The years between 1930 and 1933 saw a dramatic rise in anticolonial violence in Bengal. Young women who participated in this violence, caught between competing masculinist discourses of colonial authorities and nationalist communities that deemed them either dupes or martyrs, recognized an incongruity between their revolutionary insurgency and the conditions of possibility for its memorialization. This essay follows Pritilata Waddedar, the first woman to die in the commission of an anticolonial terrorist attack, as she is incarnated into legal, historical, and cultural evidence by colonial authorities and nationalists alike. It responds to Gayatri Spivak’s canonical question of whether the subaltern woman’s voice can be excavated from the historical archive by suggesting that Waddedar augurs and undermines the future narratives of her death and allegorically calls herself sati as a political strategy of refusal and illegibility. Waddedar’s iteration of sati relies on its peculiar status in nineteenth-century colonial law, where it was classified as “voluntary culpable homicide by consent.” This legislation inaugurated a new juridical index of female desire that shaped the political conditions of possibility for revolutionary women decades later. Waddedar prophesies the ways in which her death, like that of the immolated widow, will come to be the object of disputed meaning making and insistently jams the gears of systems of evidence that promise an epistemological clarity of the terms by which a woman lives or dies.
Poulomi Saha; Women on Fire: Immolation, Consent, and the Revolutionary Subject. differences 1 December 2013; 24 (3): 63–100. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2391959
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